New Zealand Buddhist Council Update
Email Newsletter No. 4, July 2011
Message from Chairperson
Welcome to our July Update. I hope you will be able to attend our upcoming AGM in Otahuhu. We make a point of holding our general meetings at a different temple each year so we can get to know each other’s communities better. After our meeting and lunch (generously offered by temple members) Rukman Wagachchi will give us a tour of Srilankaramaya and talk about the work they do, and how they funded and built their beautiful community centre.
I doubt whether anyone imagined, when the first quakes struck last September, what a drawn-out ordeal the people of Christchurch were going to face. With each new set of aftershocks they are having to dig deeper to find the inner resources just to keep going. The unexpected visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama seems to have given many bereaved and weary people a boost.
Taking advantage of the coming-together of that occasion, the Council organised a meeting of Christchurch Buddhist groups to find out how they were faring. Some communities have damaged buildings, others have not had access to their usual meeting places, and most have members who have lost homes or livelihoods, or have left the area. One good thing to come out of the adversity is the recognition that networking is helpful, and further meetings and information-sharing are planned, coordinated by Robert Hunt.
The Council also continues to monitor the difficulties faced by communities wishing to get Permanent Residency for religious leaders from overseas, working independently as well as with the Religious Communities Leadership Forum. Recommendations for changes to policy for religious workers are now with the Minister of Immigration, the Hon. Jonathan Coleman.
The Council notes with sadness the passing of Ven. Thupten Tulku Rinpoche. Peter Small writes about how his death became a powerful teaching which captured the imagination of the general public, and also recounts the Dhargyey Centre’s many dealings with the authorities that were required to pave the way for a traditional cremation ceremony – also a kind of teaching.
Buddhist Council News
The Buddhist Council’s Annual General Meeting
Our AGM this year will begin at 10am at Srilankaramaya temple, in Otahuhu, Auckland. After the meeting we will enjoy a vegetarian lunch offered by the Sri Lankan community, starting at 11:30am. Then Srilankaramaya trustee Rukman Wagachchi, who is on the Buddhist Council’s executive committee, will give a talk about the Srilankaramaya temple and its activities. The half day of events provides an opportunity for members of different Buddhist communities to meet and learn about each other.
By now, all Buddhist organisations which are members of the NZ Buddhist Council should have received their membership renewal notice and an invitation to attend our Annual General Meeting, either in the post or via email. Individual members have been emailed. If you are a member and have not received the notice, please email us with your contact details.
Anyone who would like to attend the meeting, even if you are not currently a member, should contact Sally McAra (email@example.com) to let her know you are coming and whether you wish to stay for lunch and the talk and tour of Srilankaramaya. Please feel free to bring others along, but again let Sally know how many.
The criteria for applying for visas for religious workers are under review and recommendations for changes to the rules are currently with the Minister of Immigration, Hon. Jonathan Coleman. If your community needs to renew a religious worker’s visa, you should apply directly to the branch manager at your Immigration New Zealand office to get an extension approved. Branch managers have been briefed to look favourably on these applications while the review is underway.
Christchurch earthquake: report from secretary
The Dalai Lama: “I come to share your sadness.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a special trip to Christchurch on his way to teaching engagements in Australia. His visit gave heart to people who are really suffering.
His Holiness spent time visiting staff and patients in Christchurch hospital and had a special meeting with the emergency department staff who were on duty on 22 February. At the CBS Canterbury Arena, he addressed a crowd of 5000 people, including families and friends who had lost loved ones in the earthquake. Representatives of the local iwi, Ngai Tahu and Ngai Tuahiwi, welcomed him in te reo Maori. They referred to him as “te Arikinui” (Great Chief) “te tohunga o te Aroha” (the priest of Love) and his religion as “te hahi o te Aroha.” The Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, also welcomed him.
His Holiness said that having met Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing, “is one factor that brings New Zealand close to my mind. So when I hear this, I come to share your sadness. […] The main factor that brings me here is to share in your suffering.” He said that faith is a tremendous help when things beyond our control happen, and urged Christians, Muslims, and Jews to, “look to your God. Behind that tragedy there is meaning. God is infinite love. God loves his creation.”
He recalled losses that he had had to come to terms with in his own life, such as the death of his “spiritual father” and having to leave loved ones behind when he went into exile from Tibet. He urged people to focus on rebuilding and to pray for the dead and their loved ones. He urged people to use their “human intelligence.” But also, we need to become more compassionate in our daily lives:
“Compassion is the key of all religious traditions. Some people think compassion is a religious practice. But these are basic biological reality, to have a happy human life we need those things. Money won’t relieve our sadness. Genuine affection will. Think long term, that this tragedy should bring more inner strength, more self confidence, more optimism.”
One of the questions put to him from the audience after his address was, “How can we live in Christchurch without the everyday fear of more earthquakes?” He talked about how Tibet had many earthquakes, and added,
“From a wider perspective, our life is not very safe. Whole world not very safe. (He chuckles. Audience laughs and applauds.) If there’s a safer place, maybe we can go there. Maybe the moon. We try to get there – hopeless! We have to accept uncertainty. Buddhists, firstly we should know possibility (of disaster), keep awareness. Death. In our daily practice we have to remind ourselves of death. This helps keep our minds stable. For some (death) is taboo. But sooner or later it comes. It’s bound to happen. So mentally you must prepare. Right from the beginning. Life is complicated.”
The mood of the audience lightened during His Holiness’s talk, and the faces of many were smiling and radiant as they left the auditorium.
At a meeting of Buddhist groups after the talk, people expressed gratitude to the organisers, who were able to arrange everything with only two weeks’ notice. Many people (volunteers, police liaison officer, drivers, hotel and venues etc.), stretched themselves to make everything go smoothly. The Dalai Lama Visit Trust of NZ facilitated the visit, and with the combination of funds in its reserves and the help of donations from around the country and overseas, was able to offer the visit to the people of Christchurch free of charge. However there is still a shortfall of around $13,000.
If you would like to make a donation towards the costs of this event, cheques may be sent to the Dalai Lama Visit Trust NZ, PO Box 5429, Wellesley St, Auckland 1141, or payments may be made directly into 12-3011-0650248-02 Dalai Lama Visit Trust NZ (ASB Bank, Auckland). To receive a receipt please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meeting with Christchurch Buddhists
After His Holiness’s public talk and prayers, the NZBC facilitated a meeting of Christchurch Buddhist groups. About thirty people from about ten different temples and groups met in the Buddha Light cafe of the Fo Guang Shan temple in Riccarton. The purpose of the meeting was twofold:
- to find out what help Buddhist communities in Christchurch need following the earthquakes
- to ensure Christchurch issues interests are represented in the Buddhist Council.
Everyone had an opportunity to comment, and many reflected about how important this meeting was and how it was a good starting point from which to create a network and come together to help each other more in the future.
Robert Hunt commented that the Dalai Lama’s visit highlighted the need for a network of Buddhist groups in Christchurch. Also, people need places they can meet with others involved in Buddhism, and for there to be more interaction and cooperation. We concluded that at least it would be good to be aware of each other’s group’s activities and to be able to provide support to each other where situations of distress arise. Robert volunteered to coordinate the group, but requested that others who were well-connected with a range of Buddhist groups assist in the communication and arrangements. Robert agreed to be the Christchurch representative for the NZBC.
A few days after the meeting, the 13 June twin aftershocks hit Christchurch and many have been facing setbacks as a result. While the survival focus at such times makes it harder to contemplate scheduling a meeting, it also means that there may be points where outreach to each other on a practical level may be more compelling. Some people have thoughts of undertaking some Buddhist activities in the sense of compassionate action in Christchurch; if they do this, the network email list may be a useful tool.
If you are not yet part of this informal email network but would like to be, please contact Robert Hunt (email@example.com) with information about your group’s activities and facilities and any offers of assistance to others. Robert would like to arrange another meeting in a few weeks’ time, so please let him know if you’re interested in attending.
You can, of course, also subscribe to the Buddhist Council’s email list (to which this email news update is sent, several times a year).
More stories from Christchurch
In our last update we reported on some of the things that have been happening for Buddhists in Christchurch, including memorial services at Fo Guang Shan’s temple and relief work by Tzu Chi and other Buddhist groups. If you did not receive the last update, please email us and we will email forward it to you.
As a result of the earthquake and continuing aftershocks, Buddhist groups in Christchurch are facing a range of difficulties, but many are finding their own Buddhist community and their particular forms of practice help them, in a range of ways.
The earthquake has exacerbated the challenges that Buddhist groups already face – e.g. shortage of volunteers to run the group, shortage of material and financial resources etc. Members of Buddhist groups had lost their jobs or moved out of town, meaning that the centres were losing people and support. With less finance the groups were having problems meeting costs, and a new challenge in hiring a venue: “Is it safe or not?” Various Buddhist groups have been unable to access premises due to damage, or its location in a cordoned-off area. Robert Hunt reported that the Dhargyey Buddhist group still cannot access its venue in town and is unsure if its building is still standing. Its members are using a home in Richmond. Recent events meant that impermanence and dukkha really hit home for people.
Wat Buddha Samakhee, the Thai temple in Marshlands Rd, was largely unscathed. Indeed, the Thai temple provided emergency accommodation, food and water for a number of families in the week following the February earthquake, and one of their monks was interviewed on Thai national television several times. Being able to visit any temple/centre, whether Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana, helps people who need somewhere peaceful to take time out from daily difficulties.
Many Buddhist groups have helped others during this trying time, and we would love to hear about it, in order to share your stories in future newsletters. Jimi Wallace, General Director of Soka Gakkai International (New Zealand) wrote that after the February earthquake, “it took two days to confirm all the 150 or so [Soka Gakkai] members were OK and uninjured. A few had evacuated and many homes damaged, but no one was injured, it was a great joy. On the third day after, two of us drove down from Picton with requested supplies – 60 collapsible 20-litre water containers, fresh veges and other necessities. These were distributed through the SGI community and neighbours and friends. Members in Christchurch got fully involved in joining the volunteer armies, assisting people around them and opening their homes if they had water and power.”
Support for earthquake-affected Buddhist charities
An organisation called Techsoup, which provides donated and discounted technology products and services to eligible New Zealand charities, is offering assistance to organisations directly affected by the earthquakes, or working directly with earthquake-affected individuals, families and communities.
You can find more information about this here.
Dharma in prisons
In various prisons around the world, inmates are being introduced to Buddhist meditation techniques. We’d like to hear from you if you are involved in prison work in New Zealand.
Jeanne and Shayne Crimp, who are Zen students in the Mountains and Rivers Order (MRO) [LINK], have been facilitating weekly meditation groups at two units of Rolleston Prison near Christchurch, for a decade. In the Kia Marama unit, serious offenders undergo an intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program, and the meditation group has become an important adjunct to the program. Indeed, the unit’s lead psychologist has been very supportive and encourages the prisoners to come to this well-attended voluntary group. The program has not been as effective in Christchurch Women’s Prison, because with the shorter prison sentences that women are usually serving, it can be difficult to get continuity. Shugen Sensei is the head of the MRO and abbot of the Zen Center of New York City. Each year, he visits New Zealand to lead retreats, and he also visits the prison groups. Shugen Sensei also manages the National Buddhist Prison Sangha, a right action program offering spiritual guidance and support to inmates in a wide range of prison settings throughout the United States and Europe.
The Liberation Prison Project (LPP) is an international organisation that has emerged out of the work of the Tibetan Buddhist organisation called the FPMT. [link] The LPP offers spiritual advice, teachings, books and materials, to people in prison interested in exploring, studying and practising Buddhism. It has been operating in NZ since 2009. Prisoners have been provided with books and in 2010 some of them now correspond with a Dharma Friend and study the FPMT’s “Discovering Buddhism” course. LLP also arranged for a Burmese monk to support a prisoner with very limited English. Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi and Kate Bukowski have been teaching in Paremoremo prison in 2011, and partnered with a yoga teacher to offer yoga and mindfulness classes to inmates. The Chaplains in both Auckland prisons have been very supportive.
Vipassana meditation was offered in a prison program in Taranaki in the past, but these have been unable to continue as there is insufficient room in New Zealand prisons to run meditation retreats.
If you are interested in the projects mentioned in this newsletter, you can contact Kate Bukowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.
Jeanne Crimp can be contacted at email@example.com.
The Passing of a Tibetan Lama in Dunedin
Peter Small, Dhargyey Buddhist Centre Director, writes:
Venerable Thupten Tulku passed away in late May this year. Since 1996 he had taught and advised Dhargyey Buddhist Centre community members in New Zealand.
Born in southern Tibet in 1940, he was recognised as a reincarnate Lama and admitted into the monastery at about age four. He fled Lhasa from India in 1959 after His Holiness the Dalai Lama in a party that included his guru, Ven. Geshe Dhargyey, who started the Dunedin centre, and Ven. Lhagon Tulku who still lives in Dunedin.
Ven. Thupten Tulku had his education interrupted in 1959 and thereafter he only had private tutors, no formal monastic curriculum. He was a school teacher in Tibetan refugee camps throughout India for about thirty years before coming to Dunedin. In Dunedin he taught three classes of Buddhism per week from 1996 to the end of 2007, when he went into formal retreat, something he had promised one of his gurus.
Rinpoche’s great accomplishment by remaining in his body for eighteen days after death proves demonstrates he was a great Bodhisattva. About ten days after his passing we got a call from the a TV documentary reporter who had heard about what was happening and was interested in sharing the story. We welcomed their interest, and also put them in touch with the organisers of His Holiness’s visit to Christchurch. His Holiness gave us some direction – he felt that Ven Thupten Tulku’s continuing meditation was for the purposes of furthering Buddha-dharma and we should publicise and share it. I think this combined to develop the journalist’s sensitivity to the story and goodwill towards us. They were genuinely amazed at what was happening too and they knew it was a good story – it was their highest rating story this year.
The cremation was prepared for well in advance. We had done it once before, for our founding Lama, so we had a general idea of how to gain the necessary permissions. At present the responsibility for granting permission for a cremation lies with the regional Medical Officers of Health. Gaining permission required informing neighbours who may be affected or disturbed by the smoke, getting city council permission for the fire, getting approval from the regional council, as well as consulting with the tangata whenua. We also needed to demonstrate that we really knew how to do the cremation, since there is an understandable sensitivity in society to human remains. None of this would have been possible without us already having a site that was sufficiently remote from town as to not affect too many people. Once the death had occurred the authorities were understandably concerned about the condition of Rinpoche’s body so they sent a doctor on three separate occasions to visit us and view the body to make sure there wasn’t a public health threat of disease due to decomposition.
Most of this is fairly mundane information about a very spiritual process that our esteemed Buddhist monk went through. It is hard to convey anything other than this. One of the features of His Holiness’s school of Buddhism is a requirement that any spiritual achievements be hidden. However some great Buddhists seem to radiate a sense of well-being in others. That was very noticeable with Ven Thupten Tulku Rinpoche and especially so as he lay on his deathbed after passing away. The monks describe that state as absorption in Dharmakaya or the “wisdom truth body of Buddha” or the “clear light” of the most subtle level of mind. Remaining in it is said to accelerate one along the path to Buddhahood.
The Dhargyey Buddhist Centres are in Dunedin, Whangarei and Christchurch.
You can view the TVNZ news item on Thupten Rinpoche’s cremation here. You can also read an article in the Otago Daily Times.
Practices for Japan
10,000 Shakyo (hand-copying the Heart Sutra) for Japan, to be interred in the “Tohoku Earthquake Memorial Sutra Mound.”
Teachings on how to handle the stress of Earthquakes
Tuesday 19 July, 7.30pm, 333 River Road, Richmond, Christchurch. Chime Shore is a Buddhist teacher who will be offering teachings in Christchurch to help people at this very difficult time. Contact Kathleen, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Burials and cremation act review
The issues paper can be viewed here.
Mahamudra Centre in Coromandel has been working for some time now on a Buddhist-based programme for the treatment of Drug and Alcohol Addiction with the eventual goal being to establish a non-denominational residential treatment facility. Mahamudra now has a core team working on developing the programme but would like to find other Buddhist clinicians and people working in the area who might be interested in becoming involved with this project. Contact Ven. Nangsel at email@example.com.
Weblinks of interest
International Buddhist aid work
The mission of Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) is: “to provide relief to the poor and needy throughout the world regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or religion. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s statements that ‘hunger is the worst kind of illness’ and ‘the gift of food is the gift of life,’ BGR especially focuses on providing food aid to those afflicted by hunger and lack of food security. Its long-range goal, however, is to combat all the manifestations of poverty that detract from the inherent dignity of human life.” More information can be found here.
Religious diversity in Australia
Australian Human Rights Commission has issued a report on freedom of religion and beliefs.
There is also a news article about the report here.