Winter 1993

ARIZONA UPDATE

In July, jurors convicted Jonathan Doody, nineteen, of a mass murder that shook the international Buddhist community. In 1991, six Thai monks, a nun, a monk-in-training, and a temple helper were shot execution-style at Wat Promkunaram temple in the Arizona desert twenty-five miles west of downtown Phoenix. The conviction was made partly on the basis of testimony from Doody's eighteen-year-old codefendant, Alessandro "Alex" Garcia, who struck a deal with prosecutors for life imprisonment in exchange for his cooperation.

Robbery was the motive for the crime, which netted the killers $2,790 and some photographic equipment. Doody, a military enthusiast whose Thai mother is a temple member and whose brother lived at the temple for two months preceding the slayings, ordered that there be no witnesses, Garcia told jurors.

In August, Buddhist dignitaries from around the globe gathered at the temple to mark the second anniversary of the killings. The ashes of the six monks were interred in a permanent monument, and blessings were bestowed on the base of what will become a community center for the congregation.

"We must remember we gather not to think of revenge," Walpola Piyananda, head of a Los Angeles temple, told those assembled.

The way we can honor those who died in such a singularly senseless manner is to give meaning to our own lives. This incident was caused by greed, hatred, anger, ignorance, and delusion. We have the weapons to fight these evil forces. We fight anger with loving-kindness. We fight cruelty with compassion. We fight jealousy with appreciative joy. We fight desire with equanimity. We fight ignorance with wisdom. That, as a Buddhist, is what we practice.

While some Buddhists in America have claimed that Doody is being framed by a racist Christian bureaucracy, their arguments have not been substantiated. Doody is scheduled to be sentenced in December, either to life imprisonment or death.

 

ROBOPRIEST



In a large cemetery in Yokohama, Japan, sutras for the deceased are intoned morning, noon, and night. And the priest who single-handedly conducts this ritual never stops to be refreshed. It helps, of course, that he's a robot.

The latest in funerary marketing strategy, this ghost in the machine was designed to help the cemetery expand its client base. Without an affiliation to a particular sect, the mechanical ecumenicist can accommodate Shinto, Shingon, JodoShinshu, Rinzai, Soto, and Christian deceased alike. The robot, whose convincing skin tone, blinking eyes, and moving mouth add a special something to the service, was purchased by the cemetery for $200,000. An added bonus is his dramatic exit: after the sutras are chanted he ascends into the ceiling. Talk about deus ex machina!

 

BIG BRUSH

Kazuaki Tanahashi's "Circle of the World," a Zen circle made with a ISO-pound brush, proved to be one of the most impressive events at the World Parliament of Religions recently held in Chicago. The sixfoot-tall brush was held by Tanahashi and three other American artists of diverse backgrounds—African, Mexican, and Eastern European—as a gesture to honor the spirit of the Parliament. A purification exercise was performed, and the canvas was blessed to prepare it for a fusion of art and spirit. Four children poured colored paint onto the canvas, and then the painters, all clad in white, took hold of the gargantuan copper brush and moved in a circle. It took about ten minutes and fifty pounds of paint to complete the artwork. The end result: a large open circle (a traditional symbol of enlightenment) and what Tanahashi claims is the world's largest single brushstroke.

Tanahashi explained the scale of the work by saying, "When the brush gets bigger, it gets more out of control. Then something beyond your conscious design, a different kind of message, can emerge."

 

MIXING IT UP

Just before the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian accord in September, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was quoted as saying, "In recent years I became a Buddhist. What I mean is that I understand the idea that the river is never the same at any moment. It changes with the water flow, all the time. The banks may remain the same but never the water." Could he have been thinking of Heraclitus?

Image 1: Jonathan Doody (top) and Alessandro Garcia, convicted of Thai temple killings, Courtesy: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Image 2:
Mechanical priest performing funeral rituals in Yokohama, Japan © Don Farber

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