WPHO

Buddhists vs. City Hall


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Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi, Iris X. Ge, Elise Miao, Jennie Wong

Amsterdam’s World Peace and Health Organization along with the Guang Huang Mi Zong Organization met in NYS Supreme Court in Fonda this morning along with their Attorney James Melita to challenge a discriminatory property assessment from the City of Amsterdam’s previous administration. It seems the Thane administration, through City Assessor Calvin Cline, wielded their municipal power as a weapon against the local Buddhists by revoking the tax exempt status of their Temple parking lots and clergy residences.  No other religious organization had their tax exempt status revoked by the Assessor.

The current situation was not the first time that Assessor Cline tried revoking the Buddhist’s tax exempt status. It happened back in 2012 when Cline revoked the tax exempt status of two of their properties. In that case, Supreme Court Judge Joseph M. Sise issued a consent judgement restoring the tax exempt status and a declaratory judgement that Cline’s assessment was “unlawful, excessive and unequal”.

Under NYS Real Property Tax Law section 420a, property owned by religious organizations used for religious purposes is tax exempt. Section 462 states that in addition, property owned by religious corporations used for clergy residential purposes is also tax exempt.

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Attorney James Melita pictured left

After the discriminatory treatment received from former Mayor Ann Thane  and Assessor Calvin Cline, the Buddhists were delighted to hear that Mike Villa was elected Mayor this year. In fact Mayor Villa met with the Buddhists on two different occasions to discuss the situation along with Dr. Rao and Jerry Skrocki. Mayor Villa was also appalled at the treatment the Buddhists received and on July 26, 2016, through the Common Council, issued resolution #16/17-12 which states;

“RESOLVED, it is the official policy of the City of Amsterdam to comply with all laws, rules, regulations protecting against discrimination and all departments, offices, boards and commissions, officers, employees, representatives and agents of City government shall in the performance of their duties, comply with federal, state and local laws, rules, regulations and policies regarding discrimination of any kind related to race, color, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, and political orientation or affiliation.”

Unfortunately neither the Mayor or the Common Council can overrule a decision made by the City Assessor. The ONLY remedy aside from the Board of Assessment Review is to file an Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. That is exactly what the Buddhists have done and they have an excellent case with proof of discrimination. Because of the discrimination the Chinese Buddhists continue to receive, one of their own has just completed her first year of law school. Another became a registered voter in the City of Amsterdam and several others are undergoing the process of citizenship so they too can vote.

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We sat most of the morning waiting for Calvin Cline to withdraw the discriminatory assessments but he is a stubborn old mule who would not concede. The judicial trial was adjourned until November of this year, giving Cline a chance to reconsider and save the taxpayers from a costly judgement.  In a city that is trying to be welcoming to new people as well as new business, we must treat everyone fairly and equally under the law.

We can do better than this!

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Damage done today to the Statue of Liberty replica in the parking lot of Amsterdam’s Five World Buddha Temple

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Categories: Amsterdam, Equality, Human Rights, Law, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , ,

Goddess of Mercy’s Birthday Celebration


While most of the Christian population celebrates Easter, Buddhists celebrate the birth of the Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin). Guanyin is an East Asian spiritual figure of mercy associated with compassion.

Amsterdam, New York’s World Peace and Health Organization celebrated Guanyin’s birthday today in the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi spoke to a gathering of both Buddhist monks, students and followers from all parts of the world where he encouraged the monks to teach the Dharma practice and spread peace and health throughout the world. He also spoke of his successor who would lead the Sangha in Amsterdam as he prepares to retire. There was singing and demonstrations of Tai Chi as the members shared their talents in honor of Guanyin. The celebration was joyous and the members left invigorated from the new mantra they practiced during the celebration.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, WPHO | Tags: , , , , ,

Condolence, Compassion, Community


On the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11, 2001, the people of the City of Amsterdam, New York came together.  Politics, animosity, religious and cultural differences were set aside so our community could remember family members, first responders and volunteers who were injured or tragically and needlessly lost their lives in that horrific event. The ceremony was also a source of consolation for friends and family members of the victims who carry that grief to this day.

A piece of the fallen World Trade Center was erected as a remembrance in Amsterdam’s Riverlink Park. It was a solemn occasion consisting of familiar rituals, song and music designed to console those who are still suffering.

A second Soul Relieving Ceremony was held the next day by the Buddhist World Peace and Health and Guang Huan Mi Zong organizations utilizing the cultural and religious rituals familiar to the Chinese group. They prayed for the injured, lost and those who suffered on 9/11/2001.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, History, Media, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , ,

Buddha’s Birthday Celebration 2015


Buddha’s birthday was celebrated Monday, May 25, 2015 by both the World Peace and Health Organization and Guang Huan Mi Zong. Both organizations are owned and operated by local Chinese Buddhists. This year’s celebration was held in the main parking lot of the Five World Buddha Temple on East Main Street in Amsterdam, New York. Buddhist Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi described the significance of the celebration, which involved the ceremonial bathing of the Buddha, representative of rebirth or a new beginning. The event was attended by locals as well as Buddhists traveling from all parts of New York and China who received an energy blessing from Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi. The day was full of both religious celebration and colorful cultural performances.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Entertainment, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

Amsterdam Spring Fling 2015 – Best Ever!


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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Entertainment, Music, Outdoors, WPHO | Tags: , , ,

A Somber Occasion


The devastating Nepal quake last weekend has left over five thousand dead, thousands more unaccounted for, and hundreds of people stranded 20,000 feet on Mount Everest.  Reports state the death toll could rise to over 10,000 people. The earthquake, registering 7.8 on the Richter scale, has obliterated homes, ancient temples, and historical landmarks.  Nepal is seeing devastation on levels never before imagined, according to reports.

The Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization held a memorial service this morning, for those killed in the Nepal earthquake, at the Western Supreme Buddha Temple in the Town of Glen, New York. This was not the usual celebration held by the Chinese Buddhists as the thought of the death and destruction in Nepal weighed heavily on the hearts and minds of the Buddhist monks and students. You could see it in their faces as they entered the temple in a funeral procession.  As Elise translated the message of Buddhist leader, Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi, I felt the same wave of sadness and concern. A gong sounded the start, middle and end of the service. In memory of those who died in Nepal and to help those who were injured, the monks and students chanted a 100 word mantra to the beat of a wooden percussion instrument carved in the image of a fish. Through prayer and meditation the participants sent to the departed what they believe to be a part of themselves attained through merit or good deeds to help their spirits pass on to be reborn in a better life.

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi emphasized the cultural importance of Nepal, its rich history and influence on the practice of Buddhism in our world today. He announced that the WPHO will be donating $200,000 HK dollars through its Hong Kong affiliate to help with Nepal recovery efforts. In addition the WPHO will be purchasing $300,000 HK dollars worth of Dharma instruments and Buddhist statues from Nepal to help it recover economically.

The service ended with the same orderly procession that it began with, the WPHO members reserving this day for prayer and meditation.

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Categories: History, WPHO | Tags: , , , , ,

The Year of the Ram


Amsterdam’s World Peace and Health Organization celebrated Chinese New Year today at the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street.  2015, according to the Chinese astrological charts, is the year of the Ram. Visitors from as far as New York City as well as Amsterdam residents attended the simple ceremony. Guests were invited to light an incense stick and make a wish for the new year on front of an ornate wall composed of over 1000 images of Buddha. After the incense lighting, guests gathered around a table of traditional sweet treats that all had symbolic meanings. Jennie Wong explained the cultural tradition of the Chinese New Year celebration after which, guests travelled to the Five World Buddha Temple on East Main Street to receive a 2015 Chinese calendar screen printed on bound bamboo.  Buddhist Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi was noticeably absent from today’s ceremony.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

Celebration of Buddha’s Enlightenment


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Today the local Buddhist groups celebrated the day Buddha was enlightened. Despite the ongoing snow storm, a handful of local residents, including Recorder photographer Trevor Junquera, did participate in the formal Buddhist ceremony held in the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street. They parked in the adjacent parking lot owned by the Buddhists to attend the event. There was no parking available on city streets because of the snowstorm. The Buddhist organization is currently fighting the revocation of their tax exempt status for the parking lot, purely a measure of harassment perpetrated by the City of Amsterdam.

The beautiful celebration featured a performance by the Buddhist clergy that involved both chanting and song in honor of Enlightenment Day. The World Peace and Health Organizations’ spokesperson Jennie Wong told the story of Buddha’s enlightenment and how Buddhism came to China, both in Chinese and English. Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi presented gifts to the members and guests attending.  Both received 2015 calendars printed on bound bamboo and English speaking guests received a book describing the Buddhist leader’s mission in the USA. After the ceremony everyone was treated to traditional La Pa porridge, which was very tasty.

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After the ceremony, Jennie Wong showed me an email received from Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane in response to a cordial email sent inviting her to attend the Buddha’s Enlightenment Ceremony. The response by Amsterdam’s Mayor made Ms Wong cry. I was both disgusted and ashamed by the nasty, vindictive official response our standing Mayor sent this religious organization. The allegations in the response are totally false. Is this the kind of person we want representing the City of Amsterdam? It is time for new leadership.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Equality, Human Rights, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

Amsterdam Assessor Targets Buddhists


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Jennie Wong, spokesperson for the WPHO and US citizen

Friday, January 16th, 2015,  is National Religious Freedom Day. Every year on January 16, the President of the United States issues a proclamation that marks the anniversary of Religious Freedom in the United States.  The tradition commemorates the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom adopted by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. This statute on religious freedom eventually became part of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .”

The controversial establishment clause has been widely debated as used as political fodder since codification in 1791. Many US Supreme Court decisions were issued that further define its implementation. While the Supreme Court initially held that constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) did not apply to state governments, the Incorporation Doctrine of 1925 reversed that opinion and held that these amendments also apply to state and local governments.

The SCOTUS decisions all support the fact that government cannot promote one religion over another or prohibit the free exercise of ANY religion.

History and current events continue to show the mix of government and religion often promotes bigotry leading to violence. Governments in the United States are prohibited by law from adopting or supporting any official religion, in fact our citizens are not required to believe in any form of religion. Although a majority of Americans are White and identify as Christian, we are neither a White or Christian nation. The US Census and Gallup polls show increasing diversity in both our ethnic and religious makeup.

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In spite of this increasing diversity, religious intolerance is still alive and well in the City of Amsterdam, New York. This blogger has written many articles describing the difficulties the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization has endured locally. The Buddhists moved here from China several years ago to establish a community promoting peace and harmony while teaching a healing meditative practice, the Guang Huan Mi Zong Health Dharma. The locals didn’t quite know what to make of the WPHO, unfamiliar with their culture while questioning their religious faith. To help combat bigoted attitudes and improve health, the Buddhists began teaching both their meditative practice and Chinese culture through organized events held at both the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street and the Five Buddha Temple on East Main Street. The events are well attended by open-minded locals and were featured in this blog as well as local newspapers. The WPHO also donated video camera systems to the Amsterdam Police Department to help combat crime after several of their properties were vandalized.

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Buddhist Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

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WPHO donates video surveillance cameras to Amsterdam Police

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Goddess of Mercy Temple Buddha's Birthday May 2014

Goddess of Mercy Temple – Buddha’s Birthday May 2014

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Goddess of Mercy Temple

Five Buddha Temple

Five Buddha Temple

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Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

The Capital District Roman Catholic Diocese sold these former catholic churches, their rectory buildings and parking lots to the WPHO. This blogger lives across the street from the Goddess of Mercy Temple and it is great to see the property, once abandoned and stripped by the catholic church, restored to full function and occupied. It is also great to have the Buddhists as neighbors.

Both former catholic churches have been religious exempt from local taxation since their inception. This year, Amsterdam Assessor Calvin Cline, not a resident of Amsterdam or Montgomery County, decided to revoke the local tax exemption for the parking lots to both the Goddess of Mercy and Five Buddha Temples as well as clergy residences in Amsterdam. Representatives from the WPHO met with the assessor to correct this obvious oversight but Cline refused to give them any information or rationale as to why he initiated this action and refused to correct it. The Buddhist organizations owning the properties, Guang Huan Mi Zong, Inc and Western Supreme Buddha Temple, Inc are 501(3)(c) corporations, who file annual update statements. The Chinese Buddhists see this action as yet another form of harassment and discrimination on the part of the assessor and the City of Amsterdam who did not revoke the tax exempt status of any other religious or charitable organization this year.

This situation reeks of religious intolerance and bigotry.

In addition to filing an appeal with the Board of Assessment Review, which meets on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the WPHO will be filing a complaint with the NYS Division for Human Rights.

When will the City of Amsterdam stop using laws and regulations as weapons to discriminately target people?

I hope the members of the Amsterdam Board of Assessment Review, former Mayor Mario Villa, John P. Bowers, and Fran Fora do the right thing and restore these exemptions.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Equality, Human Rights, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Amsterdam’s Ungracious, Self-Serving Mayor


Mayor Ann Thane made an official statement today that the generous donation of video cameras in 2012 by the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization was “basically worthless”. What an ungrateful and unprofessional statement to make. This was a professional video surveillance system that should have been installed two years ago. The twenty camera wireless video surveillance system was donated by WPHO member Sky Deng, whose company LYD Technology USA Inc. produces the systems. Dr. Govind Rao even donated $6,000 to pay for the camera system installation.  Smaller scale video systems produced by Sky Deng’s company now cover the Amsterdam Goddess of Mercy Temple and rectory, Amsterdam Five Buddha Temple and rectory, private homes owned by the WPHO in Amsterdam as well as this blogger’s residence. These camera systems all run very well. Video clips from this blogger’s surveillance system helped the APD identify vandals that damaged property on Grove Street.

The City is now scrambling to save face after an incident last week where vandals caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to a downtown hotel that was closed pending renovation.

The statement posted by Mayor Ann Thane on Facebook:

In response to the senseless destruction at the downtown hotel, please know that our police department will hunt down these criminals and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Amsterdam Police Department Chief of Police Gregory Culick informs me that the camera guy was in his office yesterday to discuss finishing installation of the cameras they had ordered (the cameras donated to us by the World Peace and Health Organization two years ago were basically worthless.) New beat patrols had been instituted about a month ago. If you are willing and able to help be the eyes and ears of the APD, please call 842-1100 for more information.

This link to my 2012 blog article describes the camera donation: Buddhists Donate Security Cameras to the City of Amsterdam

This is a link to former Gazette reporter Ed Munger’s article describing the donation: Buddhists Give Amsterdam 20 Video Cameras

Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane owes the WPHO a formal apology for that despicable statement and should accept blame for not following through with the camera installation. The Mayor keeps reminding us that she alone is responsible for the day to day operation of the city.

  Mayor Ann Thane, you failed the citizens of Amsterdam!

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Categories: Amsterdam, Media, Politics, Technology, WPHO | Tags: , , , , ,

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