Shooting victims focus of service at Buddhist center

by Blake Herzog, The Desert Sun, Dec 19, 2012

Palm Springs, California (USA) -- A Buddhist center will dedicate its monthly service for those who have recently died to the victims of last week’s shooting rampage at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

“I decided as soon as I heard,” said Saundra Young, resident teacher at the Dharmachakra Buddhist Center. “I was as shocked as everyone else. I was so happy we already had this powa scheduled.”

The ceremony is set for 7 to 8 p.m. Friday at the center, 1445 N. Sunrise Way. The center has offered such ceremonies around the end of each month since it opened in February.

Powas offer a series of prayers for people who have passed away, but according to Buddhist beliefs, their soul may not have completely departed the body.

“Buddhists believe that when consciousness leaves the body, it can take up to 49 days to happen,” said Jack Todd, another teacher at the center.

Powa participants use prayer to help those souls complete that journey.

“The main part of the ceremony is that we imagine the minds of the dead going on to a better place, and we meditate on that,” Young said. “It’s very moving.”

The services are conducted in English and accompanied by Westernized music, and prayer booklets are handed out to guide newcomers through the ritual. The size of the crowds attracted vary widely, and she’s not sure what to expect Friday.

“Sometimes there’s 50, sometimes there’s six. It all depends on who has a need,” she said.

The center also has prayers for world peace every Sunday, Young said, and last week’s drew quite a few people shaken by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which left 20 children, six adult staffers, gunman Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy Lanza, dead.