Bhante Wimala, a Buddhist monk known globally for his humanitarian work and crystalline spiritual teaching, will make a rare New Jersey appearance Saturday at the Center for Spiritual Living.
He is known as “Bhante,” or “Father.” “Wimala,” his spiritual name, means “pure or unstained.”
Since 1994, he has been chief monk of the United States, a role and title bestowed by a council of monks in his native Sri Lanka, a cradle of conservative Theravada Buddhism since the 2nd century B.C.
Bhante’s topic in Morristown, aimed especially at Americans living in chaotic times, is “Karma in Everyday Life.”
Since he entered the monastery at age 13, karma has been one of his favorite topics. It’s about cause and effect, Bhante explained, and much different than the Western notion of “fate,” which means that what befalls people is beyond their control.
Instead, the Buddhist principle of karma holds that people can change their karma to improve their lives, he said. He used mental karma as an example, explaining that every thought causes an effect.
“If you think a negative thought, you will suffer. If you think a positive thought, you will experience comfort,” he said. “Our thoughts shape the quality of our experience. They are responsible for our misery and pain or happiness and pleasure.”
A peaceful person calms all struggle in his mind between his ego and his own spiritual intention, according to Bhante. Such a person can push aside egotistical impulses, act in accordance with his spiritual yearning and be fulfilled by his actions.
“But when our minds are confused by the intense desires triggered by ego,” he said, “we helplessly give in to the intentions of ego. In this state, we are not fulfilled by the things we do even if we are trying to help. We do things because we expect something we do might bring fulfillment.”
Peace will even elude people on spiritual paths, Bhante said, unless they clearly understand the source of their own intentions.
Bhante’s way of bringing spiritual thoughts down to the level of ordinary, day-to-day reality is what makes him so beloved, according to the Rev. Frankie Timmers, minister of the Center for Spiritual Living.
“He’s a sweet, humble monk doing wonderful work in the world and conveying the importance around meditation and personal spiritual practice every day,” she said. “He doesn’t get into complex, woo-woo things.”
When asked his reactions to the volatile events and headlines of the day, Bhante answered by pointing to another Buddhist principle: Don’t fight reality; accept it. To accept what happens on Earth, he said, means to understand the reality of living on Earth which is, by its nature, volatile.
“I am not confused about major disasters,” he said. “We live on an incredibly fascinating planet which has an amazing amount of activities and is incredibly complex and chaotic and constantly changing and moving fast. It has a fireball in its center and is governed by air and water and heat and all kinds of elements. What would you expect? It’s important to be realistic.”
That acceptance does not interfere with feeling compassionate for the people affected by challenging turns of events, said Bhante, whose Triple Gem Society has rebuilt villages, constructed homes, hospitals and schools, and brought food and medical supplies to war refugees across the globe. Often, he personally oversees the work and walks among the people seeing to their needs.
The Dalai Lama, who wrote the foreword to Bhante’s book, “Lessons of the Lotus” (Bantam, $15), said Bhante “spends time traveling and teaching in the spirit of monks at the time of the Buddha over 2,600 years ago.”
In these tumultuous times, Bhante said, it is important for every person to take quality time to be with themselves.
“Work hard to build some level of honesty with yourself, to face your personal issues,” he said. “In this way, you can find a sense of peace in the midst of this chaos.”
The practice of thoughtful introspection also makes individuals strong, he said, and gives them an advantage living in a difficult world.