By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley) — Kusala Bhikshu, born and baptized a Lutheran in Iowa who now is a Buddhist monk who speaks on social justice issues, works with juveniles and plays blues on the harmonica, says he’s often asked how he became a Buddhist.
Kusala, a Buddhist monk in the Zen tradition of Vietnam who lives in Los Angeles, will share his faith journey in a presentation titled “How I Became a Buddhist,” at the 28th Annual Morrow-McCombs Memorial Lecture on Feb. 3.
The lecture will be held at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 3041 North Sierra Way, San Bernardino. The free program begins at 7:30 p.m.
Established 28 years ago with an endowment created at California State University, San Bernardino to advance better relations between Christians and Jews, the Morrow-McCombs Memorial Lecture grew in scope following the 9-11 terrorist attacks to include Muslims, touching all three of the Abrahamic faith traditions. Over the years it has brought nationally and internationally renowned scholars to San Bernardino.
“In all of our 28 years of holding events, this will be the first Morrow-McCombs speaker outside of the Abrahamic faith traditions,” said Ward McAfee, chair of the lecture’s steering committee and professor emeritus of history from CSUSB. “Yet his presence is central to the deepest purpose of Morrow-McCombs.
“As our region becomes increasingly more diverse, it is incumbent upon all of us to become more aware of the variety of religious expressions that now characterize Southern California, which in the last hundred years has come to truly represent a crossroads of peoples from around the world,” McAfee said. “One hundred years ago, Los Angeles was called ‘The Capital of Iowa’ because of the prevalence of newcomers from that state. Our speaker is from Iowa, but has embraced the major faith tradition of Asia. As such, he is uniquely positioned to be able to explain the new Southern California to those who primarily remember what used to be.”
Kusala (also known by his Vietnamese name Thich Tam-Thien, which means “Heavenly Heart Mind”) became interested in meditation in 1979 and found his way to the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where he now lives and works.
In 1981, he accepted the five precepts of a lay Buddhist and was given the name Kusala, which means skillful. He took his novice vows in 1994; he received full ordination in 1996 as Bhikshu (monk).
Kusala gives presentations on Buddhism and social action at local high schools, colleges and churches. He also is a member of the Buddhist-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Los Angeles and the Interfaith Council of Garden Grove, Stanton and Westminster in Orange County. He was Buddhist chaplain for the University Religious Conference at UCLA and director of the University Buddhist Association at UCLA for 11 years.
In addition to his other duties, Kusala gave presentations in the Los Angeles County Central Juvenile Hall on Buddhism and meditation for four years, and for a year taught blues harmonica at a juvenile probation camp in Malibu. Before his work in juvenile hall and the probation camp, he spent one year as a volunteer at the Los Angeles County State Prison for men. In December 1998 he was given the “Good Samaritan of the Year” award for his work in juvenile hall by the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
The Morrow-McCombs Memorial Lecture is jointly sponsored by CSUSB and the city of San Bernardino Human Relations Commission.
“Morrow-McCombs deepest purpose is to encourage religious understanding,” McAfee said. “Differences will continue among us, but hopefully we will all come to understand better our neighbors who hold different perspectives.”