…by Anura Guruge
Address of the temple: 162 Old Upton Road, Grafton, MA 01519
(just off Route 140, south of Grafton center)
Tel: 508-839-5038 & 646-897-8951
I am no longer a Buddhist. More on that later. This is the first time I had been to a Buddhist temple since 1992. But, it was definitely worth going and we all really enjoyed the experience. Suffice to say it was an all time first for Deanna and the kids.
This temple was founded by my first cousin, my mother’s oldest brother’s, youngest daughter. It is the 14th Buddhist temple, in 14 separate states in the U.S., that she has founded in the last 14 years! She, for obvious reasons, eschews publicity so I am not going to say anything more about her, other than that she is pretty amazing. I have about 16 cousins from my mother’s side and all of them are mega successful luminaries; I am the dud.
I had not seen her in 40 years! That was a primary motive for making the 120 mile (each way), 2 hour trek. I have interacted more with her older sister, and she even visited us from Texas 7 years ago. She called me up two weeks ago and told me that I should go and surprise my cousin. That is what we did, but she recognized me right away (the sister having told her that there might he a surprise).
There were at least 31 Buddhist monks and 1 Buddhist nun from all over the U.S., Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, D.C., Staten Island, Long Island. I was impressed.
I had expected to find 5 monks at that and possibly 150 people. Even the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.N., resident in New York City, drove up to the event.
I knew that there would be a lot of food but even that exceeded expectations. We got there around 10:30 am and left at 4:25 pm. They did 4 separate food servings in that time and there was still food left over.
There were 200 people or more. I was amazed.
The weather did not cooperate. It was awfully humid we had some heavy downpours. But, the weather did not impede proceedings. There was a large tent and everybody could fit in it.
So, it was good. Lot of nice people. I spoke with some; also with some of the Buddhist priests (the fact that I can no longer converse in Sinhalese being an embarrassing impediment, though I can still understand much of what is said to me in Sinhalese). Speaking with Buddhist priests used to be daily part of my life, sans exception, until we left Ceylon in 1967 – a week before my 14th birthday.
Deanna and Devanee were impressed. Teischan, as ever, was difficult. Not sure whether we will be going back. We might.
So, me and Buddhism, especially with me spending so much time and effort as a papal historian.
I was born a Buddhist to an awfully devout Buddhist family, my father even then a noted Buddhist scholar and activist — as he still is. If you don’t believe me start with this link or check Amazon (for ‘Ananada Guruge’). My young life was a total immersion in Buddhism. Buddhist priests visited the house, without fail, every day of the week — mainly in the morning, but sometimes at night as well. I had to go to Sunday school. But, during the rest of the week we could end up going to a temple a couple of times a week — not for religious purposes necessarily, but because my father had to meet with one or more monks about the various initiatives they were up to. One of them involved creating a Buddhist university. I was probably 8 around that time. Given that I got dragged to so many of the meetings I became quite involved with it! So, Buddhism was very much an integral part of my life.
People ask me, even today, whether I no longer follow the Buddhist way of life. Well, within reason, of course I do. The Buddhist way of life was never too onerous, though I used to get grief about the large number of eggs I ate (which explains my super high cholesterol). There are no commandments in Buddhism. Only precepts, and you only have to follow 5 of them. Three were never really a problem — given that Buddhism is somewhat ambivalent about meat eating. Plus from all I know, and remember I knew plenty, the precepts tell you to ‘TRY and REFRAIN‘. Yep, I do that. I try and refrain, always have, all my life. (As Oscar Wilde said: ‘I have great willpower. I can resist anything but temptation‘.) Plus, not sure that my 1/2 a glass of diluted red wine, strictly for medicinal purposes, counts anyway. So, my abandonment of Buddhism when I was about 18 years old (which was 40 years ago) had nothing to do with ‘way of life’.
It had everything to do with the AFTERLIFE. You talk to Buddhist in America and they start waxing lyrical about meditation. That is like saying Catholicism is all about confession. Meditation played no role in my life growing up as this model Buddhist, in Ceylon, the supposed cradle of pure Buddhism, in a family noted as exemplary Buddhist. I actually asked my father about this, on camera, earlier this Summer. He admitted that meditation did not play much of a role in the Buddhism we practiced in Ceylon.
To be Buddhism was, and still is, all about reincarnation. Those that have seen some of my work know that I am a pedantic devil that likes to mull about very arcane topics. Well, when I was in College, among other things, I did a lot of thinking about reincarnation. When I was about 15, after a funeral, at a large family gathering at one of my uncles houses, with quite a few heavyweights from the Ceylon Buddhist scene, I asked all present: ‘per Buddhism, when does reincarnation of a human ‘soul’ start, at the moment of conception or when the baby is born?’ There was a stunned silence. The uncle whose house it was, had a brother. He was the Secretary General of the ‘Ceylon Buddhist Congress‘. I still can remember the look on his face. He was a lifelong bachelor. I was asking about conception and Buddhism. His jaw dropped. Actually I never got an answer. I still haven’t, over 5o years later.
I cannot, for the world of me, reconcile reincarnation. To me, if I do not believe in reincarnation I couldn’t and shouldn’t be a Buddhist.
I explained that to my father. He understood. He is a scholar. His only issue is what do I believe in IF I don’t believe in reincarnation. Aaahhh.
Well, life permitting, I plan to write a book someday about ‘Growing Up Buddhist in Ceylon in the 1960s‘. But, before that I have two other titles I would like to get done — life permitting, and yes, one of them has to do with popes, now that I have gone a whole full year without publishing a pope book!
But, bottom line, we are glad we went to the temple opening (consecration) today. It was good to see my cousin. It was good to see all those people. Thanks.