`A holy place, a place to find peace'

Toronto Star, Dec 25, 2004

Toronto, Canada -- The Buddhist prayer hall was crowded with worshippers, the air heavy with burnt sandalwood, the rhythm of the chanting fast and strong. With the towering gold gilt Buddhas and brilliant red colours, the Cham Shan temple could have seemed mysterious to Meagan Cuddihy and her husband John. But the young Catholic couple immediately found common ground.

They saw the way younger people made way for the elderly and how everyone made room for newcomers. The chanting ? wasn't that similar to a Gregorian chant?

"Even though I didn't know what was going on and though it's so different on the outside, there was the sense that this is a holy place, a place to find peace," said Meagan.

"There were similar elements in the service, but different ways of expressing them. We genuflect, we bow, we sing, we use incense."

Meagan had travelled in Malaysia and recalled that paper prayers are sometime coiled inside the incense.

"The image of smoke rising carrying our thoughts upward, added something to my understanding of the way incense is used in our church. Now I don't see it just as a sign of respect, but as carrying our prayers."

When their guide, Jessie Kan, explained the Buddhist principle of mindfulness, it was familiar to John.

"I found a similarity to the Jesuit practice to look over one's day and think about what to be thankful for, how was I feeling, what was the motivation. We asked the questions: what brings me closer to God, what takes me further away?" John said.

"We see commonalities in how we are to live and how we are to treat one another. What Jesus said about compassion ? is as central to our belief as to Jessie's."

Meagan said she thought there is often mistrust between people of different cultures. "But people are so happy to share and that makes the world less scary when you find you have so much in common," she explained.

"Jessie told us about the image of the candle in Buddhism burning away ignorance. If you light that candle, if you take that step to find out about other beliefs, it reaffirms your own and builds a bridge to another."