Maui Connections

A full moon was rising over the Maui Dharma Center in Paia Friday night, where the stupa — the white-domed shrine consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 2007 — was lit up like a Christmas tree.

The occasion was a birthday party, the 2,560th or so, for Buddha Shakyamuni.

Like so many others born to different faiths and cultures, I was drawn to Buddhism a long time ago. Its teachings never felt like a religion to me, but were more like an instruction manual. Think, “The Idiot’s Guide to the Meaning of Life.”

Instead of singing “Happy Birthday,” the Dharma Center’s spiritual leader, Lama Gyaltsen, filled the balmy night air with melodic chants. His Tibetan and Sanskrit prayers were translated into English so the rest of us could add our voices to the affirmations and glimmering images rising from the words:

“I will use my body, speech and mind in virtue . . . may all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness; and may they dwell in the great equanimity that is free from attachment and aversion . . . I pay homage. I offer flowers, incense, butter-lamps, perfume, food, music and other real and imaginary offerings . . . may whatever merit I have accumulated be the cause for the Enlightenment of Beings.”

Georgiana Cook was my guide to the serene sense of well-being unfolding. Despite the exotic foreign language, the mesmerizing drone of the chants felt familiar and comforting.

Lama Gyaltsen is a youthful deliverer of ancient Buddhist wisdom. Like the Dalai Lama’s distinctive laugh that seals the deal when His Holiness addresses spiritual matters (as he did to War Memorial Stadium crowds on Maui in 2007), the twinkle in Lama Gyaltsen’s eye has the same effect.

Framed by silhouetted palm trees as twilight turned to night, the colorfully lit stupa took on an otherworldly glow, like a cosmic spaceship. Through its doorway, you could watch people walking in slow circles holding onto the giant prayer wheel inside, as an occasional bell softly punctuated the night.

For all the differences in their splendid symbols meant to inspire awe, the religions I’ve encountered pretty much seem to be delivering the same message: Wake up. Pay Attention. Care. Be kind. Do your best.

On Friday night, the excuse for delivering the message was Buddha’s birthday. It felt festive. There was cake. Luckily, no one worried about providing candles.

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Artist Lali Groth was among the birthday partiers, and she has also become an occasional visitor to another place that has taken on spiritual dimensions for a lot of us. It’s the chapel of the big blue sky, otherwise known as the Upcountry Pool in Pukalani. You can identify the true believers (yes, Craig, Randy, Wally, Guy, Glenn, Dawn, Erica and Emme, I mean you) by the permanent raccoon-eye tan line left by our goggles.

Another familiar figure at Upcountry Pool, Malcolm Cooper, is featured in the current issue of Swimmer magazine.

The Official Magazine of U.S. Masters Swimming devotes a full-page volunteer profile to Malcolm, mentioning his All-American honors in high school; his academic degrees in various sciences from institutions including Harvard; his coaching activities from age-group swimmers to Masters; his 2012 induction into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame and more.

Malcolm and his wife, Toni Sinnott, have long been guardians of the Valley Isle swim galaxy. Along with all his medals and honors, the happy smiles on the faces of his littlest age-group minnows as soon as they see and eagerly begin doing their laps may be “Coach Malcolm’s” greatest prize.

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Speaking of gifts, as though he weren’t busy enough picking up film festival prizes for “2307: Winter’s Dream,” producer Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier emailed to say that the recent, sold-out Big Island Jazz & Blues Festival at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was a huge success.

Among Maui County friends attending the four-day event were Wally and Toni Taylor of Kula Hardware & Nursery; Bill and Jen Caldwell of Expeditions Maui-Lana’i Ferry; John and Stephanie Truesdale of Makawao; Dave Lower of Lahaina; and Rock Hendricks of Kula, “who blew away all the musicians with his sax style!” said Ken.

“And I had the opportunity to meet and talk story with Robert Redford, who was visiting, and he loved the Jazzfest ball cap and VIP tickets I gave him,” Ken went on. They talked about “Quattro Noza,” a film Ken co-produced, which won an award at Redford’s Sundance Festival in 2003.

“I told him his films inspired me to become a filmmaker,” said Ken.

“Rosanne Barr also purchased two VIP tables and danced the Friday and Saturday nights away!” he added.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at