Today was Mother's Day and a Vesak talk at the Vendanta Center of St. Petersburg and or noble leader, Rick Ferris gave a talk on the life and times of Gautama the Buddha and his four truths, which are also noble, meaning that they are ennobling if you understand them and practice the eight-fold path.
I wasn't going to go as it was mother's day and i was painting the house for my wife, but as God's will would have it she was invited to a Cantonese Mother's Day lunch and I had already painted three hours in the morning...so I took a quick shower and headed off with my G1 to find the little chapel downtown. Rick had sent me this background info:
"Vedanta is a sort of reform Hinduism. It was founded by Vivekananda around 1900. He was the main Hindu delegate to the 1893 Chicago World’s Parliament of Religions -- the first time both Hinduism and Buddhism were formally introduced to America. (Two of the main Buddhist delegates were Anagarika Dharmapala [Vivekananda's friend from Sri Lanka who introduced Theravada to America], and Zen teacher Soyen Shaku [who sent his star student D.T. Suzuki to the West as a missionary]).
Many Hindus also revere Buddha (often as an avatar of Vishnu); and some forms of Hinduism are almost Zen-like. Vivekananda thought there is an essential bond between Hinduism and Buddhism (tho he was maybe a little eccentric -- see Buddhism, The fulfillment of Hinduism -- from my reading, Buddhism didn't evolve from Hinduism; it's better to say they share a common ancestor).
Alan Watts has called the original Buddhism "Hinduism stripped for export" (-- the basic philosophy without all that Indian cultural weirdness).
I got involved with the Vedantas through Jim Cameron -- he used to be in Vedanta, and recommended me to them when they were looking for a Buddhist representative at an interfaith meeting at USF-St Pete a while back.
I'm going to try for a 'Buddhism without Beliefs' sort of approach, stressing the historical/religious environment that Buddha lived in (lots of it from one of my favorite books, Trevor Ling's The Buddha: Buddhist Civilization in India and Ceylon), and the core teachings shared by the religions.
The local Vedanta priest, Swami Ishtananda, seems knowledgeable and ecumenical." [Rick]
I [Tom] arrived just on time and the little chapel was very spartan except for the flowers and three pictures in the front. Little four page prayer books sat on the pews with a very humanist and inspiring message. Rick delivered an excellent prepared speech, with many sweeping hand gestures--one cold tell he was a former professor--and always very interesting to listen to.
Swami Ishtananda added that Hindus worshiped the Buddha as a reincarnation of Vishnu and that the Buddha was interested in two major reforms of Hinduism, getting rid of the concept of caste and also animal sacrifice, which was practiced by all major religions at the time.
Rick's talk was followed by a meditation and offering and as we walked out slowly, everyone shook the Swami's hand and said a few words, so there was a line to exit the chapel. I stopped by the closet size bookstore to purchase two books, "The Bhagavad Gita" and "Relief of Tension, Depression & Anxiety through Spiritual Living" by Swami Tathagatannanda.
It is a very peaceful little chapel and everyone was very nice. Another member of our group Leo Olson, also came and I chatted with him afterwards. After the service we all headed to the rectory next door for dessert and discussion, followed by a full course Indian vegetarian lunch and dessert, pie topped with ice cream, which made me exclaim that it was the best Vesak so far this month of May! We had more conversations and I learned more about the activities and classes of the center, which are listed on their website.
I suggested to Rick and he agreed that we should list the center on our website since it is every bit as much in the spirit of Buddhism as any other group, even though technically it is a Hindu group. I also listed two of their classes on our commnityedproject.org website. Am thinking of visiting the yoga class. I talked to one member who said it was very basic Hatha Yoga and stressed the spirituality of the practice, as an aid to meditation.