Worshipping at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple

by Michael von Glahn, THE PLAIN DEALER, August 6, 2005

"The core Buddhist teachings are very simple and very appealing to someone like myself."

Cleveland, Ohio (USA) -- Peter Junger has been attending the Cleveland Buddhist Temple for about 17 years.

Peter Junger, 71, discovered Buddhism in a college course on the intellectual history of India. "I decided this is the first thing I'd ever heard that makes sense," he recalls. But the Vietnam draft and other events diverted his path.

Years later, while teaching law classes at Case Western Reserve University, Junger had a chance meeting at a sushi bar with the Rev. Koshin Ogui, then minister of the Cleveland Buddhist Temple. Ogui invited him to a meditation session, and Junger has been going to the temple ever since, about 17 years.

What attracted you to Buddhism?

"The idea that everything is interdependent, everything is impermanent. There are other consequences of that, such as you don't go around judging people. After all, they're a product of their choices and conditions. You wish them well no matter how unpleasant they are.

"The core Buddhist teachings are very simple and they're very appealing to someone like myself, who was brought up . . . atheist. I still say I'm an atheist, a rationalist."

Are there contradictions to being a Buddhist and an atheist?

"No, no, no. There's a contradiction if you go around saying there's a creator to the world. The Buddhist teachings are that there is no beginning. Sometimes they talk about the beginningless beginning and the endless end, but the process just goes on and on and on."

A recent visit:

From the outside, the temple is a nondescript box of brown and blond brick, save for a blue-and-yellow dharma wheel on the front wall. The temple hall is hot and humid, the air heavy with incense. About 50 people have gathered for the monthly Obon observance to commemorate deceased loved ones, as well as the annual Hatsubon, which remembers those who have died in the past year.

The Rev. Bryan Siebuhr, resident minister of the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Chicago, flies in for these monthly memorials. His style is casual but passionate and laced with humor, his eyebrows bobbing like Groucho Marx's. Recounting the origins of Obon, he connects with a row of teens by describing the ancient monk Moku-ren as having "more powers than all the Digimon put together, more powers than Yu-Gi-Oh!"

But he turns serious to note how living the two basic principles of Buddhism, impermanence and interconnectedness, is almost impossible. While we may know them intellectually, we live with our heart, which feels loss and longing, attachment. If we truly understood impermanence, we'd live differently, he says.