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August 13, 2017 - "Life is a JPEG - How to Change the Way We Process Life"


Ven. Kusala Bhikshu

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Ven. Kusala Bhikshu (Thich Tam-Thien) is an American born Bhikshu (monk) ordained in the Zen Tradition of Vietnam.

In 1979 Kusala became interested in Meditation, and found his way to the International Buddhist Meditation Center. In 1981 he took refuge, and accepted the five precepts of a lay Buddhist, and was given the name Kusala (skillful). In 1983 with a growing interest in Early Buddhism he began his studies with the Ven. Dr. H. Ratanasara at the College of Buddhist Studies, Los Angeles.

In 1994 Kusala took novice vows, and was given the Dharma name Kusala Ratana Karuna (skillful jewel of compassion). In 1996 he received full ordination as a Bhikshu, and was given the name Thich Tam-Thien (heavenly heart mind) with the Ven. Dr. H. Ratanasara, and the Ven. Karuna Dharma as two of his ordaining masters. Along with Kusala's Bhikshu ordination he received a B.A. in Buddhist Studies, from the College of Buddhist Studies in Los Angeles.

Rev. Kusala lives and works at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in the Korea town section of Los Angeles. He cares for the grounds with the Vice Abbot Ven. Shanti, and facilitates meditation, and discussion groups. He continues to give presentations at local high schools, colleges, and local churches on Buddhism and social action. Kusala is the web-master for International Buddhist Meditation Center, as well as his own site UrbanDharma.org

In addition to his other duties Kusala Bhikshu gave presentations in the Los Angeles County Central Juvenile Hall on Buddhism and meditation for four years, and for a year taught blues harmonica at a juvenile probation camp in Malibu, CA. In December of 1998 Kusala was given the "Good Samaritan of the Year" award for his work in juvenile hall by the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Before his work in juvenile hall and the probation camp, he spent one year as a volunteer at the Los Angeles County State Prison for men.

Kusala is a member of the Buddhist- Roman Catholic Dialogue of Los Angeles,and Buddhist Chaplain for the University Religious Conference at U.C.L.A and director of the University Buddhist Association at U.C.L.A.. In 2000 Kusala was invited to join the UCLA Medical Center Spiritual Care Committee.

Kusala has been featured in several Los Angeles Times articles: "Zen, USA" (2/18/1997), "Soul Searching" (6/2/1998), "Biding our Time" (11/15/2001), and "Monks Get the Joke Too" (4/29/2003). In December of 1997 Kusala and his motorcycle were on the cover of the U.C.L.A. publication, Pacific Ties. In June of 1998 he appeared on the television show "Vibe" with Sinbad (UPN network), and spoke about his work in Juvenile Hall. In 1999, 2001, and May 2002 he was a guest on the show "Life and Times" (KCET... public television). In April of 2000 Kusala was featured in a report on "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" (KCET... public television) entitled... "Teaching Religion in Schools." The UCLA Bruin in Jauuary, 2003 featured Kusala in "Students Resurrect Campus Buddhism." For more information, please see www.urbandharma.org.


Michael Paul Smith

Guest Musician
Photo of Michael Paul Smith

Praised for the distinctive warmth and richness of his voice, American baritone Michael Paul is in demand as a soloist who has performed with a variety of theatre companies and symphony orchestras throughout the world.

Possessing a deep and rich baritone, Michael’s “extraordinary voice shines…” His eagerly anticipated performances combine an outstanding voice, compelling stage presence, and a great ability to connect with audiences. His musical repertoire is eclectic and versatile—his vocal style incorporates various genres of music from spirituals and gospels to world music, R&B, spoken word, inspirational, contemporary, musical theatre and opera. He has worked with acclaimed artists such as Placido Domingo, Florence Quivar, Vincent Cole, Little Richard, Lou Rawls, Peabo Bryson, B. J. Ward, Audrey McDonald, Walter Hawkins, Edwin Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins, Andre Crouch and Greg Baker.

Michael’s performances have been enthusiastically received by audiences of all ages in national and international settings. He has performed with the Torrance, Redlands, Santa Barbara, Nat Holden, and Long Beach theatre and opera companies in Southern California and with the Honolulu, Shanghai, and Beijing symphonies. His vocal and performance gifts have taken him on tour to diverse stages throughout the United States, as well as Germany, Italy, Austria, China and Japan.

One-Man Shows

Michael’s one-man show, A Tribute to Paul Robeson, written and produced by Gordon Hunt and Michael Paul, debuted in 2006 at the Multicultural Arts Center in San Juan Capistrano and received great acclaim. This concert pays tribute to the cultural achievements of the towering American athlete, performer, and activist Paul Robeson. Accompanied by a pianist, Michael tells Robeson’s story and sings Robeson’s hits such as Ol’ Man River, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, and Motherless Child. This outstanding program is both educational and inspirational — it has remained in demand and has been performed at a variety of venues.

In January 2010, Michael produced I have a Dream, the life and times of the iconic civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that included narratives in MLK’s own words and traditional spirituals, to classical hymns and gospel. This program makes for a soul-stirring musical experience and also provides an educational component for the younger listening audience. Michael’s reputation as a “Spirit Singer” is truly revealed in this musical performance.

Michael performs his one-man shows in a wide range of settings that include concert halls, university settings, schools and churches.


Recently, Michael performed in David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, conducted by Kristof Van Grysperre, at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach.

He has appeared at the Rainbow Room in New York City, singing songs from famous Broadway musicals with Tony Award winners Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone and Ann Reinking. He has also performed with the Doctor’s Symphony, Pasadena Pops Orchestra and Torrance Symphony for their performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Ode to Joy. He performed the Camille Saint Saëns Christmas Oratorio, Op. 12 with the Southeast Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles. He was the soloist for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at CSU Los Angeles. He also performed with the South Coast Symphony Orchestra for their Easter program. In December 2009, he performed at the prestigious Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, in a tribute concert for composer Kurt Weil’s 100 year anniversary.

Michael also appeared in a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance with Opera Noir, a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, as Papageno, at the Redlands Summer Bowl Festival and recitals at Georgia Southern University, California State University, Dominguez Hills and the Long Beach Opera Guild. He also performed in a concert for the Black History Month Celebration sponsored by the City of Carson Cultural Affairs Department that featured the original contemporary opera Monticello by L. Arrons and J. Paxton. Monticello portrays the relationship of President Thomas Jefferson and his mistress Sally Hemmings. Michael performed the role of brother James Hemings.

His operatic roles also include Sharpless in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida, Tonio in Leoncavallos’ Pagliacci, Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen and Porgy and Crown in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, to name a few.

Sound Tracks and Voice Over

Michael is a voice over actor available for television and radio spots, narration, corporate and web video projects. Clients love his warm baritone sound. Michael Paul sang the sound track to an independent film depicting the life of Hope Foye, a classical singer extraordinaire and international civil rights advocate who was a contemporary protege of Paul Robeson. Other credits include a performance of the role of James Hemings in the original soundtrack for the Monticello opera.

A native Californian, Michael Paul comes from a musical family with nine children. He began singing at an early age with his older brother and sister in church choirs and musical productions. He earned a B.A. from UCLA and an M.Ed. from CSU Northridge.

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