A world governed by religious philosophies and man-made boundaries, is often thought to be the cause why people do not have unity among them. Even though every religion eventually spread the message of peace and love, there are times, when extremists take the centre stage and ruin the picture altogether. When two religions exist under one roof, it is a topic to talk about. While paying a visit to Sri Lanka, Venerable Sujatha Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Blue Lotus Temple in Michigan spoke to the about how having a Church and a Buddhist temple under one roof became a reality. Excerpts:
Q : Can you tell something about your self?
I have my roots in Peradeniya and was ordained as a novitiate under the Venerable Sri Dhammavasanayake Thera at the Shri Subodharama Maha Viharaya in 1981.
At 21 years of age, the Upasampada Ordination was bestowed on me. Thereafter with the support of the Nayake Thera I was sent to Australia to join the temple in Brisbane, where I worked for seven years.
In 1997, upon a request made by the Subodharama Pirivenadhipathi Venerable Brahmanagama Muditha Thera I left for the US and served in a temple at the Michigan State for five years. Currently I am the chief incumbent of the Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple in North America.
Q : Why did you think of taking up a church for proceedings of a temple?
I initially wanted to do something for the people. I wanted to spread the Dhamma that I have learnt but I didn’t get an opportunity for that. Then I wanted to leave but I wasn’t fluent in my English. Thereafter I asked an American to find me a place to stay, and he told me that if I requested from the Churches they might reply. Afterwards I sent the letters to about 60 Churches. After five weeks two Churches replied. But they were too far. I decided to leave for the Unitarian Church in Chicago and meet the Father there. Although he said he didn’t know how to support a Buddhist monk he asked me to assist the people, who come for meditation sessions.
Since I was homeless he made arrangements for me to stay with q Church member and this was where I learnt my English.
Q : What happened then?
I didn’t know what the people expected from me but the Father asked me to conduct meditation classes. There were only three people at the first class and since I was also nervous all that we did was smile at each other for 15 minutes.
At the end of the class I thought they would never come again but then the Father asked me to hold the class once again and see. The same three came and I thought maybe they liked what I did. Gradually more and more started to join the classes and this I continued for nine years.
Q : How did you end up buying a Church building?
Many people who came for my classes asked me to buy the Church building. Since I wasn’t in a financially sound status one lady offered me $ 100,000 and others pooled in their money for me to buy it.
Q : Were there any challenges?
Yes. There are seven other Churches in and around the area and they started to have a fear of the unknown. There were protests against my work and I had threats as well.
But I always had the support of the locals around me and proved that I was on safe grounds. They were watching me and asked what I would do to the Church building. I didn’t change anything other than the name and colour.
So, the name was changed to Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple and I arranged the setting in such a way that on one side of the class is a 13 foot tall statue of Lord Buddha and on the other end is a 13 foot tall statue of Jesus.
Q : How has the progress been so far?
I conduct 386 meditation classes a year and in addition to that there are many other programmes as well. There are separate classes for the elderly as well. As of now there are nearly 15,000 families who have joined us in this cause.
Q : There are clashes between religions in many countries. Isn’t this an example for everybody?
Definitely. Clashes arise when people start to crave for things. We always have to respect each other. People have made these boundaries but we always have to be united. As a matter of fact, we conduct an annual conference for devotees of all religions at our temple. As Buddhists we need to show loving kindness and not anger and hatred. That is where world peace begins.
Q : Should monks enter politics?
I personally believe that politics is not necessary for monks. If they can live a proper life, people will come to them and will give due respect. A monk is highly respected in society and a monk should be a messenger of peace. Lord Buddha has shown us the path to follow and a monk should only follow that path. Similarly since I only believed in what was good for the country that I am in, the world came in search of me.
Q : Future plans?
I love Sri Lanka. Therefore I will do whatever I can to upgrade the lives of the poor people here. Every year we donate Rs. 600,000 to a hospital and this year we are donating it to the Kekirawa District hospital. In addition to that we assist schools, poor children, the homeless and many more. All this was possible because of our way of looking at life and following the Dhamma.
Readers can also visit www.bluelotustemple.org or www.bhantesujatha.org for more details about the temple