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Teaching Zen Buddhism to the
L.A. Housing Department

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

The Los Angeles Housing Department has paid close to $19,000.00 to a Zen Buddhist priestess from Hawaii for “management training.” That’s for four training sessions on breathing, standing, “centering” and Zen games for executives and other staff members, each group numbering around 30 (“Zen and the Art of Management,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2007).

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LA Housing Deptarment employees are led in Buddhist training exercises by a priestess

Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2007
General Manager Mercedes Marquez, appointed in 2004, said the training was to help “center” department managers. Marquez, who calls herself a Zen Buddhist priest as well as a Roman Catholic, arranged the sessions. She met instructor Norma Wong during her own training as priestess. Later, she urged her fellow-priestess Wong to offer her department a workshop for Zen training from the new Honolulu-based temple/company Anko-In.

Even though she identifies herself as a priestess, Marquez pretends that there is no religious component to the training, that Zen Buddhism is not a religious faith but a “way to live” (ibid). I don’t agree. Nor, apparently, does priestess Wong, who in another workshop on Kado (the Way of the Flower) states categorically that the purpose of all Zen arts is “spiritual development.” The religion where this spiritual development takes place is Zen Buddhism, which aims to extinguish all forms of desire through the practice of self-negating meditation and asceticism in order to achieve enlightenment. It venerates Buddha and other figures as deities.

The religious component

I think it is important to denounce teaching Buddhist practices to city officials. Can you imagine the outcry if thousands of dollars were funneled to a Jesuit retreat house for a priest to come teach Catholic prayer to a public agency? Or if a good traditionalist Catholic sister was asked to come teach city employees how to pray the Rosary? I have seen research showing the value of the Rosary as meditative prayer for calming the spirit, reducing depression and any number of things that could add to “office productivity.” But what an uproar there would be should such a thing even be suggested!

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More and more schools are introducing Buddhist-oriented meditation classes for children as young as kindergarten

Los Angeles Times Parade, May 7, 2000
For some unbeknownst reason, however, even though it explicitly aims at the self-destruction of one’s personality, Buddhism practices and meditation are considered healthy and appropriate to be taught in the public workplace or schools today.

It seems contradictory that the Ten Commandments cannot be publicly display in our country while, at the same time, public buildings are used for Buddhist classes and public funds employed to over-pay their so-called priests and priestesses. Why the conciliatory silence in face of this Buddhist indoctrination of the West? The double standard that tolerates pagan religious practice and forbids any sign of Christianity should not be so placidly accepted by the public, and especially not by the Catholic public.

A conflict of interest

Also, it seems clear that we have a conflict of interests with regard to Housing manager Marquez. She calls herself a Zen priestess, admits meeting Wong during her own spiritual training in the religion, and then encouraged Wong’s Honolulu-based temple to offer a workshop. Wong was first engaged for a 2-day workshop in 2005 entitled “Recalibration” at the cost of $4,750. Last year, on Marquez’ request, the City Council unanimously approved another contract for up to $15,000 to Wong’s organization.

It seems a very cozy deal for the two priestesses, both as a means to spread their religion and philosophy, as well as to grow the temple nest-egg.

A waste of money

This brings us to the final point. Is the Los Angeles Housing Department so well-off that they can afford $19,000 for Zen-games to build team spirit and breathing exercises to increase centering skills? The last I heard, the city was struggling to make ends meet. Schools are under-funded, teachers underpaid, jails overcrowded, taxpayers overtaxed. Are there funds to spare in Los Angeles for Zen training sessions for some 100 executives and staff at the Housing Department to enter on the pathway of Zen enlightenment?

Make your voice heard

There is something you can do in face of this blatant contradiction and clear misappropriation of public funds.

You can write to the Los Angeles City Council with your protest against Zen training of city employees. Fill out the Web Report form provided on the Controller's Fraud Hotline for the Reporting of Fraud, Waste and Abuse of City Resources. Or call the office toll-free 1-866-428-1514.

Then send a copy of your e-mail to City Council president Eric Garcetti at this address: councilmember.garcetti@lacity.org

Posted May 11, 2007

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