Written by Azana Carr
Founding of Blue Lotus Temple
Blue Lotus Temple is located in Woodstock, Illinois an hour out from Chicago, and was started by its Abbot and Founder, the Most Venerable Bhante Sujatha.
Most Venerable Bhante Sujatha
Most Venerable Bhante Sujatha was born the son of two Buddhists in 1967 in Kandy, Sri Lanka and began his monastic training at age 11. He gained his early Buddhist foundation through the Subodharama International Monk Training Center in Kandy embedded in the Theravada tradition.
As a young monk, Sujatha trained under Venerable Dhammawasa Thera, the school’s ordination teacher. In this community among other young boys, Sujatha grew accustomed to the rigorous monastic life that included meditation practice, chants, temple cleaning, collecting alms and donations in begging bowls in town, and studying Buddhist scriptures that ran from 5am to 9:30pm or 10pm. After Sujatha’s graduation, he taught at a monastery in Australia until he was invited by a former teacher, the Venerable Mudtha Thero, to help establish the Great Lakes Buddhist Vihara in Southfield, Michigan.
After several years of building the community in Michigan, Sujatha enrolled in McHenry County College in Illinois and earned a degree in psychology. A Unitarian Church Reverend named Dan Larsen encouraged Sujatha to teach meditation classes at McHenry County College. This new community made itself home in a Woodstock church and soon became what is now known as the Blue Lotus Temple.
Sujatha’s adapted his teaching to his American audience and preferred a slow and easy going where any newcomer can feel welcome, rather than strict practices. Sujatha says he “believes in change, rather than tradition,” and hopes that those that visit the Blue Lotus Temple can incorporate mindfulness and loving kindness into their jobs and work as a “form of spiritual practice” or meditation. Sujatha believes in being involved in the present, rather than being worried about the past or future, and hopes to pass this insight on in his teachings.
Blue Lotus Temple’s mission stated on their website says they hope to “promote individual peace of mind, compassion for all beings, spiritual growth, and an ethical way of life based on Buddhist principles. Through loving kindness meditation and the development of mindfulness, we strive to enlighten individuals as to the cause of suffering, the path leading to the cessation of suffering, and an understanding of the true nature of our existence.”
Unlike traditional Theravada Buddhism, their goal is not specifically to obtain enlightenment, nor is it to strictly follow Buddha and become bodhisattvas, but to integrate peacefulness and compassion into everyday life. The Blue Lotus Temple community has its focus on being aware of suffering as Buddha taught in this life using loving kindness meditation, rather than to eternally end suffering and remove themselves from cyclical existence.
The Temple is open from Monday – Friday 9am- 5pm, Saturday from 9am – 12pm, and is closed Sunday. Their meditations consist of guided or non guided meditation followed by a dhamma talk or chanting. Their regularly scheduled events are listed below:
Monday 7-8 pm (30 minutes guided meditation and 30 minutes of dhamma talk)
Tuesday 10-11 am (30 minutes guided meditation and 30 minutes dhamma talk)
Tuesday 6-6:45 pm (30 minutes non-guided meditation and 15 minutes chanting)
Wednesday 7-8 pm (30 minutes guided meditation and 30 minutes of dhamma talk)
Second Thursday 6-6:45 pm (Meditation and Monthly Blessings)
Friday 6am to7am (Silent Meditation)
Saturday 10-11 am (30 minutes guided meditation and 30 minutes dhamma talk)
Blue Lotus Temple is not as strict as a traditional Buddhist temple, although its community still holds day-long retreats, teaching of dhamma (wisdom talks) , and certain ceremonies. Ceremonies include Blessing Ceremonies, Weddings and Last Rites. By request of the community members, the Temple offers in depth study sessions of the Dhamma through Suttas taken from the Pali Canon. They also offer kids and children’s programs from ages 4-14, dedicated to teaching Mindfulness and Loving kindess lessons through crafts, games, and other lessons. Much of the Buddhist practices, such as the chanting, retreat, and dhamma are given by the Monastics of the Temple. There is an emphasis on Buddha’s teaching and its practice to an individual’s personal life.
Other than ritual practices like studying Dhamma, meditation, or chants, other mindfulness cultural practices include Yoga, Reiki (a Japanese stress reducing practice), Ayurveda Health (health consultations through natural dietary and lifestyle suggestions, including Pulse and Tongue readings), Refuge Recovery meetings (for people struggling with addition), Life Coaching, Holistic Healing (including Chakra readings) and many other lifestyle groups.
Practices seem to tend to not any one person in particular and there is an attentive awareness of the needs of the community. There are enough smaller communities for members deeply embedded in the monastic life and Dhamma of Buddha, those who want to practice peace, health, and to destress their everyday lifestyles, and those who want a mix of both, with no difficult transition between groups.
Community and Its Tradition
This is partly an immigrant community because of its Sri Lankan founder, and partly a convert community because of its remaining members who seem to be largely Caucasian Americans with no formal training in traditional Buddhism and its rituals.
The Monastic team located at the Woodstock, IL Blue Lotus Temple has twelve monks, many of whom gained their Buddhist roots in the Theravada tradition from Sri Lanka. Blue Lotus Temple later opened its doors in other locations in the US. The temples became Blue Lotus International, headed by a team of deputy abbots, with locations in Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and two locations in Florida.
Blue Lotus Temple is grounded in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism and heavily relies on meditation, gaining peace in everyday life, ridding of suffering and worry, but does not attach itself to the supernatural forces like other deities (excluding Buddha) and the afterlife. In order to enrich the ideals of mindfulness, the Blue Lotus community gains a fair share of its practices from other non-traditional Theravada Buddhist practices, including Japanese Reikei and Yoga.
Whether at the Blue Lotus temple or away, the community has made itself accessible across the US to those interested in its mindfulness teachings, including those who practice other faiths. The Temple interacts with its community through the their podcast, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube such as guided meditations, teaching how to apply mindfulness and Loving kindness, and ceremonies.
The Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple and Meditation Center. Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple. http://www.bluelotustemple.org/. Accessed 7 December 2018.
“The Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple and Meditation Center.” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/bluelotustemple/. Accessed 7 December 2018.
“BDMV” Youtube, uploaded by Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple, 19 January 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etWTbQdOLhg&t=73s
“IMG 7398.” Youtube, uploaded by Blue Lotus Buddhist Temple, 6 May 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFWAPyMBDKw&t=90s