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INCREASE IN BUDDHISM OM-INOUS FOR CHURCH; Meditation centre making monks out of Irish devotees.

DOZENS of Irish people are flocking to join the Buddhist priesthood with numbers threatening to outstrip recruits to the Catholic Church.

The Eastern-based religion has now up to 30 novices training to become monks.

And those taking part in the training, which can take up to six years, are aged from mid-20s to their 50s.

Many new recruits have been attracted through the regular meditation classes held in the Buddhist centre in the middle of Dublin's entertainment district at Temple Bar.

When they become priests, they are completely free to do what they want.

Ireland's leading Buddhist, Scotsman Fangha Pala, said: "Some would teach, some would work in Buddhist businesses, some are family men who would continue to look after their families and work in their jobs."

Fangha Pala is a monk who came to Ireland to start up a centre here 10 years ago.

"We were in quite a number of European countries but not in Ireland.

"My folks are from Donegal and being a young 20-something thought that someone should take this show to Ireland so that's what I did."

And since opening the doors of the unassuming headquarters in the heart of Temple Bar, Fangha Pala has seen a steady stream of people pass through the doors.

But he claims never really to have thought about numbers, though he admits the 25-30 now in training is a large number.

There are currently four ordained Irish in the country, while others who recently completed their training are still in England.

"Two order members ordained last year are still in England finishing off their assimiliation.

"The previous year, there was three. But, as far as I know, these guys intend to come back," said Fangha Pala.

Novices spend about three years training in Ireland - under a elderly teacher who first went to India in the 1940s - before finishing in England.

But don't expect to spot a Buddhist priest or monk - a higher order - in the streets as is traditional in Eastern countries.

"There's not really grounds for that in the west. Nobody would be looking for that in the streets.

"Only in a class at the centre, we would wear a small symbol of our ordination and as I am a monk sometimes I wear a robe."

And there is also no banging on doors looking for new recruits.

"Buddhists do not evangelise. We feel it's valuable to teach the public meditation.

"Some of them may be interested in Buddhism but we also teach meditation to make them better Catholics, Muslims, Protestants or whatever," said Fangha Pala.

Recent surveys show the Catholic Church ordains only a handful or priests every year, though its lay population has grown significantly.
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Author:Breslin, John
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 17, 2000
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