Local traditions reflect distinctions in American Buddhism

By JOEL GEHRINGER, Lincoln Journal Star, August 21, 2006

Lincoln, Nebraska (USA) -- It’s about an hour after services ended at Linh Quang Buddhist Temple, and members are still hanging around the building. Some are socializing and making plans for the rest of their Sunday, others are cleaning and doing yardwork.

About a dozen teenage boys are gathered in the temple’s backyard, practicing jumps, kicks and tumbles for an upcoming traditional Vietnamese performance.

The Rev. Thich Phap Tri, the temple’s resident monk, roams around talking to members and finishing up yet another day’s tasks.

Nearly all of the estimated 600 families involved with Linh Quang immigrated to Lincoln from Vietnam, and for them Buddhism is more than a religion. It’s a way of life.

“It’s kind of like being Catholic,” said Linh Quang member Thinh Duong. “For Vietnamese, you’re born into the religion. Your grandparents and parents are Buddhist, so you are Buddhist too.”

Some families choose to go to the Temple every week, and some stay home, Thich Phap Tri said. That’s fine, not that he encourages it. But even within the community at Linh Quang, no one’s forced into conversion.

“We’re kind of open about that stuff,” Duong said.

Four nights later on the other side of town, Ray Paul sits in a small gathering room meditating.

He’s not sitting on a cushion or chanting to himself, he’s just sitting quietly and thinking, as are the other dozen members at this week’s Jewel Heart Nebraska meeting at the Chateau Development Leasing Office.

Paul was once a member of the Unitarian Church, but after reading “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama, he found an interest in Buddhist principles.

When he moved to Lincoln from Texas in June 2005, he found Jewel Heart, and has been with the group ever since.

“I like the idea that Buddhism is rather proactive,” he said. “I’m more or less responsible for my spiritual path. I get to choose what I believe and what I accept as truths.”

The Jewel Heart attendees are all similar to Paul — American-born citizens who developed an interest in the teaching of Buddha after growing up in some other religious tradition. About half of them are experienced Buddhists and half are learning these lessons for the very first time.

The meeting isn’t much of a service, it’s more of a class. Sure, there’s a shrine at the front of the room and some mantras are recited, but the main goal of the meetings is education.

Because, as Paul notes, he and the others want to learn more about the avenues they’re discovering.

“I’m a lot happier,” he said. “I believe that’s one of the benefits of this path.”

Since the arrival of Buddhist ideals in the United States in the early 20th century, the religion has spread through these two very distinct means.

The first — East Asian immigrants looking to continue their cultural practices and traditions with fellow immigrants in a new land —begot centers like Linh Quang. The movement wasn’t unlike the establishment of ethnic churches by European immigrants in the late 1800s.

But the religion also spread through interested Americans, most notably those of the beatnik generation. Suddenly, people of traditional Judeo-Christian backgrounds were taking interest in Eastern philosophies, such as Tibetan Buddhism and Zen. When those groups of people took serious interest in joining the religion, groups like Jewel Heart were born.

And though the two Buddhist traditions essentially practice the same religion, they rarely cross paths. The religious goals and ideals are similar, but their cultures and reasons for existence are a bit different.

The typical member of Linh Quang is a Vietnamese immigrant who was raised Buddhist and wants to preserve and participate in the familiar customs.

Meanwhile, the typical Jewel Heart member, according to Jewel Heart Nebraska President Kent Porter, is someone who might be interested in the religion but has very little previous exposure.

Porter said his organization has no formal relationship with Linh Quang.

“There’s no reason why we couldn’t or wouldn’t have a relationship, we just never have,” he said.

But Porter said he can understand why different groups developed over time — in essence, people are comfortable with the familiar.

“There’s definitely different cultural roots,” he said, “and when Buddhism goes from one culture to another, it takes the flavors of that culture.”

Naturally, Thich Phap Tri would disagree. Part of the reason Linh Quang exists is to preserve  the culture of Vietnamese Buddhism. But he also noted there’s nothing wrong with the existence of separate organizations.

As long as the teachings are true, he said, different cultures are good for Buddhism in Lincoln, or anywhere for that matter.

“There is no difference,” he said. “No matter where you are from or what country you’re from, it’s all the same teachings. If people do what Buddha is teaching, I consider them a Buddhist.”

Local Buddhist organizations

Linh Quang Temple, 216 West F St., a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. The Rev. Thich Phap Tri leads the congregation. 438-4719

Tinh-Tam Council of Buddhist Study, an organization for those wishing to learn about Buddhism and apply its principles to everyday life. The group is led by Dau Nguyen. 474-0702.

The Nebraska Zen Center, 3625 Lafayette Ave., Omaha.  The center offers daily meditation, Sunday services, and classes on Zen.  It’s headed by Rev. Nonin Chowaney. (402) 551-9035, www.prairiewindzen.org.

Jewel Heart Nebraska. A Tibetan Buddhist study group, Jewel Heart meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays at Chateau Development office, 3100 S. 72nd St. It’s one of six U.S. Jewel Heart chapters under the spiritual guidance of Gehlek Rimpoche, an incarnate lama. 435-7679, www.jewelheart.org.
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv