Heaven on earth

Heaven on Earth

Reflections on Buddhism with Masters Thich Tri-Hien and Roger Cantu

by Julie Olson, Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Hometown Star Magazine

An island of Eastern serenity rests just blocks from Belt Line Road and Main Street in Grand Prairie.

Founded in 1982, the Chua Phap Quang Vietnam Buddhist temple sits well back off the road, behind mature trees, gates and a courtyard garden. It reflects one of the primary tenets of the Pure Land sect that built it: "heaven on earth, in this life, is an attainable goal" reads a sign near the entrance.

"Some people believe Nirvana is actually a place, and some believe it’s actually here," Master Thich Tri-Hien said. "We try to achieve it here... When you forget everything, in time your mind is at peace. You know very well what you are doing, and you come to achieve Buddhahood"

Master Tri-Hien said there are thousands of Buddhas, or enlightened ones. His group prays often to Amitahba Buddha, who is believed to reside in a place that closely coincides with Western ideas of paradise.

"It’s a perfect place where you have the ability to create what you need, where you don’t have to depend on others or suffer from sickness or old age, or lose the ones you love," temple administrator Hai-Van Thi Nuguyen said.

"Everybody has a Buddha nature, and we have the power to become that if we work on it." Tri-Hien said.

"When a man chants the name of Amitahba Buddha, when he sincerely believes in himself and in the power of Buddha, he will be welcomed to the pure land."

Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, grew up in what is now Nepal, and his religion spread through Tibet and Bhutan, on to China and Japan. Buddhism is built on the four noble truths: there is suffering in the world; suffering comes from attachments; there is a way to end suffering; and the way to end it is by learning the path of Buddhism. The eight-fold path includes meditation and letting go of our emotional attachments.

Nguyen estimated that the temple averages 400 worshippers, mostly Vietnamese from around the Metroplex, for Sunday services, with "a couple thousand attending on major holidays". Services include a sermon by Tri-Hien and chants from the sutra, or Buddhist religion texts.

Chanting is a way of achieving "mindfulness," the complete combination of heart and mind and the "other" of humanity and divinity. Buddhist strive for mindfulness at all times.

We chant to release the obstacles in life. Chanting is meditation. It keeps your mind quiet," Tri-Hien said. "We must control our mind to become self-masters."

That’s exactly what attracted Roger Cantu of Arlington to Buddhism. Cantu moved from Laredo, Texas to Orange, California to attend college and soon became interested in meditation and Eastern philosophies.

I felt really lost and confused by life. I had no direction," he said. "Meditation gave me the opportunity to focus myself and create a vision of what to do with my life."

Cantu studied Buddhism at the American Buddhist Society in New York before becoming a Buddhist in 1989. Buddhists "take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, which is the teachings of the Buddha, and the sangha, or their spiritual community," Cantu said.

Cantu’s goal as a teacher of meditation is to seek Enlightenment and share with others what he has learned. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington in May of 1997, and has written four books on his spiritual experiences.

He organized the Meditation Club of Arlington four years ago, focusing on the nondenominational aspects of meditation and its benefits of increased energy, stress relief and self-discipline.

Around 25 people come Thursday nights on a regular basis. Cantu said the point of meditation is to still one’s surface mind, which is active like the waves of the ocean, in order to get to the calmer, deeper mind.

You can get rid of a lot of the conditioning that other people have given you and realize who you are," he said.

Buddhist believe in reincarnation and karma. This world is viewed as the middle of six worlds where souls can go to reincarnate.

Once you become enlightened, you go into Nirvana and merge with the Universe. You don’t have to come back to this neighborhood," Cantu said. "But if you do a lot of bad deeds, you can go to one of the hell worlds."

Cantu said that people often misunderstand the concept of karma. "People talk about having ‘bad karma’ when in reality, you are the generator of your own karma," he said. "Basically it’s like going to school. If you study, you get good grades. If you don’t study, you don’t do well."

What you are learning is to enjoy every moment of life, which is corollary to mindfulness.

At every moment you choose your state of mind," Cantu said. "If you are happy with life, the better your state of mind. Every experience in life can teach you something. Life is the ultimate teacher."