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Spiritual journey begins in Asia

Man now teaches meditation classes.

Posted: May 3, 2008 2:45 a.m.
Updated: July 4, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Three years ago, Jonathan Kraut returned from Sri Lanka, where he spent a month helping to rebuild the country after the 2004 tsunami destroyed the area.

Sent as a director for tsunami operation recovery, Kraut worked with local residents to build a community center, pre-school and elementary school. After coming back home to the United States, Kraut found himself curious about the people he had met.

Although he had experience with Asian culture and beliefs from his Army days, he wanted to find out more. "I was completely fascinated by this perspective," he said.

He soon began attending meditation classes at a Southern California center.

At the same time, he continued his overseas relief efforts by managing the projects he initiated during his visit to Sri Lanka.

Nearly six months later, the Canyon Country resident learned how to teach meditation.

"At that point, you are able to say that you understand, embrace Buddhist philosophy," he said.

Not a religion
Looking back with his newfound wisdom, Kraut believes Buddhism has been part of him for much longer than the past few years.

"I've been living and practicing that almost my whole life," he said.

With an in-depth understanding of Buddhist philosophy and role as the Buddhist representative for the Santa Clarita Valley Interfaith Council, Kraut is now looking to spread the teachings of the ancient belief system and offer meditation classes at his home.

Kraut does not consider Buddhism to be a religion, although it can be devotional.

Additionally, Buddhism is practiced by millions of people, and traditions and groups vary.

Nevertheless, the core of Buddhist philosophy focuses on self-improvement, calming the mind and showing compassion toward others, Kraut said.

Kraut, who works as a private investigator, considers the most basic aspect of Buddhism to involve answering questions about whether an action would harm others and whether it has a negative impact on anyone or anything.

"The way you bring out the best in yourself is by bringing out the best in others," he said.

While many believe the Buddha statue to represent a god for followers to bow and pray to, Kraut considers the figurine to be a human concept that represents what a human being can be like in a state of tranquility.

The belief that Buddhism involves praying is also another misconception, according to Kraut.
Rather, Buddhists will offer blessings and respect.

"A blessing is giving your good will and positive energy to others," he said. "Respect is when you are acknowledging the hospitality and wisdom of someone else."

Rebirth, not reincarnation
In addition, Buddhist philosophy focuses on rebirth, not reincarnation.

Kraut said rebirth occurs when a person's energy or consciousness goes somewhere else and is attached in some way.

The Buddhist belief in karma is also easily misinterpreted, Kraut said.

"It isn't 'If I do something good, I get something good,'" he said.

Instead, it is thinking, acting and responding in a way that is harmonious, changing a person's energy.
"You don't get good karma," he said. "You change and the environment around you changes."

Meditation is a major aspect of Buddhism. Kraut said there are more than 40 kinds of meditation, each with a specific focus.

Kraut, who considers himself proficient in five types, explained the point of meditation is to lose oneself, establish a calm mind and remain calm in a physical state.

With enough practice, Kraut believes a person is able to remain in that state of tranquility without even realizing it.

In understanding the impact of meditation, Kraut plans to host meditation classes on the second Thursday of every month, beginning in June.

The monthly session, held at his home's meditation center, will give anyone the ability to understand the basics of Buddhism and meditation.

Kraut said the classes are being organized by other Buddhists all over the nation as a way to teach the philosophies to those unfamiliar with the belief.

'Awakening' others
Along with his numerous other positions in the local community, Kraut has served as the SCV Interfaith Council's representative for the Sarathchandra Buddhist Center in North Hollywood for nearly two years.
The council represents a variety local religious leaders of different backgrounds who gather and raise awareness about different beliefs and causes.

Even though Kraut represents a North Hollywood temple, since the Santa Clarita Valley does not have a temple, he estimates that there are thousands of Buddhists in the local area.

With millions of practicing Buddhists around the world, Kraut hopes to allow other to understand the philosophy.

"I like to awaken this community to a different sense of self and society and social justice," he said.

Pastor George McLeary of The Church of Hope in Canyon Country is president of the Interfaith Council. He considers having a Buddhist representative to be a first for the council. "Jonathan is a remarkable man," he said. "He brings an ancient, ancient religion that just has so much to teach the rest of us."

He views Buddhism as something "peaceful and beautiful," allowing other council members to use its basic philosophies in their own beliefs.

"We're just so glad that he's there," he said. "He does expand our world."


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