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India wanderer shares insights in Lake County

by Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel, June 13, 2007

Orlando, FL (USA) -- When last we checked in with Mark Winwood, the Yalaha resident had just returned from a month of wandering in India, ending at Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.

His journey in May 2006 was one of self-discovery, and on his return, he began looking for like-minded souls with whom to discuss life changes. Lake County wasn't exactly overflowing with experts in philosophical Eastern thought. So he started a study group to cultivate an interest in Dharma, the practice and traditions of Buddhist life.

But Winwood's trip to Dharamsala, which also is the site of the Tibetan government-in-exile, raised as many questions as it answered for him, and almost before his plane landed back in the U.S., he was longing to return. (The Chinese occupation of Tibet began in 1949, and since then, teachers and religious leaders have kept their traditions, culture and spiritualism alive by living elsewhere.)

Winwood's biggest question: Can I live as a Buddhist in a Western culture that offers no support for Eastern ways of life?

To find the answer, Winwood went back to India in November and December. After those two months, including six weeks spent with Buddhist monks, Winwood found the answer: yes, and he decided he can help other people do it, too.

And so, the Chenrezig Project was born. Chenrezig, Winwood said, is the Buddhist representation of compassion.

The project includes a weekly study group, teaching meditation techniques and speaking to a variety of organizations about infusing life with compassion (more information: chenrezigproject.org).

Now, Winwood is sponsoring the appearance of Ani "Sister" Amy Miller, an American-born Buddhist nun, who will present a seminar on "The Joy of Dharma" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Leesburg Cultural Arts Center. The subtitle is "Cultivating Wisdom, Compassion and Happiness in Your Life."

The city facility will be transformed into a gompa, a Buddhist meditation center, with flowers, candles, incense, Tibetan art and photographs of the Dalai Lama, Winwood said.

Miller is sought after, he said, because she understands both cultures and can make Westerners truly comprehend and appreciate the different thought process that goes into how Buddhists live.

For example, he said, one of the things the nun teaches is that if you have a curiosity or an inkling that there is a more beneficial way to live, you don't wait.

"You seize that opportunity. You act upon that gift of insight you've just received," he said.

"This isn't designed to turn people into Buddhists. This is to give people the idea that they can make a difference in themselves. It's learning the practices and bringing them back into their own faith or religion or way of living," Winwood said.

One of the first steps, he said, is to teach people how to uncover gut-level feelings and listen to them.

"It's remarkable stuff," he said.

So far, about 50 people have signed up. Anyone who wants to attend the seminar may contact Winwood at 352-324-3419 or e-mail him at mwinwood@chenrezigproject.org. The $18 cost includes a vegetarian lunch.

"I think people are coming because they are curious, but the idea that there is a way to cultivate -- not learn -- wisdom and compassion and happiness is something that everybody, whether they admit it or not, is looking to do.

"Everyone needs help doing that. These are trying times we live in."


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