Woodstock - America's awakened city

by Shripal Nishshanka Fernando, Lanka Web, June 7, 2007

Woodstock, IL (USA) -- It was truly extravagant! Not only the whole city of Woodstock but also the whole region was enlightened by the simple and sharp dedication of the Buddhist congregation of the Blue Lotus Buddhist temple in Illinois.

Under the patronage and leadership of Reverend Peradeniye Sujatha the founder and chief incumbent of Blue Lotus Buddhist Vihara located in Crystal Lake, a suburb in Chicago, held its' fifth annual Vesak Ceremony few weeks ago with a Zen group called Ten Directions. The Vesak day celebration was a multinational and a multi-cultural program which hundreds of devotees and participants gathered from all around the states and enjoyed with a marvelous enthusiasm.

Rev. Sujatha, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who pioneered the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple in 2002 has been recognized as a giant in the interfaith community in Illinois and other states who coordinates the functions with total dedication and devotion. Rev. Thumbagane Chandrasiri, the other resident monk in Blue Lotus Temple gives an incomparable support to Rev. Sujatha and the amount of work that these two venerable perform is absolutely commendable.

The Vesak program started with a traditional service to Buddha by offering flowers and other offerings conducted by Rev. Sujatha. The introductory sermon was conducted by Rev. Brahmanagama Muditha of Great Lakes Buddhist Vihara, one time teacher of Rev. Sujatha and who is one of the most senior Buddhist monks in USA. There were 30 Buddhist monks for the function representing many international communities in the region. They were from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Korea. The Vesak celebration was held in Woodstock Unitarian Church situated in the heart of the city of Woodstock.

As usual, Minister Dan Larson of the Unitarian Church had given a great helping hand to make the day memorable to everybody. The majority, white American population from the region has been showing a great interest towards Buddhism in the past couple of years and the weekly meditation courses and the sermons conducted by Rev. Sujatha has been like a medicine for most of them.
While talking to many of them, it was revealed that day by day their attraction towards Buddhism is increasing and an average of two to three Americans add to the group monthly in seeking of mental happiness through meditation and listening to Dhamma.

There were nearly ten multicultural events staged on the day by Sri Lankan, Indian, American, Vietnamese and Korean chidren and adults. That program was thoroughly enjoyed by the participants and all the events were representing devotional themes to Buddha or to a God in a very talented manner. Beautiful drumming event conducted by an American-Korean family was extremely splendid and everybody enjoyed the programs overwhelmingly.

The second stage of the Woodstock Vesak program comprised a pageant or a procession (perahera in Sri Lanka) which was processed through the main roads in Woodstock downtown.
The procession received extreme enthusiasm and applause from the whole Woodstock city crowd and many by-standers also joined the procession subsequently. A huge Buddha statue was carried in the very front of the procession under an illustrated umbrella and a traditional Sri Lankan drumming group was following the statue with beautiful drumming beats with a traditional Sri Lankan clarinet played according to Sri Lankan folk songs. This was followed by the group of clergy and the flag bearers and lantern holders. Everybody was chanting Buddhist phrases and the whole city was completely dominated by this fascinating procession. More than three hundred people participated in the procession and Woodstock Police department performed a commendable duty by controlling traffic in the city allowing free pass to the procession.

A city which did not comprise a single Buddhist few years ago is now having a full fledged Buddhist ceremony with a participation of hundreds of its population. This is truly an amazing achievement and the credit goes to the dedication, devotion and the determination of Rev. Sujatha the chief incumbent of the Blue Lotus Vihara in Crystal Lake Illinois.

When asked about his future goals, Rev. Sujatha humbly replied that "What I do is just giving some spiritual counseling and guidance according to the Buddhist teachings and as long as the people are happy I will do my service and nothing beyond that for me, but this is all arranged and organize by the people who comprise the congregation of Blue Lotus Buddhist Vihara".

According to few participants, a huge gathering and a more spectacular Vesak day is being planned for next year. One senior American told me that his dream is to make the city Woodstock known to the whole North America by a city of Buddhism showing that they excel in morality and philosophical understanding.

At the end of the procession, free food was available to everyone and the whole city crowd joined to taste the delicious food available in the buffet style. It was a truly successful 'Dan Sala' or the Free Food give away, and the crowd enjoyed international food prepared in, Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai, Korean and American styles.

The Vesak day in Woodstock came to an end just before the midnight and every single participant and observers were rejoiced by overwhelming happiness and satisfaction and keeping a strong determination and a promise in their hearts for a more successful Vesak day for the next year.