Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Sarasotian Vesak Celebration

On the heel of our attendance at the 7th Vesak Celebration on May 26, we headed for Sarasota yesterday to attend a similar celebration organized by Mitreya Center and held at Unity Church, Sarasota. The occasion was graced by Bhante Dhammawansha, the resident monk of Dharma Wheel Mediation Center whose members greatly assisted in organizing the propitious event.

This is my first trip to Sarasota, the famed retirement community off South I-75 on the way to Naples. The venue, Unity Church, is located along Proctor Road within a picturesque setting of individual homes. The entrance road winds among statuesque trees all the way to the back with plenty of carpark lots scattered alongside the road at discrete places ending in a place dubbed the labyrinth. So is the main building, the sanctuary where the ceremony was to be held, which is interconnected to other buildings, e.g., bookstore where the vegetarian dinner was to be served) by internal corridors.

Clockwise from Top Left:
(1) Looking toward the entrance at Proctor Road from the premises.
(2) Entrance to the Sancatuary adorned with Buddhist flags and symbols.
(3) The setting inside the Sanctuary.
(4) Attendees waiting outside for the procession to start.

As with the May 26 celebration, the ceremony was preceded by a procession from the Labyrinth to the Sanctuary, led by Bhante and three other Buddhist monks and accompanied by the drumbeat made from a single drum and two “outriders” carrying the Dharma wheels symbols.

After the welcoming speech by Karen Miki, the Unity Church Chaplain, Bhante led the attendees on a brief meditation session, admonishing them to instill happy and compassionate thoughts and to wish all living beings to be “well, happy, healthy, calm, and peaceful”.

In his subsequent Dharma talk, Bhante related the exchange between Buddha and a traveler who was in awe at the radiance emanating from Buddha. During the exchange, Buddha called himself a supernatural being, or superman, in the sense that he was the awakened one, attaining detachment in thought while finding himself in the material world that is fraught with wars, and other human miseries, much like the lotus flower that has blossomed in the lotus pond, unattached to the mud that breeds it. Bhante then passed on the following timeless, peaceful messages:

-- There is no need for us to find external agencies for our inner peace. There is no need for mediator, and we are our own savior. Buddhist teaching treats protecting our mind/thought as paramount, and has the universal law of cause and effect as one of its core canons. We are naturally fearful of dying, but that is so because we have not cultivated our mind sufficiently.

-- Calmness is not a weakness. It enables us to see clarity. Imagine driving along I-75 at the blinding speed of 80 mph. The scenes at both sides of the road would just swoosh by. But if we slow down, the ensuing calmness will enable us to see clearly, and be in better control of ourselves.

-- As a routine, we take our daily garbage collection out of the house, almost mechanically as we are driven to keeping our house clean. However, we do the exact opposite when it comes to our mind: we stuff our mind with mental garbage originating from outside the mind all day long. To cultivate the mind is akin to keeping the house clean, and not taking the garbage inside the house. Cultivating the mind takes efforts, requiring our utmost efforts at resisting the urge to react to our environment, but to accept. Mindfulness is observing and letting go.

-- We all have Buddha seeds in us. And we need to water the seed everyday, little by little, with mind food, i.e., good and wholesome thought.

-- Happiness is in your heart.

The attendees then witnessed a series of Indian Devotional Music and dance, a variety of soulful prayer and dance performances that display the richness of the Indian culture. This was then followed by Chanting for World Peace by the Buddhist monks. Closing remarks were given by Dr. Sasidharan of the Mitreya Center, a center that is denomination-neutral, being focused on studying the commonalities among all religions in line with the Center’s aim of discovering unity in diversity.

The ceremony in the sanctuary concluded with the Bathing of Baby Buddha, commencing with the Buddhist monks and then the attendees taking turn to symbolically purify their mind of extraneous thought.

Clockwise from Top Left:
(1) The start of the procession at the labyrinth.
(2) The trailing attendees along the procession route.
(3) Bhante Dhammawansha delivering the Dharma talk.
(4) The Bathing of Baby Buddha on the way.

The attendees then adjourned to the vegetarian dinner, served up by the volunteers and enthusiastically partaken by the attendees.

The "Tampa" delegation assembling for a group picture.

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