Three Cranes Find a Home
How a Chelsea church became a Buddhist monastery
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the April, 2016 issue
Three sandhill cranes make their home on ten acres of rolling land bordering Werkner Rd. Once the site of the Chelsea Free Methodist Church, today the property belongs to a Buddhist monastery. The birds inspired its name: Triple Crane Monastery.
In Asian cultures, cranes are often considered an auspicious sign, messengers of good tidings, explains Lei Jiang, a member of the monastery's governing board. "Here on this property, the number of sandhill cranes has remained constant--three. Their presence convinced our founders that they had found the right location to establish a monastery." On a cold, snowless winter day in late January, Jiang, K.T. Gan, and Steve Daut offer a tour of the church-turned-monastery.
The three men "are the monastery's local connectors," Jiang says. A native of China, he earned his doctorate in physics from the U-M and now works for Ford and lives in Dearborn. Malaysian-born Gan of Troy, a Michigan Tech graduate who works for 3M as an applications engineer, is president of the Huayen community and the father of three small children who scamper around his feet during the tour. Daut, a retired geologist and nearly thirty-year Chelsea resident, maintains a strong interest in the environment and philosophy.
Decades ago, the Methodists chose this prime spot north of Chelsea to build a (then) state-of-the-art church, half-buried in a hill for energy efficiency, alongside a parsonage and a youth center. Now bright-colored yoga mats cover the sanctuary floor, and the cross has been replaced with three larger-than-life pictures of the masters of Buddhism's modern-day branches. The kitchen/community room is fragrant with the smells of tea brewing and the sizzle of Chinese food cooking during monastic lectures and retreats. In what was once the youth building, the air tingles with traces of the incense used during the monastery's religious ceremonies.
The monastery is still in its early days. There are plans to house monks and students in the near future--"but that's part of a five-hundred-year plan for spreading the Buddhist
philosophy outlined by the master, Haiyun Jimeng," Daut says. "Time has a totally different meaning to a Buddhist." Meanwhile, the monastery holds periodic yoga sessions, meditations, and lectures. In April, the monastery will launch what the founders hope will become regularly scheduled five- and ten-day retreats.
This spring's retreats will be led by Haiyun Jimeng, the head of Taiwan's Great Huayen Monastery. Known to his followers as "Master Sea Cloud," or simply "the Master," he first visited Chelsea in 2006 for a spiritual retreat held at the Friends Center in Waterloo. When the monastery decided to establish a central headquarters in the United States, the Buddhist community remembered Chelsea.
A former economist, Haiyun became a monk in the early 1990s to explore the "spiritual economy." He established the Huayen World Community, whose mission, Jiang says, is "to promote the teachings of what is considered one of Buddhism's most abstruse schools of study." His students in Chicago, Toronto, and Ann Arbor funded the purchase of the Werkner Rd. property, which opened in 2012.
"One of Master Haiyun's greatest achievements is his ability to faithfully translate the truths of Buddha's ancient teachings," Jiang says. "He expresses the truths in ways relevant to us today. The master seamlessly combines science, astrology, and the use of modern terminology (such as DNA and paradigm shift) into his interpretations of Buddha's two-thousand-year-old teachings, without distorting Buddha's original message."
Gan opens a copy of the Flower Adornment Sutra. "This is one of the most influential sutras in Buddhism," he says. "It is the basis of this monastery's teaching."
According to the monastery's literature, the Flower Adornment Sutra explores two main categories of Buddhist practice. First is Huayen Chan-kuan training, which starts with cleansing and purifying techniques to train the brain to enter a very deep meditative state. The second category covers five concepts: meditation (Chan), Pure Land, Ethic Precepts, Tang Dynasty Tantric, and teaching.
DAUTwas introduced to Haiyun Jimeng when the master visited Chelsea last year. The two men sat outdoors drinking tea and talking philosophy for hours, with the help of an interpreter.
A Quaker born and raised in Iowa, Daut first focused his career on geology and environmental affairs. He then took an entirely different track, spending fourteen years as development director for Chelsea's St. Louis Center before retiring in 2014.
Clearly not one to sit still, Daut then knuckled down to write a book he calls Buddha Science, which the monastery plans to publish. His interest in the subject had begun years earlier with classes on meditation, studying initially with Chelsea teacher Carol Blotter.
"My interest in Buddhism has nothing to do with religion," he says. "Buddhism is a very pragmatic way of looking at life as a philosophy or science. That concept resonated with my academic training and convinced me to explore Buddhism more deeply.
"I think Quakerism is the Christian equivalent of Buddhism," Daut says. "Neither tradition stands on ceremony or believes in rituals. Buddhist lectures focus on finding the inner light, and their worship services are often silent meditations. Both Quakers and Buddhists believe that through silence and listening, seekers can commune with God, or the Inner Light, or the Spirit--whatever terminology you choose.
"I don't consider myself a Buddhist, but I appreciate its reverence for the natural world, its practice of silence and meditation, its commitment to protect every sentient being--all of these are tenets of the Quaker faith."
It's no accident that the three facilitators at Chelsea's monastery are scientists, says Daut. "Quantum physics is similar to Buddhism," he maintains. "Scientists and Buddhists are used to thinking in terms of billions of ideas, billions of years, and the illusory nature of existence. Given enough time, everything changes dramatically. A trickle of water can create the Grand Canyon.
"Enrico Fermi would give students a thought experiment: 'How many molecules of the next breath you take in come from the dying breath of Julius Caesar?' The answer is 'at least one.' Each time you take a breath, it was breathed out by people who lived more than two thousand years ago. Then you ask the question, 'Who am I?' and you realize the complete interconnectivity of life as we know it--which is the heart and soul of Buddhist practice."
Daut does not call himself a teacher, but he has facilitated three introductory sessions at the monastery, including one where he asked Haiyun Jimeng questions and interpreters conveyed the answers to a local audience. The monastery welcomes people of all faiths and with all questions, Jiang says.
The monastery will host two retreats in late April and May. "The monastery's mission is to deliver the truths of the Buddha's teachings," Jiang says. "We want to establish American Buddhism and help guide society into a new era of cultural growth, social happiness, and harmony. Master Haiyun Jimeng has described the cranes' presence as an auspicious sign, a metaphorical flame lighting the promise for the flourishing of Buddhism in the Western world."
For more information about Triple Crane Monastery, or about his book Buddha Science, email Steve Daut at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Originally published in April, 2016.]
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