Buddhism returns to basilica, this time at parish hall

By Ron Cammel, The Grand Rapids Press, April 26, 2006

GRAND RAPIDS. Michigan (USA) -- A Tibetan Buddhist monk offered a prayer in the Basilica of St. Adalbert's parish hall Tuesday, in observance of the Panchen Lama's 17th birthday.

Thupten Tsondu Tashi, a former administrator of a monastic university in India, murmured the prayer in Tibetan for about 25 minutes, sometimes ringing a bell, playing a small drum or lightly clanging cymbals. About 12 people, some with eyes closed, gathered to witness the ceremony.

The Panchen Lama, the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, disappeared two days after the Dalai Lama named him in 1995. The Chinese government, which many Buddhists believe kidnapped the young boy, introduced a new Panchen Lama.

Tashi, after his prayer, noted the irony.

"Red China always says religion is poison," he said. "They don't believe in the next life," while the Panchen Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the original.

Tashi is on a six-city American tour, raising money for a "mind-training" school he plans to build in Mongolia for in-depth Buddhist training, which decreased under Communist rule.

In Grand Rapids, he has been making a sand mandala at Bazzani Associates on Wealthy Street and Diamond Avenue NE. In a sacred ceremony at 5:30 p.m. today, he plans to dismantle the intricate design to demonstrate impermanence.

Tashi's prayer service Tuesday was much calmer than one two years ago when Buddhist monks were to chant and pray in the basilica's sanctuary. Then, a Catholic splinter group protested by praying the Rosary loudly.

Glenn Freeman, who booked both events, said he was comfortable having Tuesday's service in the parish hall, since the protesters, from St. Margaret Mary Church in Allendale, were mainly upset about use of the sanctuary. He said he needed to find a space quickly and scheduled the hall through church workers who offered it in lieu of payment for Freeman's musical work at the church.

The Rev. Thomas DeYoung, pastor of St. Adalbert, said he was unaware of the event until Tuesday.

"I'm not involved in it," he said.