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Pursuing Nirvana in Moscow

January 22, 2009

From MiX

At the Golden Blue Lotus Tara, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center nestled deep inside Moscow’s bustling Main Street, seemingly ordinary objects tend to take on more divine meanings.

A milky white cloth draped over a long, narrow two-tiered table, provided a stark contrast with all that rested upon it. A few cups of water, a handful of dried flowers, two red apples and one freshly bloomed white chrysanthemum all sat in their own small glass dishes, arranged neatly along the bottom tier. Brightly colored depictions of Buddha, framed with ornate fabrics, sat on and hung around the table. A single lit candle sat in a cream colored dish, in the very center of it all.

In another context, rich décor, flowers and candlelight could be interpreted as romantic, but at Golden Blue Lotus the arrangement packs a spiritual punch, serving as an altar and a meditation focal point.

“It’s like a telephone – a means of communication with the Buddha that literally invites them in,” explained Carolea Webb, a Pullman resident and practicing Buddhist of 11 years.

Webb led the 9:30 a.m. service Sunday perched cross-legged on a series of cushions, and chanted centuries-old mantras with the rest of the similarly seated group.

Lotus’ President of the Board, Patti Gora, stumbled onto Buddhism in a similar fashion. As an activist against violence toward women, Gora began to become disillusioned when, after teaching violence awareness for a little more than a decade, the problem only seemed to be getting worse.

“One day, I happened to catch a reading that turned all my assumptions on their head. It said the conditions of human suffering aren’t things that start outside of us, but that start within us. I decided to study more about that approach, and through Buddhism I was able to learn more valuable approaches to these issues,” Gora said.

“In Buddhism, time is looked at differently; there is no beginning and no end,” Webb said. “The Western world sees the ‘Big Bang Theory’ as a possible beginning. Buddhists see it as the possible start of a cycle which has been preceded by an infinite amount of identical cycles.”

This continuity of time makes for a unique take on the “Great Beyond.” The Buddhist notion of afterlife revolves around the ideas of nirvana and reincarnation dictated by karma. Nirvana, often equated to Christianity’s heaven, is not a postmortem location but an achieved spiritual condition.

“Nirvana is a state where you are no longer diluted,” Webb said.

Buddhism also lacks the distinct separation of the genders which is found in most monotheistic religions.

“Animals, humans, gods – all beings are equal. Period,” Webb said.

“Any sexism already present (in Asian cultures) could be because it was already there to begin with culturally,” said Nathan Foster, a junior secondary education major at the University of Idaho and practitioner at Golden Blue Lotus.

Historically, Buddha encouraged both males and females to become monks and nuns, but often kept the women separate to avoid upsetting cultural norms, Foster said.

Just like Webb and Gora, most Buddhists pursue their faith consciously and voluntarily.

“A lot of Christian faiths try to increase their membership, but Buddhism is different. The teachings are there to be shared and are open to everyone.” Gora said.

Buddhism, a fundamentally nonviolent religion, is focused on the betterment of all through the enlightenment of the individual.

Despite the gentle and accepting nature of Tibetan Buddhism, the Golden Blue Lotus doesn’t see as many college students as one would expect.

“(College students) tend to drop in and out. It varies semester to semester. I think it’s challenging for WSU students since the center is located in Moscow, and the weather can make getting here difficult,” Gora said.

For those interested in exploring Buddhism, Gora recommends reading up on it or just showing up to a service to see what it’s like.

“I think being in college is one of those great times where you’re in a new place and start to question everything. For some that comes in the form of spiritual question, for others, the form of intellectual questioning, this process of questioning is a very engaging time,” Gora said.

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