Buddhist monks creating a peaceful place in Westford

By MARIE DONOVAN, Lowell Sun, Nov 6, 2005

WESTFORD, Mass. (USA) -- When the Venerable Ajahn Mangkone Dhammadharo occasionally goes out on the town, the first thing a stranger may notice about the Buddhist monk is his appearance.

<< Venerable Ajahn Mangkone Dhammadharo, right, abbot of the Wat Buddha Bhavana temple in Westford. At left is Buddhist monk Venerable David Chutiko. Sun photo by Benjamin McElroy.   

Dhammadharo, abbot for the Wat Buddha Bhavana of Massachusetts, typically wears a long robe and sandals. He sports a smoothly shaved head.

If you take the time to converse with him, though, your lasting impression most likely will be of his unusually relaxed and friendly demeanor.

The monks are using an existing ranch-style home on the 2.25-acre property they bought as a residence -- they eventually hope to give it a bit of an Asian redesign -- and have converted the free-standing garage for use as a temple. They also hope eventually to convert a horse barn on the property for use as a meditation hall.

After rising early, engaging in chants and eating breakfast together, the monks have been spending much of their time since moving to town in renovating the property -- and taking care of the string beans, tomatoes, chili peppers and herbs in their vegetable garden.

They also involve themselves in community outreach activities, like teaching meditation to residents of the Devens Federal Penitentiary medical facility. About two days a week, they visit Southeast Asian neighborhoods in Lowell.

Buddha is believed to have lived for about 80 years, from around 623 to 543 B.C. He was a Nepalese prince and lived in a palace with great wealth. “Spiritually, he was still sad,” said Mangkone. Despite his position in life, “his body was still subject to old age, sickness and death.”

“He called that path the ‘Middle Way,' or the balanced way of life,” Mangkone said.

The path begins with correct understanding, then proceeds through correct focus, actions, speech and livelihood. Mangkone says a true Buddhist will avoid earning his or her livelihood in any manner that contributes to suffering -- such as dealing in weaponry, prostitution or slavery.

Mangkone said he and the other monks would never purposefully steal anything or kill another living being, even a pesky mosquito with incessant bloodlust.

“Sometimes we give blood to the Red Cross; sometimes we give to a mosquito,” he said.

But Mangkone is not a vegetarian. He said the butcher has to find his own enlightenment and he knows some who have, but that if people offer him meat to eat out of a desire to be generous, he will eat it.

Monks can advise people on the consequences of causing suffering to others though, he added. Buddhists believe in reincarnation -- and that a person's reincarnation can be determined by the good or bad Karma they earned in their previous life -- based on how much suffering they caused to others.

They also believe in Hell and Heaven, Mangkone said, but believe they are places a person goes not permanently, but on the path toward a suffering-free state called Nirvana.

Much like Jesus Christ, Buddha taught that all people have the capacity to gain enlightenment. For that reason, he says, true followers of Buddha do not support the death penalty, even for a mass murderer -- because even that person could some day find enlightenment, Mangkone said.

Mangkone clarifies that, saying Buddhists have no problem with incarceration or other means of self-defense, as long as it is done to protect others from suffering and not as a form of revenge.

“Self-protection is OK, as long as you don't have anger or hatred.”

For information, contact Venerable Ajahn Mangkone Dhammadharo at Wat Buddhabhavana, 25 Milot Road, Westford, MA 01886, 978-692-3120. The Web site is www.greatwisdomcenter.org.