Buddhist boot camp takes to the streets

By Jennifer Green, The Ottawa CitizenJuly 26, 2009

Buddhists Henry Chapin and his wife, Bozica Costigliola, who recently participated in a "street retreat" , sleeping overnight in the shelter of the mill on the island in Ottawa Ontario

Ottawa, Canada -- Philippe Leduc passed his 37th birthday working up the nerve to beg for money in the ByWard Market. “I watched my hand shake, and quiver. I kept doing it anyway.”

<< Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen

Hundreds of people passed him by without a word. Five gave money — still without speaking to him. Only one, a street kid, stopped to talk.

Leduc’s begging was part of a street retreat, something like a Buddhist boot camp.

The Ottawa Shambhala Centre on Wellington Street east of Parkdale Avenue, organizes the street retreats.

For three nights and four days, the group of 15 slept outside on Victoria Island, ate at soup kitchens, meditated, and — most importantly — begged for money. They started to see who they are without a car, house, credit cards, job, or even their usual circle of friends. Similarly, they saw the homeless, not as a pitiable or contemptible mass, but as people in their own right.

The retreats are a modern twist on the ancient Buddhist practice of withdrawing to monasteries during the Indian monsoons. Bernie Glassman, a former aerospace engineer who founded the Zen Peacemakers in Los Angeles, wanted something that would derail expectations and intentions, even good intentions like fundraising or donating to food banks.

In 1991, he started steering his groups to the grimiest part of New York City with nothing but the clothes on their back. Now street retreats are held in cities all over the world. This is Ottawa’s second. Vancouver is to hold one in September.

Many in the recent group were most nervous about having to beg, especially since western cultures bristle at the practice. “I feared it the most and I wanted to do it the most,” said Leduc. “I knew I would be mortified. (Yet) I think it was the highlight for me, panhandling in the Market.”

“I learned it doesn’t matter what people think of me. I really have no clue what they are thinking. Maybe they think, ‘Oh, poor guy, I feel so sorry for him.’ Or maybe they’re thinking, ‘Dirt bag, get a job.’ In both cases, I still feel the same fear. It’s my fear, it belongs to me, and it has got nothing to do with others. That just hit me as I was standing there.”

Another participant, 65-year-old Henry Chapin heard loud and clear from passersby. Most ignored him as he held out his paper coffee cup for donations. “A number of people were abusive: ‘Get a f---ing job.’”

Chapin and his wife, Bozica Costigliola, 56, were the only couple to go on the retreat. “Nobody pretended this was a true homeless experience,” he said from his comfortable home near Westboro.

“I wanted to be amongst people who, in our society, are considered the lowest of the low, but, from a Buddhist point of view, aren’t that way at all.”

For Chapin, a 30-year Buddhist practitioner who has filled his retirement with volunteer work, the days could be grindingly slow. “When you’re on the street, there really isn’t anything to do, except be at certain places at certain times in order to eat.

“I thought, ‘Oh, Jeez, how long is this going to be?’ I think that’s also hard for homeless people. They don’t have a lot to do. It’s a culture of hanging around. You don’t even prepare your own food.”

Finally, he says, he reflected, ‘Well, I’m just here. I don’t have any meetings.’

There is only now.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv