Buddhists invite public to meditate for peace

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 16, 2009

Shadyside, PA (USA) -- Buddhists from throughout the region will gather tomorrow in Shadyside to celebrate the life of Siddhartha Gautama and meditate for world peace.

This is the first time local Buddhists from disparate traditions have gathered for a holiday, in this case for Vesak, which commemorates the life, enlightenment and death of the founder of their faith.

"In Vesak we celebrate the enlightenment, which is common to all Buddhist traditions. This is something we can all agree on," said Bhante Pemaratana, abbot of the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center in Natrona Heights.

His center initiated the idea, and six other groups are bringing their own members, chants, songs, rituals and languages to the event in the First Unitarian Church. His center is Theravadin, while others represent Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and followers of the contemporary Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn.

The schools of Buddhism can appear as different as do Pentecostal, Orthodox and Amish Christianity.

"Basically, all Buddhists share the same teachings. The difference lies in the emphasis in rituals and the way they conduct their religious services," the Rev. Pemaratana said.

Siddhartha was born to a ruling family in India about 2,600 years ago. After witnessing the poverty and disease outside his palace, he left to seek enlightenment and freedom from suffering. This came to him years later as he meditated beneath a bodhi tree. He spent the rest of his life teaching that meditation and moral behavior can extinguish selfish desire, remove suffering and bring peace.

This celebration of Siddhartha's life will include a Zen tradition of bathing the baby Buddha -- or at least his statue.

"We are going to bring our baby Buddha and all of our bathing equipment and offer, as people enter, to go ahead and bathe the baby Buddha. Then we will take the water and transfer it to a vase and have it on the altar in the sanctuary," said Gary Couth, president of the board of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh in Sewickley.

The service begins at 3 p.m. and is expected to last two hours. At 4 p.m., there will be a special meditation for peace. The public is welcome.

"We will bring a bowl of water to the middle of the crowd and ask people to concentrate on that water as we guide them to meditate for world peace," the Rev. Pemaratana said.

At 6:30 p.m., the blessed water will be taken to Point State Park and poured into the Ohio River.

"Just like the river flows across the country, we want the whole USA to have peace and harmony. And we want it to flow into the ocean and travel to other countries, that all nations may have this peace," he said.