All primary sources are published with the permission of the St. Monica Archives (SMA).
Month: March 2020 Page 1 of 3
All primary sources are published with the permission of the St. Monica Archives (SMA).
These documents comprise an index of the material culture from Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Augustine, St. Monica, and Ss. Peter and Paul, as of January 2008. Many of the items have been donated and are no longer in the Diocese of Rochester. Due to the file size of the catalogue, it has been compressed for online viewing.
RCC19 Artifact Collection, IntroductionB.-Read-First-artifacts.PDF-DR-copy-1
Catalogue of Combined RCC19 ArtifactsCatalog-Combined-Artifacts.PDF-copy_compressed
Author: Cole Summers
HIS 191: Ethnographic report
I chose to visit the White Lotus Buddhist Center because I have always been interested in Buddhism, mainly for its focus on the self and its lack of worshipping supernatural deities. I was intrigued most by the Center because, of my limited knowledge of Buddhism and its core philosophies, I resonated most with the ideas of self-reflection, meditation, the eight-fold path, the middle way, and its advocacy of virtues such as patience and empathy. I have always been especially attracted to the story of Prince Siddhartha and his journey toward becoming the Buddha — particularly the idea that the Buddha is human, and everyone has the potential to themselves become an “Awakened One.” Admittedly, being a huge fan of the children’s animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, I am very interested in the philosophy and mythos of the show. Several of the characters are clearly inspired by either the Buddha or Tibetan Buddhist monks, and much of the show’s philosophy seems inspired by Buddhist and Hindu teachings. It’s possible my love of the ATLA series and its content is another reason I was attracted towards visiting the White Lotus Buddhist Center.
The instant I walked in the church, a young man enthusiastically greeted me, as he was himself walking out. I am not sure if he was visiting the Center or the Immanuel Baptist Church on the first floor. When I got to the second floor, an older man sitting at a fold-up table with a clipboard asked me, “Are you the college student?” This gave me the impression that, of the people attending, there are either few newcomers or very few college-aged members. I took off my shoes, signed in as a guest, and walked into what appeared to be the main room of the center.
There were maybe four rows of maroon sitting mats with small cushions, and in front of each, a small white raised tray. Behind the rows of sitting cushions are two rows of upholstered chairs. Several fans around the room were on full blast, as it was an especially hot day. There was no air-conditioning, but plenty of windows and sunlight, with many trees and plants in view just outside. It smelled like incense, and although I couldn’t see any burning incense sticks, there were at least ten lit candles sitting at the front of the altar. I assumed these were the source of the incense scent, although, for all ten of them to be burning, the smell was not overwhelming (perhaps because of the many open windows and fans).
At the front of the room was an altar, with a large gold statue of the Buddha at its center, and many flowers and other framed pictures surrounding it. There was so much material on the altar that it was difficult to take stock of everything that was there. This was further heightened by the enormous amount of material culture all around the room. Many framed paintings, drawings, and colorful fabrics hung on every wall. All the artwork was extremely detailed and intricate. Near the entrance was a wooden table with a number of texts in medium-sized baskets.
On their website, the center members are sure to stress the importance of the teacher-disciple relationship. They note that the Dalai Lama says that the disciple should observe the teacher for thirteen years, but also that this is likely impossible in the modern Western world, with a high and immediate demand for spiritual leaders. Also, some students may come to one session and not return for another month. It is difficult, they say, for a teacher-student relationship to truly be established in today’s age. They note, “The Dalai Lama has taught that traditionally a practitioner would examine a teacher for 13 years before completely accepting the teacher. Teachers, too, need to examine the student.” They caution newcomers to not blindly attach themselves to new teachers and religious leaders on a moment’s whim, including the spiritual leaders at the Center. I find this a very healthy mindset and helpful guidance from the Center. I appreciate them taking an active interest in the role of the potential disciple’s well being (perhaps that is to be expected!).
When I visited, there were two older women, three older men, a young woman with a very young child (it seemed likely she was the mother), and of course the Tibetan monk Khenpo Monlam. Except for the monk, everyone in the room was white. When I researched their website, I came across another photo with many more members than the eight in attendance, and again, all except the monk were white. I can’t speculate as to why this is, although maybe the overwhelmingly white interest/presence at this Buddhist center (despite Rochester being a diverse city) is related to the mostly white interest in New Thought, modern spirituality, and the wellness movement. Perhaps in a mostly white country, white people are not inherently tied to any particular religion in the same way that people of color and minorities might find their religious beliefs and sites to be centers of their community and cultural identity. So, perhaps white people are more likely to seek out alternative religion when they live in a society where they don’t need to have a particular religion or center as a keystone of their identity. At least among the members in the online photograph, the trend is completely white, mostly older people, and more women than men. These demographics seem to parallel those of the modern spirituality and wellness movement.
After I sat down on the mat, I was given a guest copy of the text in use for the day. Other members entered the room, bringing several items with them including bells and hand drums, which were placed on their respective raised trays. The Tibetan monk Khenpo Monlam entered the room, and bowed many times towards the altar of the Buddha while saying something under his breath with his eyes closed, possibly some type of prayer. Several other, but not all, members also start bowing towards the Buddha altar. After a while, the service began.
The practice started immediately with singing in Tibetan. Over the course of the hour-long practice, there were two alternating musical passages for the Tibetan text. As far as I am able to remember, both were variations based on the minor pentatonic scale. What I found especially interesting was how each time there was a switch in the singing pattern, which every member knew perfectly, they switched key centers. I do not have perfect pitch, so I do not know if we returned to the same keys each time, but it certainly felt like we did.
The older man who greeted me at the sign in table seemed to lead the actual chanting, rather than the monk. I am unsure if this is true, or if he is simply louder than the monk Khenpo Monlam. At several points in the service, the man also notes when to switch from singing the scripture in Tibetan to speaking the English translation. I am unsure how much of his narration is standard or if most of it is for my benefit. I am also not sure if I am correct in this observation or if I am blind to how the practice is run.
At several points during the practice, the monk Khenpo Monlam raises his two hand cymbals and motions for everyone to start playing their musical instruments. I do not know if the instruments are divided among the members differently depending on who is present on any given day, or if they are individually rented or owned. On the day I visited, there was an interesting diversity of instruments. One man sounded a conch shell, one woman struck a bass drum in the back slowly, and the others all had a variety of instruments (as well as other items of material culture) placed on their raised tray tables. Several members used hand drums, with attached strings and beads that, when the drum was rotated quickly, struck the two surfaces of the drum. Other instruments present included bells and more cymbals. I do not know the significance of the music or how it relates to the White Tara practice, but it appeared to be a type of inspired group improvisation. After an indeterminable amount of time (perhaps three to five minutes in each case), the monk raised his cymbals again and slowly put them back together, gradually ending the music. This cycle of singing Tibetan, chanting English, and group instrumental improvisation occurred several times over the course of the practice. After the singing and chanting finished, the monk Khenpo Monlam offered a very brief coda to the session. My head was spinning so much that I could barely hear him, but I heard him mention nirvana, the individual journey of the self towards becoming a Bodhisattva, and the two noble truths of Buddhism. He and the older man to his left conversed briefly on the subject before the practice officially ended, and the members started to leave the room.
I felt overwhelmed by the time the practice was over. I walked to the baskets at the room’s entrance and picked up a tiny blue book: “Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas” by Ngülchu Thogmay Zangpo. The man who welcomed me earlier described the small pocketbook as the ultimate “crystallization” of the teachings of Buddhism and the path towards becoming a Bodhisattva. He noted that the 37 teachings contain both surface level truths and a great number of deeper meanings. He implied that within every “crystal” of teaching, one could go almost infinitely deep into its meaning. He urged me to not read and instantly make one judgment, but rather that the teachings were meant to be intensively pondered, perhaps for years or over an entire lifetime. The small book is free, and offered to every new attendee of the Center.
After the service, the man (my biggest regret from the visit is not remembering or even writing down his name) talked with me for a while. He himself had been practicing variations of Buddhism in Rochester for the past twenty years. He practiced Zen Buddhism for seventeen years, and decided to switch to the Tibetan Buddhist teachings at the White Lotus Center. He stressed that within Buddhism, unlike some other religions, the variations and different branches do not hold the same significance as branches of Christianity, for example. He said that, basically, as long as it centers on the teachings of the Buddha, it is Buddhism.
The man also briefly described the life of the monk in attendance, Khenpo Monlam. He was recognized at a very young age to be a great spiritual (specifically Buddhist) prodigy. However, he was sent away to a Chinese labor camp for twenty years. The man said, however, that is was not a great obstacle for Khenpo Monlam, as he was able to continue his personal path as a Bodhisattva completely within his own mind for the entire twenty years. He noted that while his body was hard at work doing physical labor, his mind was also working, studying, and pondering the practices of Bodhisattvas and the truths of Buddhism.
Everyone at the service seemed to know everyone else there. There was relatively limited social interaction, but it seemed mostly due to the intense and sincere focus on the activity/purpose at hand. As written on their website, the center is “dedicated to the transmission of Buddha’s teachings and realization to America.”
Before visiting, I assumed the center would be in a huge, Victorian-style church, with very dark lighting and a great number of people. I also did not know (and still do not) a great deal about Tibetan Buddhism, so I was primarily expecting some variation of Zen Buddhism with an emphasis on meditation. One thing I did predict beforehand and was not surprised of upon arrival was the lack of diversity and the presence of only white people.
However, I was very wrong in my assumptions in setting, as the church had its door propped wide open, several rainbow pride flags were hanging on the outside, and the room where the White Tara practice was held was completely filled with sunlight. There were fewer people than I expected, but I believe this is mostly due to the day that I visited, which was described to me by at least three of the senior members as “jumping in the deep end.” The service on Sunday seems to be more suited for new members.
The White Lotus Buddhist Center and its members are part of a larger trend of increased interest and participation in non-Abrahamic religions and New Religious Movements in the United States, particularly among white Americans. The Center seems mostly sustained through the time, money, efforts, and membership of mostly white citizens of Rochester. The members who were present when I visited were serious, sincere, and kind, clearly dedicated to their beliefs and practices (maybe with the exception of the guy on the phone at the beginning). I was especially surprised at how kindly I was treated and how quickly I was accepted into their community.
* I acknowledge the following holes in my report: my lack of knowledge on both White Tara practice, and Tibetan Buddhism in general. This report is based on only one visit, and after writing this, I should have visited at least two more times for a more complete picture of the Center. I also wish I had interviewed or at least talked to the leaders and members of the Center more extensively. I am especially saddened I was not able to learn more about the life of Khenpo Monlam. I would love to learn what his daily practices are.
“About White Lotus.” White Lotus Buddhist Center, 2002. https://www.whitelotusdharma.org/about/.
Teachers.” White Lotus Buddhist Center, 2002. https://www.whitelotusdharma.org/teachers/.
Author: Adrian Remnant
HIS 191: Cults, Chakras, and Crunchy Granola
July 23, 2019
For this report, I chose the Hindu Temple of Rochester. I chose this site for a number of reasons. Firstly, I have a long held (though distant, given that I was not raised in the community) attraction to Hinduism. As a child, I found the bright colors of the artwork found in Hindu shrines and temples appealing. The apparent peacefulness of the blue-skinned deities, frequently surrounded by cosmic imagery, and adorned with luxurious garments, caught my eye. As I grew older, other aspects drew me to the religion. The story of Krishna (a deity who, for whatever reason, I always liked), and his battle against a demon (the specifics of the story escape me), was compelling. There was also the (again, apparent) polytheism of Hinduism. Instead of one God, simultaneously abstract, and personified as (usually) a bearded white man, Hinduism’s gods took many forms, all of them seemingly non-human. How wrong I was. Like many non-Hindus, I had bought into a misconception about the status of deities, and it wasn’t until my visit that the notion would be dispelled.
I visited the Hindu Temple of Rochester on July 19, 2019. The temple is situated at the end of a long road, in an area also home to Word of Life Christian Fellowship, In Christ New Hope Ministry, Inc., Faith United Methodist Church, and Christ View Church. Founded in 1975, so as to cater to the needs of Rochester’s growing Hindu population, the temple did not have a structure of its own until 1993. Prior to the latter date, the temple consisted of Rochester’s Hindu community organizing festivals and classes from “homes, at various public places, Interfaith Chapel of U of R and ICC [India Community Center].” In that year, the temple’s first stage of construction was completed, and the site has undergone continued expansion up until least 2016. For transportation purposes, I visited with a friend. Upon reaching the building, I was surprised by its apparently utilitarian architecture. It was not a collection of domes and spires, as I expected, but a two-story brick building with a gable roof, though the entrances were adorned with the characteristic low spires and Sanskrit lettering.
I brought several other assumptions with me, some of which had their origin in my own (very limited) knowledge of Hinduism, and others that were fed to me via popular culture. Many of these were visual in nature: as mentioned previously, cosmic images of many-armed, blue-skinned gods, sometimes with the heads or bodies of animals. Another was the polytheism of Hinduism, the assumption that the Hindu pantheon is home to many gods and goddesses as opposed to the popular Abrahamic notion of a single God (monotheism). There is also, as far as I still understand, a lack of uniformity in Hinduism, but rather refers to a broad range of traditions and forms of worship with a few unifying notions. I also knew, vaguely, the ideas of Karma and reincarnation were a part of Hindu theology, but again, only vaguely. I knew they were important, but not why, and did not understand the details of them. In short, apart from the few fragments of knowledge and popular assumptions I had imbibed over the years, I came to the Hindu Temple of Rochester as a blank slate, at least with regards to the religion.
Upon entering the structure, we were greeted with a large staircase, and were directed to a room off to the left where we removed our shoes, before ascending to the main prayer area. This was a large, mostly empty space. The floor consisted of soft (I believe) red felt carpeting. At the front of the room there was a large shrine, home to several carefully decorated and dressed statues, each a representation of a different deity, including Lord Krishna (representing tricksters, childhood, and playfulness) and Lord Rama (representing authority, might, and paternalism). There was also a smaller shrine, home to a sole elephant headed deity, off to the right, near the room’s entrance. We sat and waited for our correspondent, Mrs. Rao, chair of the temple’s board of trustees.
As we sat waiting to meet Mrs. Rao, we made a number of observations about life at the temple. An older couple entered the space. They circled the elephant-headed deity a number of times, before kneeling in front of the statue, almost prone, in apparent prayer. We also saw a priest enter the shrine area. He started playing a chant or prayer over the loudspeakers built into the room’s roof, and chanted/prayed along with it, while intermingling with the deity-statues, rhythmically ringing a bell, and interacting with the statues, gently brushing and sprinkling water on them.
Mrs. Rao’s explanation of the broad tenets of Hinduism occupied most the time I spent at the temple. We moved to the far end of the room, so as to avoid distraction from, and avoid distracting, the priest, and Mrs. Rao began her explanation with one of Hinduism’s most important tenants, that of the Brahman. The Brahman is a concept that translates very roughly to energy, or life force. As I understood it, Brahman is a universal force that everything, and everyone, belongs to. The same Brahman that exists in myself exists in my friend, Mrs. Rao, and every other person. Because of this, when Hindus greet each other, they do so by saying, “Namaste,” the recognition that souls in each individual are the same, and bow to the Higher Principle (the Brahman, or the Universal Spirit, life-force, etc.), with their hands open and together (reminiscent of Christian prayer hands), each hand representing the meeting of the two “same” souls.
The question then became, if the soul is the same, as part of the Brahman, why is the “packaging” different? That is, why do we look different, have different lives, different levels of wealth? The answer to that is Karma Theory. According to Karma Theory, an individual accrues various positives and minuses throughout their life. Good and kind thoughts (and actions, but more importantly, thoughts) translate into positive karma, while bad and malicious thoughts and actions translate into negative karma. At the end of one’s life, the individual’s karma is added up. If they have more positive than negative karma, in their next life they will be a human, and depending on how large the margin, potentially a very wealthy, handsome, or talented human. If there is a very small margin or the karma adds up to be equal, they will be a human, but poor, ugly, or otherwise unfortunate. If they have more negative than positive karma, they will be a plant or animal, and their slate will be wiped clean. For this reason, she said, she will never be jealous if she sees someone of greater wealth than her, more attractive than her, better with people than her, etc., because their actions in a previous life allowed for their elevated position in this life. So what happens when a person accrues no negative karma?
This brings us to deities, or more accurately, Deity. Despite the common misconceptions, there is only one god in Hinduism. When a person has accrued only positive karma, they merge with God. The multiple deities that are frequently associated with Hinduism are merely representations of the many different aspects of Brahman and God. As previously stated, Rama represents authority and fatherhood, while Krishna represents trickery, innocence, and childlikeness. Ganesha, the elephant headed god, has large ears, so that he can hear gossip, but a very small mouth so he doesn’t recite it. According to Mrs. Rao, all of these representative deities exist as certain benchmarks, ways that individuals can understand small components of the grander Universal Spirit. Before leaving, we circled the shrine to the deities, as a reminder to keep God in the center of our lives, and were given water and nuts, as no one is to leave a temple without having been given sustenance.
Certain principles that we discussed with Mrs. Rao were definitely reminiscent of themes and motifs we have discussed in class. It’s easy to see where Theosophists, Universalists, hippies, and other spiritualists drew particular influence from Hinduism.
Unlike much of Abrahamic religion, Hinduism is not so concerned with worship of God, but rather views worship as self-directed. One prays to God not necessarily out of reverence, but because that prayer will help prevent any negative thought from entering their minds. Through this, one might not need to go to the temple, or even pray, as prayer is a tool to be used for ones’ self, not an act of worship. This focus on both individualism and positive thinking is found several strains of new age spirituality. New Thought and Theosophy both sought to harness the power of positive thinking. In the individualist strain, many new age practitioners pick and choose beliefs at will, and are not unified by a common code. The emphasis in new age spirituality is usually not on worship, but on some sort of restorative property that an individual can access.
The universalism of liberal American religions also finds parallels with Hinduism. Mrs. Rao told me that her son had married a Christian woman, and that she now keeps a picture of Jesus Christ in her shrine at home. She said that a Hindu can pray to Jesus Christ and still be a Hindu, if praying to that particular figure is what helps them clear their mind of negative thoughts. This is reminiscent of two strains of American liberal religion: Universalism, the idea that all religions are somehow correct or have insight, and, to a lesser extent, monism, that God is in everything.
Hindu Temple of Rochester. http://www.hindutempleofrochester.com.
 Hindu Temple of Rochester, “History of the Hindu Temple of Rochester,” http://www.hindutempleofrochester.com/temple-history.html.
 Hindu Temple of Rochester, “Board of Trustees,” http://www.hindutempleofrochester.com/board-of-trustees.html.
The following information is copied, with slight modifications, from the University of Rochester Course Description Course Schedule (CDCS) database.
Course: HIS 191
Course Title: Cults, Chakras, & Crunchy Granola
Term: Summer 2019
Schedule: MTWR 1300–1600
Building/Room: Meliora 205
Class Info: Course Runs July 1–July 26
Instructors: Daniel Gorman Jr.
Description: This course looks at religious practices in the “New Age,” from 1950 to the present, as Americans explored traditions beyond Christianity. Examples include yoga, Reiki, alternative medicine, reincarnation, spirit communication, immigrant religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and Native American religions. Often the media splits the New Age into two parts — the happy, shiny “Age of Aquarius,” emphasizing self-improvement and peace, and the grim “Age of Cults,” referring to events such as the Manson murders, the Jonestown massacre, and the Waco siege. In this course, we will mix the lecture and seminar formats, as we explore seventy years of eclectic religious history. We will emphasize alternative medicine, libertarian politics, consumerism, and cultural appropriation. Assignments include a primary source paper and an ethnographic report about the New Age religions of the student’s choice. There will be a field trip to some of Rochester’s New Age religious institutions.