I hied myself over to Amsterdam yesterday for an open house at what used to be St. Casimir’s Church and is now the Five Buddhas Temple for two reasons, really.
One was to see if the xenophobia directed at Muslims has spread to include Chinese Buddhists, and the other was to try to get a handle on what’s going on with these Buddhists anyway, whose presence in Amsterdam I had not previously been aware of.
Inside the temple
To view photos taken at the temple by Carl Strock, click HERE.
On the first score I can report with pride there was no xenophobia on display. On the contrary, the 50 or so residents who turned out on this rainy afternoon applauded when one of their number welcomed the newcomers and apologized to them for the rude questions they had been asked which were no business of the people who asked them.
This appeared to be a reference to me, who had asked the newcomers, and especially their leader, how they had happened to come to Amsterdam, what they had done previously, and where they got the money to buy old unused churches and schools and foreclosed houses, as they had been doing.
I meant no harm. I was just doing my job, and if I gave offense, I beg forgiveness.
Which leads me to say that on the second score, getting a handle on what’s going on, I had little success.
The “master,” as they call him, Ziguang Shang Shi, said he had been led to Amsterdam by a prophecy in a Chinese book that referred to a beautiful place on the peak of a snowy mountain, founded (or maybe populated) by people with red faces. He also said it was by the will of God that they came. As a student of both geography and theology, I found these answers unsatisfying.
The money they have been spending buying everything from a former Jesuit retreat in Auriesville to two Catholic churches in Amsterdam comes from “donors,” nothing more, and the billion dollars that he talked about investing to make Amsterdam a tourist center will come from “investors,” nothing more.
Before coming here from China five years ago, the master taught people to do good and avoid doing bad, just as he does now, though he acknowledged that his World Health and Peace Organization did not exist then.
Of course none of this is my business, and I can’t blame him for dodging my questions. If he can produce a billion simoleons to make Amsterdam a tourist center surpassing Amsterdam in the Netherlands, as he suggested, he will have my support no matter where he gets those simoleons and likewise if he can prevail on people to do good rather than bad.
He is an energetic fellow for his 70 years, I’ll say that, and blustery too. After keeping us waiting for 10 minutes or so, he made a grand entrance, wrapped in a brown velvet robe, waving a book over his head, then sprang onto a table, settled himself into a cross-legged guru position, and launched into a spirited harangue, in Mandarin, against the vandals who lately broke into the temple, stole Buddha statues, cut copper pipes and caused other, unspeakable damage involving excrement, which I hadn’t known about.
He declared they were not after the copper but were rather terrorists, trying to drive good people away so they could wallow in their own rotten ways, but he would not be intimidated. On the contrary he was prepared to offer them employment, as cleaners.
Full of beans, he was, and his red-and-yellow-robed followers clearly delighted not only in his words but in his very presence.
He elicited a measure of skepticism only when someone asked him about “public input” into his plans, and he replied that he had been dealing with the mayor, and in his understanding the mayor speaks for the people.
Well, not in this country, thank you. But it was no big deal and it did not spoil the friendly and welcoming atmosphere, although clearly some people were puzzled, like the old gentleman sitting near me who told me he had been baptized, taken communion and been married in this building.
I asked him how it felt now, as I gestured to the lurid wall hangings showing, for example, a bull-horned, blue-skinned god with bulging eyes (Vajrapani, I think) in amorous embrace with his consort.
“Strange,” he acknowledged.
But Amsterdam has been through other demographic shifts which must have seemed strange at the time — from Dutch, to Polish, to Puerto Rican — and people have managed to adjust.
An adjustment to newcomers with serious money to invest might not be so trying.
And if the master’s regimen of meditation and clean living can cure folks of their ills, as it purportedly cured one woman who testified yesterday, that can only be a bonus.
The woman just recently arrived from Los Angeles and told us as a result of her lessons with the master she was able to get out of her wheelchair, replacement kneecaps and all. And she walked around to show us, so we would believe, and she promised, through an interpreter, that from now on she will “definitely be a follower of master.”
Master charges for his instruction, of course, but yesterday, as a special, he offered three days of classes at no charge to all those who attended the open house. I hope that’s not how he’s planning to raise a billion simoleons.
I skipped out before the program concluded, so I don’t know how many takers he got, but I left with a vision of some second- or third-generation Polish-Americans sitting cross-legged in the basement of what used to be St. Casimir’s Church, doing a Chinese Buddhist routine to relieve the ache in their joints, and I thought, well, the world certainly does not stand still.
I referred the other day to the Democrats in Schenectady taking over in 1994. That was a slip on my part. I meant 2004, having in mind when Brian Stratton became mayor.