Branching Out to Buddhism

By Sanya Mansoor

Turkish tea and talk of Buddhism made for a memorable intimate gathering between members of the Niagara office and local Buddhist leaders, Asayo Horibe and Rev. Tom Lane Chin Thien.

The event was part of the “Friends in Faith” initiative, which uses regular, informal discussions on topics of social, religious and cultural significance to deepen relationships between Niagara Foundation staff and local religious leaders.

At a time when religion is often at the forefront of discussion, many people are still unaware about Buddhism’s basic history and its core principals.

“The Buddhist Council here began in the late 1980s,” said Rev. Thien, professor at Chengdu University in China and member of the Board of Directors of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest. He explained that the local Buddhist community first grew from “many Thai temples in Chicago.”

Horibe, President of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest, and Rev. Thien then described one of the most auspicious events for Buddhists, Vesākha day. On this day Buddhists commemorate the birth, passing away and enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. Although Buddhists all over the world celebrate the day, there are vast differences, between different Buddhist sects, in the date.

This is only one of many examples of the sheer diversity among Buddhists. “I think cleaning up the misconceptions is a big issue,” said Horibe.

Rev. Thien lamented the lack of dialogue within the Buddhist community. “I would like to see the Buddhist Council speak out more on what’s going on in Sri Lanka and Burma.” He thought Buddhists themselves were responsible in reprehending violence allegedly committed in the name of Buddhism.

Rev. Thien also described some of the “inevitable” incidences of ignorance he often encounters. “Isn’t it so great that no matter what our religion, we all worship the same God,” he recollected, pointing out one of the most common ill-informed remarks.

He also mentioned how they would often be asked to give a prayer at inter-religious events, despite the fact that Buddhists don’t pray to a God.

“I had to deal with Saturday morning cartoons portraying monks ridiculously. I wrote to the network and told them, they can’t let this into the heads of little kids,” Horibe added.


The guests indulge in some light-hearted conversation and laughter

Both Rev. Thien and Horibe also expressed their desire for more inter-religious dialogue, especially between Buddhists and Muslims. Brendan Dowd, Director of the Center for Cultural Exchange & Interfaith Collaboration, brought to light Niagara’s role in facilitating such dialogue.

“We’re not an Abrahamic organization per say. We’re not even a Muslim organization. We are a community organization founded by Muslims,” Dowd asserted.  It’s true, the founders of Niagara are rooted in their religious convictions and inspired by the writings and teachings of Islamic scholar and social thinker Fethullah Gülen. However, their mission to usher in global peace through mutually respectful dialogue and relationship building between all communities transcends traditional religious demarcations.   “We want to collaborate, invite you to the table to hear your wisdom and share your voice with the larger Chicago community,” Brendan shared.


Sanya Mansoor is currently a Northwestern University sophomore and writing and reporting intern for the Niagara Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.