Time to 'tame our minds' for peace, Buddhist lama says


Kent, NY (USA) -- Cicadas buzzed yesterday in the trees surrounding the Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent. Four boys poked about for frogs in a tiny pond just down the hill from the Great Buddha Hall. Nearby, a toddler tried to catch a butterfly.

<< Photos by Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News
His Holiness Penor Rinpoche speaks to about 400 people at yesterday's gathering in the Great Buddha Hall at Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent.

Inside the hall minutes later, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche began a three-hour talk on empowerment and compassion for all creatures.

"We need to concentrate into the ultimate happiness," Penor Rinpoche, a native Tibetan lama, said yesterday. "One has to train one's mind ... to benefit all sentient beings."

Penor Rinpoche spoke in Tibetan to 16 monks and about 400 people packed into the hall. His monologues and answers to the monks' questions were translated into English by Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche. Among other positions, he is a senior professor of Buddhist studies who has assisted Penor Rinpoche for years.

One's mind can be trained, Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche said shortly before the session in the Great Buddha Hall, to subdue its conflicted emotions — such as anger, jealousy and pride. He was responding to a question about the violence in Iraq, Israel and Lebanon.

"That is why spiritual teaching is very, very important," he said. "It is the only way we can tame our minds ... to live peacefully and harmoniously."

Back in the hall, Patricia Silvestre of Katonah was waiting for the teaching session to start. The monastery off Route 301 opened in 1985. The hall opened in 1997 and houses a 37-foot statue of the Buddha Vairocana — the largest Buddha statue in the Western Hemisphere. The statue is surrounded by 10,000 smaller Buddhas.

On Friday, several monks constructed a sand mandala at the feet of the Great Buddha. The tabletop, geometric figure included several colors of sand, which represent faith, effort, memory and wisdom. The several hours spent carefully placing the colored sand in the correct pattern allows the monks to meditate.

Silvestre said she started coming to the monastery 15 years ago, after her husband died. Yesterday's gathering, she said, provided a "more empowered way of being in the world and a release from negative karma."

"It has transformed my way with the world," she said of Buddhism.

The deck outside the hall's three red double-doors was littered with shoes. As dictated by Buddhist tradition, those entering the hall doff their footwear. A pair of black canvas Converse high-tops shared spaced with pink high-heeled sandals. Scuffed black dress shoes mingled with hiking boots, watched over by a lone pair of brown cowboy boots.

Participants inside filled the cushions and the folding chairs set up in front of the dais where Penor Rinpoche sat. Others lined the walls, and some sat on the bare floor at the rear of the hall.

There, as Penor Rinpoche told those gathered to not just concentrate on themselves, a man scooped up a daddy longlegs and took it outside to the deck.