Buddhist monk teaches students his beliefs, practices

By Dan Poole, Hometoenlife.com, Feb 1, 2008

Milford, Michigan (USA) -- Recently, a Buddhist monk came to Milford High School in an event set up by the Diversity Club.

The monk, Gary Schwoko, attends Muddy Waters Zen in Royal Oak. He originally planned to speak in the L.G.I, but he ended up speaking in room 106, during the Diversity Club's "coffee talk."

Anyone who wanted to attend could, and about 40 people showed up, including several students from Lakeland High School.

Schwoko talked about several different aspects of Buddhism.

"I was really impressed with the student turnout," MHS junior Alex Chouinard said. "And I thought it was a great idea to have it at coffee talk."

Schwoko explained basic holidays that Buddhists celebrate, said Kelly Beasley, the staff sponsor of the Diversity Club.

"He explained their practices and meditations, and he also explained the customs of Buddhists in Tibet or Asia verses how Buddhists are in America," she said.

Schwoko also explained the interesting clothing that he was wearing and the services that they have.

As for holidays, it was apparent that Buddhism differs from Christian holidays of which many students are accustomed.

"They don't follow the Christian calendar, obviously," Beasley said. "They celebrate Buddha's birthday, and that's a big celebration they have that's kind of like a Christian Christmas."

The two most important holidays in the Buddhist religion are Buddha Day and the Buddhist New Year. Buddha Day is celebrated on the first full moon day in May, and Buddhists worldwide celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha in a single day. Buddhists call it "Vesak," which comes from the Indian month of that name in which it is held.

Their new year is celebrated on different days throughout the world. In Theravadin countries (Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos), the New Year is celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April. In Mahayana countries (China, Korea, Japan), the New Year usually starts on the first full moon day in January, and Tibetan Buddhists generally celebrate it in March.

Schwoko discussed both of these holidays. Buddhists contend that their belief system is not a religion for this reason: The Buddha is not a "supernatural being power."

Buddha is simply a person who has reached "complete Understanding of the reality of life and the universe."

Schwoko said, "Buddhism is one of the world's major religions, generally ranked fourth behind Christianity, Islam and Hinduism."

Since it is non-theistic, meaning God is not part of its framework, people often mistakenly assume it to be something other than a religious enterprise. Someone once said that "religion begins with the first cry for help."

Schwoko said, "The basis of Buddhism is that life is unsatisfactory no matter how good we seem to have it. This discontentedness, this unease is commonly called "suffering." When we recognize and admit this existential anxiety and search for relief we are led into the Eightfold Path advocated by the Buddha as the prescription for our disease."

Students enjoyed the presentation.

"I loved it," MHS senior Jessica Thompson said about Schwoko's visit. "All the information he came up with about Buddhism was really cool."
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