The Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.

The Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc. – A Study of Khmer Buddhism in America

By Annabel Richter

General Introduction

CBS HeadquartersThe Cambodian Buddhist Society’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The tradition of Buddhism practiced in Cambodia – a small country embedded in the Indochina Peninsula and bordered by Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – is a rich and longstanding one. Known as Khmer Buddhism, it aligns most closely with the Theravadin branch of Buddhism, which records indicate was imported to the region by Pali-speaking monks around the 13th century. Prior to this influx of Theravadin practices, Cambodia was largely dominated by a mix of Mahayana Buddhism (established in the area around 791 C.E.) and local religions, which commonly postulated the worship of ancestral, elemental, and animal spirits. Though the ruling powers of ancient Cambodia were actively promoting the practice of Buddhism – albeit a more Brahmanic and hierarchical version of the tradition perpetuated by contemporary Cambodians, over 90% of whom identify as Buddhist – Buddhism did not begin to flourish in Cambodia until the late 16th century after continual border conflicts with Thai and Vietnamese forces led to the religion infiltrating the country. From its initial introduction to Cambodian society, Khmer Buddhism quickly began to evolve as an independent branch of Buddhism consisting of two sects: the Tharavadin Thommayut and Mahanikay orders, practiced respectively by the aristocracy and the Cambodian common people. After nearly 400 years of peaceful dominance over the region and people of Cambodia, Buddhism was almost completely erased with the rise of the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist group which overthrew the Khmer Republic and took power in the 1970s. Approximately 1.7 million Cambodians (over twenty percent of the population) perished in the ensuing violence as the Khmer Rouge sought to eliminate anti-Communist sentiments and supposed “instrument[s] of exploitation” like Buddhism. More than 50,000 monks died during the Khmer Rouge’s regime with thousands more enduring torture in “reeducation camps.” By 1979, only a single set of Buddhist scriptures, or Tripitaka, remained intact, and the monastic population had been reduced from 60,000 to less than 3,000 bonzes (monks). The widespread destruction of thousands-of-years-old wats (Cambodian temples), pagodas, stupas, and scriptures over the course of the Khmer Rouge’s reign led to fears that Khmer Buddhism and its strong ties to Cambodian culture would be entirely wiped out.

Angkor WatThree monks approach Angkor Wat, the oldest Buddhist temple in Cambodia. (Credit: Google Images)

While it might seem strange to give a historical overview of the Cambodian genocide in a report on Buddhism in America, I believe it is vital to understand the context and background that drove thousands of Cambodians – thousands of Cambodian Buddhists – to abandon their home country and the religious protections once offered by Cambodia’s insulated society to seek refuge in the unwelcoming arms of the West. While the Khmer Rouge was officially dissolved in 1999, the people of Cambodia and the unique strain of Buddhism they practice have been heavily impacted by their forced relocation, the persecution of their religion, and the concessions they have made in order to preserve their culture and spiritual beliefs as immigrants in the United States.

Khmer Buddhism (Location, Beliefs, Affiliations)

CBS Lunar New YearThe Cambodian Buddhist Society, photographed during Lunar New Year celebrations in 2018.

Today, Khmer Buddhism is still primarily practiced by ethnically Khmer Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans in the U.S. Even within large congregations, such as the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Silver Spring, Maryland, it is rare to find a non-Khmer amongst the regular attendees of services; with the initial reestablishment of Khmer traditions and culture in the U.S. came a sense of tentative exclusivity, a sentiment that delegates most Cambodian wats to serve dual purposes as both places of worship and Cambodian-American community centers. This is true at the Maryland-based Cambodian Buddhist Society as well, where events like a beauty pageant to elect a “Miss Cambodian-American” from the temple’s congregation and free health screenings for the elderly are held in the same halls as the far more somber Festival for the Ancestors (Phchum Ben).

Gathered Inside

Members of the Cambodian Buddhist Society gather to hear prayers and chantings during New Year ceremonies in 2018.

The Cambodian Buddhist Society itself was initially organized in 1976 by members of the Cambodian populace of Oxon Hill, Maryland who were seeking a way to revitalize their culture and religion after being displaced to the West by the Cambodian genocide. Prayer practice, readings of sutras, blessings, rituals, and small ceremonies were originally held in “a converted, single-family residence… with the sanctuary in one part of the house and monk quarters in another” (Mortland 90). The congregation was later able to purchase a larger property in New Carollton, and in 1987, transferred activities to their current location in Silver Spring. As a center for Buddhist worship, CBS’ headquarters consists of two major buildings: a replica of a traditional Cambodian wat called Vatt Budhikarama that houses a ceremony hall as well as a residential area for monks and a vihara, or “Buddha Hall.” As of November 2020, a stupa is also being constructed, which, when completed, will house Buddha relics and the ashes of monks. The six monks who reside at the temple serve the community dharma teachers, counselors, achars (masters of ceremonies), and instructors of Khmer language, culture, folklore, dance, and music. Beyond performing these duties and maintaining the condition of the temple, it is also common for the monastics of CBS to visit lay households to offer blessings at birthdays, weddings, funerals, memorials, and house warmings.

 Monks DeceasedMonks Living

The monks of the Cambodian Buddhist Society.

Before diving into the day-to-day activities that occur at the Cambodian Buddhist Society, it is necessary to understand some of the basic differences between Khmer Buddhism and the branch of Buddhism it technically falls under: Theravada, the “Way of the Elders.” As in all Buddhist traditions, Cambodians acknowledge the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the sangha (the combined lay and monastic community) as key components of a spiritually-wealthy life, and believe that adhering to the moral instructions set out by the Buddha’s life and “good-doing” (known as bon in Khmer) will earn them good kam (karma) while evil-doing (bap) will result in karmic deficits. The sum total of an individual’s actions will then determine the nature of their rebirth. As in the Theravadin tradition, most lay practitioners of Khmer Buddhism do not believe they will achieve enlightenment within their own lifetimes, and adhere to a stricter set of rules for earning good merit than other offshoots of Buddhism. However, there are several unique components of the Khmer tradition that set it apart from Theravada Buddhism and, in some ways, Buddhism as a whole. Belief in reincarnation rather than rebirth (e.g., the existence of an infinite soul, or praelong), the necessity of certain rituals to preserve the souls of the deceased, and the vestiges of several indigenous Cambodian spirit religions in the form of stiff superstitions differentiate Khmer Buddhism from other Buddhist paths. The majority of Khmer laity “know little about Theravada doctrine” and are more interested “in finding comfort and practical ways to improve their lives” than becoming masters of scripture (Mortland 17). Additionally, the tradition is focused on merit-seeking and largely ignores meditative practice, with the end result of accumulating good karma (e.g., nibbana or, in Khmer, neek pean) conversely described as a combination of the Christian afterlife, Buddhist heavens, and atheistic predictions of nothingness following the death of the body. Khmer Buddhists believe merit can be obtained in a number of ways, but especially by obeying the precepts for a good Buddhist life laid out in the Tripitaka, attending ceremonies, praying to Buddha altars, which are present and very prominently displayed in all Khmer temples; chanting verses, observing Holy Days, reading doctrine, and, most importantly, making donations of food and money to monks and temples.

Lay Offerings

Lay members of the Cambodian Buddhist Society wait in line to offer food to newly-ordained monks after a ceremony, a merit-making activity they hope will bring themselves and their families good kam in years to come.

Cambodian Buddhists cling fiercely to their religion as an integral part of their culture, with a common sentiment echoing among them: “to be Cambodian is to be Buddhist” (Mortland 77). In this sense, Western life has not impacted Khmer Buddhism as much as it has other branches of Buddhism. The insular nature of the tradition as a whole has excluded it in some ways from the “Westernization” that has somewhat overtaken Zen philosophies and yogic practices. Changes have come over time, at least to the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Silver Spring, in the form of altered schedules – contemporary workweeks do not always allow practitioners to observe holy days as often or as strictly as they may in Cambodia. However, one major aspect of Khmer Buddhism that has been almost entirely preserved is the relationship between the lay and monastic components of the sangha (the Buddhist community). Western and Eastern understandings of reliance, interdependence, and religious commitment seem to differ greatly, forcing monks at the Cambodian Buddhist Society to avoid making door-to-door visits for food donations, but this means that offerings provided directly by temple members are the sole sustenance of these dedicated monastics, a practice which has actually only served to strengthen the Khmer bonzes’s tradition of ascetism in the West.

The Cambodian Buddhist Society: Current Activities, Day-to-Day Schedule, Rituals, Festivals, Cultural Classes, Celebrations of Cambodian CultureDancingA traditional Cambodian folklore dance being performed by members of the community.

The foundational tenets of Khmer Buddhism can be seen in action at the Cambodian Buddhist Society, which is incidentally the oldest and one of the largest Khmer temples in the United States to date. It is considered a primary contact point between government agencies and the Cambodian refugee community of the East Coast. According to the Society’s website, its core objectives are to conserve the Cambodian Buddhist religion, to conserve Cambodian culture, to provide monastic training, and to provide humanitarian assistance. The temple conducts organized religious services on all Buddhist holy days, hosts ancestral rites and weddings on special occasions, and regularly organizes celebrations related to Cambodian culture like Chol Chnam Tmey (Lunar New Year) and Phchum Ben (Festival for the Ancestors) as well as ceremonies practiced in the Theravadin tradition, such as the Offering of Robes (Ben Kathin), the End of the Rainy Season Retreat (Cheng Vossa), and the Last Sermon of the Buddha (Meak Bochea).

Robe Offerings

Offerings for newly-ordained monks are neatly arranged in this picture taken at a Robe Offering Ceremony (Kathina) in 2016.

Chanting sessions, which include recitations of verses like “Homage to the Buddha” and “The Prayer to Spread Merit to all Sentient Beings,” takes place every morning and evening, and on Sundays, classes for the instruction of Khmer language, dance, and music are held for young members of the temple. The majority of donating practitioners at CBS appear to be ethnically Cambodian Khmer Buddhists, with tourists of various nationalities often making the short trek from Washington, D.C. to get a glimpse of the impressive shrine housed on the grounds.


The vihara, filled with visitors hoping to pay homage to CBS’s famed Buddha shrine.

Within the vihara sits an imposingly huge Buddha statue, its gold exterior juxtaposed by the oil paintings of famous scenes from jatakas as well as the life of Siddartha Gotama and well-lit by two crystal chandeliers, ceiling spot-lights, and a stained glass-window. The “Buddha Hall” of CBS is greatly revered by its members, with the money for its construction almost entirely raised by the Society’s most beloved abbot and its technical founder: the Venerable Preah Sumedhavong Oung Mean Candavanno.

The Venerable Preah Sumedhavong Oung Mean Candavanno (Writings and Philosophy)

Oung MeanThe Venerable Preah Sumedhavong Oung Mean Candavanno.

Ven. Oung Mean was born March 13, 1927 near Cambodia’s capitol city of Phnom Penh. He entered monkhood at the age of 14, and after his ordination, studied religion, Pali, and Sanskrit at Buddhist schools in Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, India, and England. Besides maintaining his knowledge of his native language of Khmer, Oung Mean also became fluent in Hindi, French, English, Pali, Sanskrit, Thai, and Burmese over the course of his travels, allowing him to gain insights into the traditions – Buddhist or otherwise – of cultures across Southeast Asia and beyond. In 1947, he departed for England to pursue a doctorate in Religious Studies at Manchester University in England. However, civil war broke out in Cambodia in 1975, and once learning of his countrymen’s struggles as newly-displaced refugees, Oung Mean was motivated to help revitalize the Khmer tradition in transplanted Cambodian communities in the States, and traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1978. Throughout the 1980s, he attracted attention as a traveling representative of Khmer Buddhism, “holding ceremonies wherever he went and advising Cambodians on conducting rituals, obtaining monks, and setting up temples” (Mortland 84). For a scattered populace desperate to find connections to their country, culture, and religion in a strange new land, Oung Mean’s presence was a welcome one, and after repeated requests from the board of directors of a nascent temple in the Washington, D.C. area to join their administration, he agreed to lend his efforts to help build up the organization. This organization is known today as the Cambodian Buddhist Society.

In a written work of his available on the Cambodian Buddhist Society’s website, “Buddhism in Few Words,” Oung Mean discusses the practice of insight through water-based metaphors.

“[Buddha] said that his teaching is a gradual path and he compared it to the seashore, which is different from the bank of the river. The bank of a river is so steep that man falls into the water suddenly and can be drowned, while the seashore is like a gradually descending floor; just as one walks into the deepening water step by step, so one depends one’s practice and understanding of the Buddhist religion step by step. This means that Buddhism should be practiced in the proper order – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end. The beginning of Buddhism is moral conduct or Sila; the middle is concentration or Samadhi; and the end is wisdom or Panna.”

– Ven. Preah Sumedhavong Oung Mean Candavanno, “Buddhism in Few Words”

A separate meditation on “Buddhism and Human Society” dissects the idea of Buddhism as a self-centered and self-fulfilling practice, aligning the beliefs of the Cambodian Buddhist Society with “applied” or humanitarian Buddhism.

“For Buddhism, ultimate happiness must be based on moral and spiritual principles, but these principles can only be practicable in the right social, economic and political environment. If poverty, repression and injustice prevail, it is difficult for men to devote themselves to spiritual development. Therefore material security and social harmony have to be achieved. However… material welfare has to be recognized as a means to a further end, that is, moral and spiritual development.”

– Ven. Oung Mean Candavanno, “Buddhism and Human Society.”

Oung Mean served as the Cambodian Buddhist Society’s first abbot until his death in 1993 at age 66. During his tenure, he “raised more than $2 million to build its new headquarters and the adjoining Wat Buddhikarma [Vatt Buddhikarama]” (“Oung Mean, 66, Dies”), sponsored the immigration of Cambodian monks from refugee camps in Southeast Asia, conducted Buddhist services across the United States, organized English, Pali, and Khmer literacy classes at CBS, trained new monks in the Khmer tradition, and above all else, strove to revitalize the Khmer tradition in America. If he were to see the continuation of traditional Cambodian cultural practices, Khmer Buddhist rituals, and community togetherness that occurs within the walls of the temple, I am sure he would agree that Khmer Buddhism is alive and well in America.

Contact Information

The Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.

13800 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20904

Tel: (301) 622-6544, (301) 602-6612


References & Works Cited

  1. “Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.” The International Buddhist Society,
  2. Harris, Ian. Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice. University of Hawai’i Press, 2005. JSTOR,
  3. Mean Candavanno, Oung. “Buddhism and Human Society.” The Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.,
  4. Mean Candavanno, Oung. “Buddhism in Few Words.” The Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.,
  5. Mortland, Carol A. “Cambodian Buddhism in the United States.” SUNY Press, 2017. EBSCOhost,
  6. “Oung Mean, 66, Dies; High Cambodia Monk.” The New York Times, 24 Mar 1993, Section B, Page 7. The New York Times Archives,
  7. Ross, Russell R. “Buddhism.” Cambodia: A Country Study, U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) for the Library of Congress, 1987. Country Studies,

Unless stated otherwise, all photos come from the publicly available gallery of the Cambodian Buddhist Society, Inc.

The Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery

Origins and Founders

The Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery is located at 16201 Tomki Road, Redwood Valley, CA 95470, about 16 miles north of Ukiah, CA. The name “Abhayagiri” means “Fearless Mountain” and this monastery is named after the ancient Abhayagiri Monastery in Sri Lanka, which was famous for welcoming practioners and teachers from many different Buddhist traditions, much like its American counterpart. The monastery was first conceived as an idea in the 1980s by the British Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho. Ajahn Sumedho is the foremost western disciple of Ajahn Chah, the famous Thai Buddhist monk who is known for establishing Theravada Buddhism in the West. The Abhayagiri monastery is the first monastery in the United States to be created by followers of Ajahn Chah. Though it was first conceived in the 1980s, it was not built until 1995. While the monastery was thought up by Ajahn Sumedho, it was built by Ajahn Amaro. Six months after the monastery’s establishment, Ajahn Pasanno came to join Ajahn Amaro as co-abbot. Ajahn Amaro is known as the most senior Western disciple of Ajahn Chah in the United States. In 2010, Ajahn Amaro left for England to become an abbot at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery he had helped set up with Ajahn Sumedho, and to take over for Ajahn Sumedho as the sole abbot. In 2018, Ajahn Pasanno left for a year long-sabbatical, leaving the monastery in the hands of two new co-abbots: Ajahn Karunadhammo and Ajahn Naniko. When Ajahn Pasanno returns, he will return as the Guiding Elder and not as an abbot. As of the summer of 2018, there are two co-abbots, 13 fully ordained monks, two novices, and four postulants. Based on the monastery’s website, the monks are a mix of Caucasian and Asian men.

The chief priorities of the monastery are: “teaching of Buddhist ethics, together with traditional concentration and insight meditation (also known as the Noble Eightfold Path), as an effective way of completely uprooting suffering and discontent.” The Abhayagiri Monastery is open to both men and women. While it is forest dwelling, the monastery exists in many dimensions. It acts as a dwelling place for the community that resides there year-round, as a place of meditation for those who visit regularly, and as a welcome place for visitors and the greater community. At the monastery, there are monks (bhikkhus), novices (samaneras), postulants (anagarikas), and laypeople (upasaka and upasika). The sanghas at Abhayagiri Monastery live their lives according to the Vinaya. The monastics are alms-mendicants and live lives of celibacy. They carry only a set of robes and an alms bowl and eat only one meal a day, only take medicine when they are ill, and live in a secluded sheltered dwelling for meditation and rest. The residents of the monastery are dependent on the laypeople.

Theravada Buddhism and the Thai Forest Tradition

The Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery is part of the Thai Forest Tradition, which is part of Theravada Buddhist monasticism. So, let us start broadly with Theravada Buddhist monasticism. Theravada Buddhism means “the Way of the Elders.” Theravada claims to come from the descendant of the original disciples of the Buddha and claims to be the orthodox form of Buddhism. It is grounded in the teachings recorded in the Pali Canon. Theravada Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka c. 210 BCE and then to Thailand. There are two monastic paths to Theravada Buddhism: village temples and forest retreats. The Abhayagiri Monastery follows the forest retreat path (specifically the Thai Forest tradition). Forest temples are mainly secluded places (note that the Abhayagiri Monastery is located 16 miles from the nearest large town). Monastics at forest temples are always in meditation, in pursuit of Enlightenment. The Thai Forest tradition is a lineage of Theravada Buddhism and was started/rebirthed by Ajahn Mun at the beginning of the twentieth century. It strictly upholds the original monastic rules that the Buddha had laid out. Buddhist monks under this tradition practice meditation at all times, in order for their minds to become aware and to reach Enlightenment. Laypeople are very important parts of the Thai Forest tradition. Monastics rely on the laypeople for food and the materials they need to live their lives, such as their robes and alms-bowls – though they live with very few possessions. The forest monks follow the prescribed 227 rules of conduct – which includes celibacy and limits on eating.

The Physical Monastery

Under the leadership of co-abbots Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Pasanno the monastery has greatly expanded in its facilities. The creation of the Abhayagiri Building Committee also contributed to the expanding of the monastery over the years since its conception. 25 monastic huts were built under their leadership, as well as the Dhamma hall, a kitchen, office spaces, a laundry room, bathrooms for lay women and men, and the infrastructure for the forest dwellers. They have also built the Monks’ Unity Building (MUB) which offers the monks access to bathrooms, meeting rooms, a laundry room, a kitchen, and a storage room. After Ajahn Amaro left in 2010, a Reception Hall was built – a two-story complex that was officially completed in 2018.


View from the MUB (picture by Reginald White)


A Typical Day at the Monastery

A typical day as a monastic at the Abhayagiri Monastery is quite rigorous. There is a very consistent pattern for the day-to-day schedule. The day typically starts at 3-4 AM for the community members who live in their own dwelling places in the forest of the monastery. This time in the morning is meant for general clean-up of the facilities, individual meditation and chanting, study, and yoga. At 5 AM the morning puja begins in the Dhamma hall or on a meditation platform in the summer. The morning puja consists of chanting in English and Pali and followed by an hour of silent meditation. At 6:30 AM the chore period commences, followed by breakfast at 7 AM. From 7:30-10:30 AM, the planning of the day’s three-hour work period happens, as well as the three-hour work period. The monks’ mealtime is at 11 AM, where they are offered food by the laypeople. The monks cannot accept or eat any food after midday. Around 1 PM, after their meal and subsequent clean-up, the monks return to their individual dwelling places for individual practice. 5:30 PM is evening teatime followed by the evening puja at 7 PM, which includes chanting in Pali and another hour of silent meditation. On Saturday evenings, the puja is followed by Dhamma talk.

Each week, there is an Observance Day called Wan Phra. The schedule is less rigorous on this day, allowing time for individual, quiet contemplation. After the evening puja, the community remains together from 10 PM to 3 AM until the morning chanting at 3 AM. On the following day, there is an open schedule to make time for rest and individual contemplation.

The Monastery in the Community and Women

The Abhayagiri Monastery has many connections in its community, both local and international. Abhayagiri has 22 associated monasteries in 11 different countries. The monastery has guest teachers come from forest monasteries in Thailand, England, and other countries in Europe and Australia. Their closest neighbor is the Pacific Hermitage in the Columbia River Gorge in the state of Washington. The Pacific Hermitage is a branch of the Abhayagiri Monastery and was established in the summer of 2010. The Buddhist monks of the Pacific Hermitage rely on the laypeople in the town of White Salmon, Washington for their food and act as a spiritual source to the town. The current abbot of Pacific Hermitage is Ajahn Sudanto, who was previously a monk at Abhayagiri.

Abhayagiri also has associate lay groups along the Pacific Coast in the United States and Canada. Most of the lay groups are focused on meditation, but also include Dhamma discussions, yoga classes, and retreats. These lay groups are less about providing the monastics of the Abhayagiri Monastery with their necessities and more about the Abhayagiri Monastery provided the lay community with spiritual support and guidance.

The Abhayagiri Monastery is not a facility for ordained women, though there are accommodations for nuns and laywomen. On their website, they offer a variety of other monasteries for women who are interested in joining the monastic community.

Coronavirus Pandemic Response and Changes

On the Monastery’s website, they offer a variety of virtual events and resources for those who want to stay engaged but cannot because of the current coronavirus pandemic. They offer a daily YouTube livestream for chanting and meditation, video teachings from several monasteries in England, Dhamma teachings, and Dhamma talks to help those struggling with the ongoing pandemic. These talks include mindfulness exercises, how to deal with distressing situations, and how to address doubts in troubled times.


Chuang Yen Monastery


Associated with Buddhist Association of the United States (BAUS, founded in 1964), Chuang Yen Monastery is located on Route 301 in Carmel, NY.   On both official sites, the two organizations share the same address.

The name of the monastery, Chuang Yen means “Majestically Adorned” and reflects the size of the monastery’s largest statue—Buddha Vairocana.  In fact, the Buddha Varirocana statue housed at Chuang Yen Monastery is the largest of its kind in the Western hemisphere.  The statue at the Great Buddha Hall measures 37-feet in height and is surrounded by 10,000 smaller buddhas all sitting in a lotus terrace semi-circle.

The “Adornment” refers to the adornment of the Buddha’s teachings. Traditionally, Buddhist Monasteries not only served as a focus for religious services and festivals, they were also community centers of learning and activities – both religious and secular. Carrying on that tradition, Chuang Yen Monastery extends an invitation to the public to view the religious services and festivals held here, and be a place to cultivate awareness to develop wisdom.

Founding story

Shen Jiazhen (Dr. C.T Shen, or Chia-Cheng Shen) couple[and his wife?] initiated the foundation of this Buddhist community.  Based on an interview, Shen Jiazhen encountered a huge Buddha in a dream.  He bowed to the Buddha and asked the Buddha whether he should build a temple.  The Buddha in his dream responded that “I have already reserved an apartment here.”  The couple subsequently donated a piece of land they owned to BAUS, on which Chuang Yen Monastery now stands.  10 years later, in 1985, construction of the monastery’s Kuan Yin Hall was completed.  Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei designed the hall after the great hall style of the Tang Dynasty.

shen jiazhenIn November 1975, the Buddhist Association of the United States (BAUS) leased 125 acres of land in Putnam County from Dr. C.T. Shen (one of the co-founders of BAUS and late Vice President of BAUS) for the development of Chuang Yen Monastery. According to the temple, the lease was for ninety-nine years with an annual payment of one dollar. As suggested by the local government, Dr. Shen donated the land to BAUS in 1989.  The ground-breaking ceremony for the monastery was held on May 23, 1981.

The Great Buddha Hall was completed and unveiled on May 24, 1997.  Elder WuMing, Elder JingXin and the Dalai Lama attended the ceremony along with approximately 7000 believers from around the glove.


Sponsor and Founder

Shen Jiazhen (1913.12.15—2007.11.27) was a Chinese-American industrialist.  He was born in Hangzhou, China.  He retired as the chairman and CEO of American Steamship Company.

In 1960, Shen Jiazhen attended a lecture by Buddhist scholar Zhang Chengji (1920.8.28—1988.5.24) in New York City.  Inspired by his old acquaintance, Shen Jiazhen dedicated himself to the spreading of Buddhism in America.  Chenji_Zhang_1984_portrait

In 1964, Shen met Elder Ledu in San Francesco.  Together they founded the Buddhism Association of the United Sates, with Elder Ledu served as its first president. Ledu

Elder Ledu 1923—2011.9.2) studied under Master Tanxu, a Chinese Buddhist monk and a 44th generation lineage holder of the Tiantai school.  Elder Ledu is regarded in the Chinese world as the third figure bringing Chinese Buddhism to the United States in the 20th century, with the first and second respectively being Miao Feng and Hsuan Hua.  The statement above is also mentioned in BAUS’ Chinese language site.


Organizational Affiliation

Chuang Yen Monastery is affiliated with the Buddhist Association of the United States.   BAUS lists the Temple of Enlightenment in the Bronx together with Chuang Yen Monastery under their “Visit Us” tab.  Bhikkhu Bodhi, president at BAUS on his LinkedIn site states “BAUS (founded 1964) comprises two major institutions, Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY, and the Temple of Enlightenment (Da Jue Si) in the Bronx, NYC. The abbot of both is Ven. Sak Dhammadipa.”

On the site stands Woo Ju Memorial Library, founded with a $400,000 donation from Shen Jiazhen’s wife upon her death in 1988.  The library contains 100,000  books in 24 language and 200,000 microcopies of Buddhist scriptures.  The library spearheaded scripture digitalization.


Ethnic composition and relationship with other communities

Based on a phone call interview with someone active in the Chinese community in Chinatown, New York City, Chuang Yen Monastery is also a tourist attraction for both Buddhists and travelers.  It is among a list of destinations that the Chinatown Buddhist community visits/tours or attends circuit religious functions (attending lectures, meditation activities or religious ceremonies).   Temples include Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association, Eastern States Buddhist Temple, True Buddha Temple-Chinatown, Grace Gratitude Buddhist Temple, Cheng Chio Buddhist temple.

Ethnic composition is predominantly Asian, but Chuang Yen Monastery welcomes and accepts visitors from all over the world.



The introductory video of BAUS/Chuang Yen Monastery does not specifically mention its religious affiliation.  The author sees a heavy presence of meditation among the listed activities.

The monastery has an emphasis on education.  Activities listed include meditation class ranging 7 to 21 days, Pali language, Vipassana meditation, group scripture study on Aṅguttara Nikāya, Amitabha’s Pure Land Retreat, Kuan Yin Retreat, Kan Huatou Meditation Retreat, and so on.  Practices and activities offered here embrace practice from different groups of Buddhism.



The teaching embraced by the organization focuses on Dharma Discourse.  The following are listed: The Development of Wisdom; Constant, Bliss, Inner Self and Pure; The Noble Eightfold Path-the Way to the End of Suffering; Clear Comprehension Dharma Is a Way of Life; Pure Mind and Solemn Realm; Mindfulness: The Practice and Application—A Skill of Mental Training; Aspiring for Peace in the New Year; Sitting at the Buddha’s Feet.



Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery

Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery

Written by Leeann Soyka



The Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery is a Buddhist community that is now located in the Sierra Foothills of California. Initially, the monastery was located in San Francisco, California but once they gained enough resources to purchase the land for a forest monastery, they relocated to Placerville, California. The word Aloka is derived from Sanskrit and means “vision, sight, appearance, glimmer, or aspect” and the word Vihara means Buddhist monastery. It is a women’s monastery designed to be a place where women can train as nuns and lay visitors can serve and practice. The nuns who are currently living in the monastery are all caucasian. The Aloka Vihara nuns are a community of bhikkhunis and samaneris, and their practice is based on the Buddha’s teaching style in the Theravada Forest tradition. In this practice, an emphasis is placed on renunciation, service, and simplicity, as well as learning from the natural world. The nuns also integrate contemporary societal issues into their practice. The founding nuns are Ayya Anandabodhi and Ayya Santacitta who lived and trained with the Siladhara Order at Amaravati and Chithurst Buddhist monasteries in England from 1992 to 2009. These types of forest monastery communities were founded by Venerable Ajahn Sumedho. Sumedho was a disciple of Venerable Ajahn Chah, a teacher and meditation master of the Thai Forest Tradition. The Siladhara are a ten precept order of nuns with a high standard of training akin to the Bhikkhuni discipline. After Ayya Santacitta and Ayya Anandabodhi received full Bhikkhuni ordination, they developed the Aloka Vihara Monastery in 2011 along with other nuns who joined and supported the monastery. There are currently five resident bhikkhunis at Aloka Vihara; Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni, Santacitta Bhikkhuni, Ahimsa Bhikkhuni, Niyyanika Bhikkhuni, Dhammadipa Bhikkhuni.  

The resident bhikkhunis at Aloka Vihara

Vision and Mission

The vision of the Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery is “together support awakening” and their mission is to be “a training monastery of forest nuns living the teachings of the Buddha and the Earth for the benefit of all beings.” Anandabodhi and Santacitta wanted to start a monastery just for women because in their past training they had been put in secondary positions below the monks. The role of nuns in the Buddhist community has been a point of contention throughout history. Because of this, the Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery has a strong focus on equity and inclusion, and they hold workshops and trainings in eco dhamma, undoing racism, and gender identity. They welcome all women to monastic life and also allow interested lay people of all genders to visit their monastery, as well as to practice, serve, and take part in every day monastic life. Lay people can also get involved by offering meals to the nuns, volunteering to help at the monastery, or offering financial contributions. 

Ayya Anandabodhi

One of the founders, Ayya Anandabodhi, first encountered Buddhist teachings in her teens and became very interested in the Buddha’s path of awakening. She trained as a nun in the Forest Tradition at Amaravati and Chithurst Monasteries in England from 1992 to 2009. In 2009, she moved to the United States to help establish Aloka Vihara as a training monastery for women. Her practice and teachings are guided by early Buddhist scriptures and through nature’s Dhamma (universal truth/teaching of Buddhism). She took full Bhikkhuni Ordination in 2011, joining the growing community of women who are reacquiring this path given by the Buddha. 

Ayya Anandabodhi

Ayya Santacitta

The other founding nun, Ayya Santacitta, was born in Austria and studied Cultural Anthropology in graduate school with a focus on dance, theater, and ritual. In addition, she worked in a dance theater as a costume designer and performer. She met Ajahn Buddhadasa in southern Thailand in 1988 who fostered her interest in Buddhist monastic life. She trained primarily in Ajahn Chah’s lineage in England and Asia from 1993 to 2009. She has practiced meditation for over thirty years and has also received teachings from the Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche lineage. Since she moved to the United States and co-founded the monastery, she has followed the guidance of Khenmo Konchog Nyima Drolma and Bhikkhu Analayo’s teachings on Early Buddhism. She is primarily interested in creating a sanctuary close to nature and bringing wisdom traditions to the environmental movement. She also offers Buddhist teachings in German, her native language.

Ayya Santacitta

Saranaloka Foundation and Community Support

The Saranaloka Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was created by a group of Buddhist lay practitioners to support the Theravada Buddhist nuns who were moving to the United States for the purpose of teaching and establishing a training monastery for women. In order for the founders to teach Theravada Buddhist practice, they had to take full ordination and leave the lineages of which they were a part. With the help of the Saranaloka Foundation, the nuns received full bhikkhuni ordination at Spirit Rock Meditation Center on October 17, 2011. The lay people and nuns have a very symbiotic relationship because the monastics could not live and practice without the support of their community. The community contributions allow the monastery to grow and flourish. In return, the monastery welcomes lay people and shares information about their insights and practice. Some of the events they offer for the lay community are meditation and chanting, meal offerings, sutta contemplation, dhamma sharing, and meditation retreats. To make accommodations during the pandemic, they offer online dhamma talks and meetings. They want to offer simplicity and renunciation as a model that people can live by. Anandabodhi mentioned that she wants people to recognize that you can still have joy in your life without having a lot of personal belongings, and that generosity and compassion can be much greater wealth. The founders of Aloka Vihara, Anandabodhi, and Santacitta wanted to establish their own monastery to be a place of respect and opportunity for Buddhist nuns. 

Friends of Aloka Vihara was established in 2015 by Emily Carpenter and Mindy Zlotnick to help support the development of the Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery. The organization is composed of lay practitioners who help to organize the annual Aloka Viahra’s Kathina Ceremony. This ceremony is an opportunity for lay people to reflect on the interdependent relationship between monastic and lay communities, and transform that reflection into action. Lay practitioners are given the opportunity to help the Bhikkhuni Sangha survive and thrive. During the Kathina Ceremony, the lay community can express their support and gratitude by making formal offerings of material and financial support to the monastics. Due to the pandemic, they are taking donations and holding the Kathina Ceremony online.  

History of Bhikkhunis  

Women are an integral part of the Buddha’s vision of the four-fold-sangha. Due to political and cultural decisions, a strong female monastic presence disappeared for almost 1,000 years. The revival of the bhikkhuni sangha began around thirty years ago and has spread throughout the world. The beginning of women’s role in Buddhism began with Mahapajapati, Buddha’s aunt and stepmother, who wanted to become a Buddhist nun. Mahapajapati was the first strong bhikkhuni leader and brought many women into the sangha. There was, and still is, a lot of controversy over the stance on the position of women in spiritual life. The Buddha said in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta “I will not pass away…until I have bhikku disciples…bhikkhuni disciples…layman disciples…laywoman disciples who are accomplished, disciplined, skilled, learned, expert in the dhamma.” When King Ashoka ruled in 304-232 BC bhikkhus and bhikkhunis were well established in India. The bhikkhuni sangha also spread to China and Sri Lanka, with the trip from China to Sri Lanka and back taking four years. In 1017 CE, both the bhikkhu and bhikkhuni sanghas died out in Sri Lanka due to the Cholian invasions. Women continued to practice Buddhism in Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and England. In 1984, East Asian bhikkhunis helped revive the Theravada bhikkhuni sangha. In 1988 twenty nuns were ordained at the Hsi Lai monastery in Orange County, California. In 1996, Theravada bhikkhunis were re-established in Sri Lanka and ten Sri Lankan women were ordained in Sarnath, India. In 2009, Ajahn Brahm who ordained bhikkhunis at a monastery in Australia was delisted from the Ajahn Chah lineage for doing so. The ordination of bhikkhunis continued to expand and in 2011 the samaneri from Aloka Vihara and Canada were ordained in a dual ordination. Over 350 people, including 50 monastics representing the major branches of Buddhism, attended the ordination.

The Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery is poised to be a training ground for the next generation of bhikkhunis and a place where the four-fold sangha can practice together. So far the support from the community has been consistent and they have supported creating gender equity in the sangha which is what the Buddha had envisioned. There are now Theravada bhikkhunis world-wide in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam. Some of the bhikkhuni monasteries that Aloka Vihara is affiliated with are the Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project, Aranya Bodhi Forest Hermitage, Dhammadharini Vihara, Karuna Buddhist Vihara, Mahapajapati Monastery, Sati Saraniya Hermitage, Santi Forest Monastery, and the Tilorien Monastery. 

Works Cited

“About.” Friends of Aloka Vihara, Accessed 7 October 2020.

Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery, Accessed 31 October 2020.

Alliance for Bhikkhunis, Accessed 31 October 2020.

“Kathina Ceremonies at Aloka Vihara.” Friends of Aloka Vihara, Accessed 7 October 2020.



Dzogchen Meditation Center

The Dzogchen Meditation Center in Bath, Maine was founded in 2006 in the home of its founder, Tashi Armstrong. Armstrong was a student of both Trungpa Rinpoche and his Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, beginning his instruction in Buddhism at the age of 21. In 1994, he returned to Maine in order to begin his own Buddhist center, which became the Dzogchen Meditation Center or DMC (“About Us,” DMC website). The DMC is part of the Kagyu tradition, and Armstrong traces the DMC’s Tibetan teachings back to Marpa and Milarepa. Specifically this temple is part of the Surmang Kagyu Order, a “contemplative order” of lay practitioners founded by Tashi Armstrong. The teachings of the DMC note the Buddha nature that is already inside of each person and must only be discovered through a practice of quiet, mind-clearing meditation. Dzogchen meditation, the meditation practice taught by the DMC, is laid out on a page of the DMC website written by Armstrong in which he discusses the four yogas. The meditation practice described by Armstrong includes unbiased observation of the world and of the thoughts that arise in the mind. In the teachings of the DMC, we can see that the goal of meditation is a state of peaceful awareness and acceptance of one’s surroundings. The DMC’s practice also includes deity yoga, though there is not much detailed information on this (“Dzogchen Meditation,” DMC website).

The DMC seems to be focused on the transmission and preservation of teachings from Tibetan masters to western lay practitioners, rather than directing their services mainly to an Asian immigrant community; it appears to be more centered on converts and individuals coming into the sangha rather than a particular preexisting cultural community. The center is heavily focused on retreats and residential programs, as well as intensive meditation practice, as opposed to regular services for the general community, and seems to be structured in imitation of a traditional monastery. In fact, their website asserts that the decrease in residentially-based Buddhist centers in the US “represents a weakening of the Dharma in the west,” and that “authentic” teachings can only be passed on in a residential or retreat context (“Surmang Kagyu Order,” DMC website). The DMC includes housing for residents and offers residential training in which students may pay to reside at the center for one month or a full year. They also offer solitary cabin retreats in which students may rent a cabin for a minimum of one week. Prices for the various types of retreats are listed right in their descriptions, and fall around $700 per month or $50 per night at the center. The website includes a detailed schedule for residents, each hour of the day regimented from wake-up at 6am to lights-out at 10pm. Each day, residents are scheduled for five to seven hours of meditation practice and four hours of work maintaining the center; meals and short periods of free time are also schedules. Residents are expected to leave the center only on days off (“Residential Programs,” DMC website).

Due to their focus on the transmission and preservation of Tibetan teachings, great importance is placed by the DMC upon lineage and the passage of enlightenment from teacher to student throughout time. The DMC emphasizes the teacher/student dynamic and the direct transmission of teachings from an enlightened master to his pupils in the context of a sangha that resides together as a community. Armstrong encourages the notion that the enlightened master is essentially an infallible figure; his argument seems to be that an enlightened Buddhist master is not a moral agent but simply a vessel for wisdom and truth, a holder of enlightenment who must be respected due to the fact that they embody the traditional teachings. This view influences the temple’s response to a scandal that occurred in the late 1980s; the DMC website devotes a significant amount of space to addressing this incident, in which one of Tashi Armstrong’s enlightened teachers, the Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, contracted AIDS and was accused of infecting a young man within his sangha through unprotected sex without disclosing his diagnosis (“Our Lineage,” Dzogchen Meditation Center website). This resulted in scandal and controversy throughout the Tibetan Buddhist community in the US, creating confusion and stress about how to handle the misconduct of a master. Some chose to disengage themselves from Vajradhatu International due to the actions of the Vajra Regent and some continued to support him (New York Times). The DMC represents the latter position, maintaining that the Vajra Regent is free of blame for the incident and should still be honored as an enlightened master, and that his teachings should still be preserved and passed along. The statement on the matter that is given on the Center’s website claims that they do not believe that it was Tendzin who infected the young man in the sangha. The website also contains a transcript of Kalu Rinpoche’s comments and instructions regarding the incident, a record of students’ questions about the incident and his answers to them. In this record, Kalu Rinpoche, a master from Tibet who spoke on the incident (New York Times) essentially states that Tendzin is not to be held accountable for the incident and that the students should still treat him with the respect afforded to an enlightened master. Armstrong himself claims that “no matter what the conventional appearance may seem the lineage holder is manifesting coemergent wisdom” (“Our Lineage,” Dzogchen Meditation Center website). Armstrong references the deceptive and unreal nature of appearances, using the concept of emptiness to suggest that the actions of Tendzin cannot necessarily be morally judged, and what really matters is the wisdom and teachings held by the enlightened master, who is the source of this wisdom for his students and the vessel through which it is preserved and transmitted across time.

The Dozogchen Meditation Center is an interesting example of a western Buddhist temple that is primarily focused on retreats and residential instruction in meditative practices, and on direct transmission of Tibetan teachings from the earliest days of the tradition, providing opportunities for western practitioners seeking a traditional form of Tibetan Buddhist experience and practice. It is also an intriguing example of one possible way a Buddhist community could respond to allegations of morally questionable behavior on the part of one of the respected leaders within their lineage.



DMC website:

Zaslowsky, Dyan. “Buddhists in U.S. Agonize on AIDS Issue.” New York Times 21 Feb. 1989 (

Indianapolis Zen Center


Indianapolis Zen Center

Report by: Kate VanDerzee, December 2018

The College of William and Mary

The Indianapolis Zen Center is a Buddhist Temple in Indianapolis, IN, and a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen founded by Master Seung Sahn. The Temple is housed in a residence on the North end of the city, where members have the option to participate in residential practice, living with other members of the Sangha. Weekly practices and monthly retreats are offered at the center to members and visitors, who are primarily Western.


Members of the Indianapolis Zen Center come from a variety of backgrounds and religious traditions. Many members of the Indianapolis Zen Center are Indiana natives who came to Buddhism in adulthood. The Center encourages members to participate in regular weekly practice as well as retreats at least once a year and suggests that regular members donate $25 dollars a month per individual or $35 dollars a month per family. For non-members, participation is free and open to all, although donorship to help support the Sangha is encouraged. Members also have the option to live communally in the residence that houses the center in order to strengthen their practice under the tutelage of Dharma teacher John Melvin and Linc Rhodes, JDPSN.

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Weekly Practice

Regular mindfulness practice is central to members of the Indianapolis Zen Center as well as the greater Kwan Um School of Zen Sangha. Every week the Center holds several practice sessions for members to attend. Morning practices at the Center are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at 6:45am, and include a 25-30 minute meditation followed by a reading and discussion, after which the members are welcome to gather for coffee and a viewing of the sunrise. On Saturdays, members may meet again for 9:30 am practice, which includes chanting and sitting or walking meditations. At 10:30am, after Saturday practice, members are invited to engage in work practice, for which they have a choice of gardening, working in the woodshop, or participating in Dharma room activities with other members. Evening practices are held on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:00pm and include chanting and meditations, followed by tea and refreshments. For prospective members, Linc Rhodes, the Sangha’s guiding teacher, holds introductory sessions on Wednesdays at 6:30pm.

In addition to these practice-oriented gatherings, the Center also hosts family game nights where families and community members gather in the Dharma room to play Go, an ancient Chinese board game dating back to the 4th century (B.C.E.), thought to be the oldest board game still in practice. Mastery of Go, then called yi, was one of the four skills of Chinese gentlemen, called Junzi, during the reign of Confucius. The game is played with black and white stones, called goishi, which are held in the goke, two wooden bowls for stones waiting to be played. A wooden block, called the goban, supports the game board, which is traditionally crafted from the wood of the rare golden-tinged Kaya tree, whose oil is sometimes burnt for lengthened Morning Star meditations in Japanese Shingon Buddhism. For members of the Indianapolis Zen Center, Go gatherings are a time for honing one’s mind and connecting with the community. Go nights are free and open to all, and are accompanied by snacks and refreshments.


The Center usually holds group retreats on the third Saturday of every month. Retreats give members the opportunity to strengthen their practice with extended meditation and work practice. Beginning at 9:30am, members gather for chanting before engaging in alternating sitting and walking meditations until 12:00pm. After a short break, members attend work practice in the garden, woodshop, and Dharma room until the retreat’s conclusion at 4pm. These retreats are understood as a way for members to recommit themselves to mindful practice and exercise extended meditation skills.


Kwan Um School of Zen

The Indianapolis Zen Center is a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen, founded by Master Seung Sahn, the first Korean Master to bring Zen to the United States. The Kwan Um School was founded in 1983, after the opening of Providence Zen Center by Sueng Sahn in Rhode Island in 1973. Today, the school has over 100 centers and 40 authorized Zen Masters in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The school is well-tailored for Western reception. Practice is at the center of Kwan Um philosophy, with special emphasis on maintaining a beginner’s mind, which Seung Sahn called “Don’t Know”. In addition, the school practices traditional 90-day retreats called “Kyol Che”, in which monks, nuns, and laypeople can practice Zen as part of one of these three-month retreats. According to the school’s website, linked below, a primary motive of the organization is to reach broader audiences and bring Zen to people of all backgrounds regardless of prior experience. Consequently, the school offers a library of teachings and sutras which are free to access on their website. In Korean, Kwan Um means “perceive world sound,” to hear the suffering sounds of the universe and offer help. This, too, is a central tenet of Kwan Um’s mission, and many centers participate in community outreach within their localities.

Seung Sahn Soen-sa

Master Seung Sahn was born in 1927 in Duk-in-Lee, Korea to Protestant parents. As a young man, he became involved in the underground Korean Independence movement, for which he was imprisoned by Japanese police. Upon his release, Sahn attended Dong Guk University, and as political tensions in Korea continued to grow, he was exposed to the Diamond Sutra. Sahn was inspired by the sutra to pursue the path of enlightenment, and in 1948 he left school to become a monk and receive the pratimoksha precepts. In the mountains of Korea, Sahn engaged in a 100-day retreat, during which he is said to have gained enlightenment. His enlightenment was confirmed by Zen Master Kobong of Seoul, who reminded Seung Sahn to always practice with a beginner’s mind.

After opening several centers in Asia, Seung Sahn came to the United States in 1972. He was known for his charismatic leadership and accessibility to Western audiences, including allowing laypeople to wear the robes of monastics. Allowing laypeople to wear long robes, traditionally reserved for monks, was disapproved of by the Jogye Order in Korea, to which Seung Sahn belonged. In 1988, Sahn was the subject of Western criticism, as he was accused of maintaining sexual relationships with several of his students. Sahn preformed two repentance ceremonies after admitting his wrongdoing, and the School has since established a board of ethics and strict guidelines for student-teacher relationships.

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Indianapolis Zen Center Blog

The Indianapolis Zen Center maintains a blog page where community members can write about Zen life, upcoming events, and community values. In one such post, Dharma teacher David Culp describes his experience working with inmates at a maximum-security prison in Pendelton, IN. As community outreach is a core Kwan Um value, David Culp’s work is vitally important to the Center. Every Wednesday afternoon, David leads practice for 10-15 inmates, who practice a combination of Buddhist and Zen practices including meditation, Kwan Se Um Bosal, and the Heart Sutra. He says getting to know  the inmates personally has been incredibly rewarding, and enjoys watching them grow through their struggles into better practitioners of Zen.

Another post featured on the blog contains an interview with Master Bon Soeng of the Kwan Um School of Zen, who discusses his experience watching his niece perform in a high school play about the Holocaust. In the play, children are being held in Prague and are aware that the Nazis are taking them in groups to a concentration camp. Grasping the gravity of the situation, one of the children asks what the point of living is if we know we are going to die. Master Bon Soeng was struck by the poignance of the child’s question, and goes on to discuss how that question arises in a time of strife, but is applicable to the lives of all. Death, he says, hangs over the shoulder of every person, but should not be seen as a threat. Rather, we should understand death as a tutor, reminding us of our impermanence which is suffering, and that the best way to combat our impermanence is to practice mindfulness. Death is a reminder of the vital and potent importance of each and every moment, and we must experience those moments as they arise. The moment is precious, the moment is the point of living.



The Indianapolis Zen Center is a group of practice-oriented Zen followers, who emphasize the importance of mindfulness and presence, work, and community outreach. Support for the center comes from membership dues and donations. Teachings and active discussion are central to life at the Indianapolis Zen Center. Community life is an integral part of the Center as well, with opportunities for all members of the community, of myriad identities and backgrounds, to gather for meals, tea, coffee, and comradery. In the middle of central Indiana, the Indianapolis Zen Center brings peace and balance to a historically Christian area of the United States.

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The Mindrolling Lotus Garden

Michael Alvarez

Situated in the serene beauty of the Shenandoah Valley in Western Virginia sits an equally serene Buddhist retreat and meditation center. Located specifically at 108 Bodhi Way, Stanley, Virginia, the Mindrolling Lotus Garden offers a variety of programs built to not only educate those interested in the Dharma and meditation, but to also collect and preserve ancient teachings from across several different schools of Buddhism.

Overall, the Mindrolling (pronounced min-drol-ling) Lotus Garden exists primarily as a location for both practicing Buddhists and those who are just interested in the Dharma to learn and study in beautiful seclusion. The Mindrolling Lotus Garden doesn’t just follow the lineage of Mindrolling in the classical Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma tradition; rather, The Lotus Garden operates as the North American Seat of Mindrolling International, an international organization dedicated to the preservation and teaching of the Mindrolling tradition.

The Mindrolling Lotus Garden is situated in a secluded area just outside the town of Stanley, Virginia. The 200-acre grounds are comprised of a large walking garden, conveniently named Buddha Park, several buildings that house teachers, practitioners, and visitors, and a few other structures in which practitioners can pray and receive teachings. The majority of the property is made up of the Dechen Gatsal, the area of the property devoted to wilderness retreats, in which visitors can venture into by themselves or with a teacher. The Lotus Garden is currently in the process of building a massive Temple in the heart of the property. The Temple, known as Mindrol Gatsal, began construction in the summer of 2015, and is expected to be finished sometime in 2019 or 2020.

The Mindrolling Lotus Garden was founded in 2003 by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, a lama of the Mindrolling tradition. Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche was born on August 19th, 1967 to the 11th throne holder of the Mindrolling tradition, Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Gyurme Kunzang Wangyal. In the Mindrolling tradition, the daughters of the Trichen, the throne holder of the lineage, are referred to by the title of Jetsun. This tradition of Jetsunmas began in the mid-17h century with the founding of Mindrolling itself, with the founder of the tradition, Chogyal Terdag Lingpa, and his daughter, Jetsun Mingyal Paldron. Throughout the history of Mindrolling, Jetsunmas have been regarded as some of the wisest and greatest teachers of the tradition. At age 2, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, already a member of the Nyingma tradition, was recognized by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa of the Kagyu tradition, as the re-incarnated Great Dakini of Tsurphu Monastery, Urgyen Tsomo, one of the most respected female teachers of this era, as well as the consort of Khakyab Dorje, the 15th Karmapa. This rare distinction of being a direct member of both the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions allowed Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche to dedicate her life to the advancement and teaching of the Dharma, and the Mindrolling tradition in particular. In 1994, Rinpoche traveled to Baltimore, Maryland from her native India in order to give teachings to some 20 or so practitioners at the Baltimore Shambhala Center. In the intervening 9 years, Rinpoche, accompanied by her Lopons (teachers), as well as her sister and fellow teacher, Mindrolling Jetsun Dechen Paldron, continued to teach across the country and eventually led to the founding of Mindrolling Lotus Garden, the new headquarters of the Mindrolling tradition in the United States. Today, Rinpoche spends her time travelling between the United States, India, and Europe, teaching the traditions of Mindrolling, in addition to general teachings on the Buddha and the Dharma. Her sister Jetsun Dechen Paldron operates as her second in command within the Mindrolling organization. Paldron spends six months out of the year at Mindrolling Lotus Garden, running the day-to-day operations. Rinpoche herself comes back to America during the summer months, and leads the largest organized retreat that the Lotus Garden offers every year, the Mindrol Lekshey Summer Program, a 6-week intensive Buddhist retreat that runs from the middle of July to the end of August.

The school of Mindrolling finds its roots in the oldest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma school. The teachings of the Mindrolling school therefore follow the same basic structure as that of Nyingma traditions, which spends much time focusing on tantric meditation and study. The school of Nyingma was established roughly in the late 8th century CE by the great Indian Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava when he came to Tibet at the request of the king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen. Detsen also ordered the mass translation of numerous Buddhist texts into the Tibetan language. These translations would not only shape the teachings of the Dharma in Tibet for centuries, it also helped to create the basic foundation of the modern Tibetan language, as the translation of the texts brought about various new phrases and styles of speech.  Together, Padmasambhava and Detsen established what we know today as the Nyingma school of Buddhism, which, like all forms of Vajrayana (the over-arching school of Buddhist thought that the majority of Tibetan Buddhism stems from), believes in the idea of the “diamond vehicle”. The “diamond vehicle”, literally the translation of Vajrayana, is the school of Buddhism that sees itself as an amalgamation of all schools of Buddhism, taking various practices from both Mahayana and Theravada traditions, as well as adding newer, more specific practices. One of these practices is the idea of tantric meditation. Tantric meditation uses mantras and other forms of meditative practice to create a peaceful state in which one can study their own mind and the dharma. This is not unlike other forms of Buddhist practice, however, the central idea of Bodhicitta is where the two differ. This idea of Bodhicitta is the practice of not just achieving enlightenment, but to see one’s self as a Buddha and seek the betterment of all others through loving kindness and compassion. These ideas are the foundation of what Rinpoche and her Lopons teach at the Lotus Garden.

While the Mindrolling Lotus Garden finds its roots in the near 1500-year history of the Nyingma tradition, the modern-day Lotus Garden has co-opted a more generalized mindset. The teachings involved at the Lotus Garden are numerous, with the majority of teachings being those in basic tantric and meditative practices. These group sessions are usually taught by the four in-house Lopons who live on the grounds. These four Lopons interestingly are all Americans, each having been trained in the Buddhist tradition for at least 20 years. All four Lopons have been students of Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche since her first visit to the United States in 1994. If one were to take any of the courses offered at the Lotus Garden, one of these trained practitioners will most likely be the instructor. Throughout the 8-month period in which the Lotus Garden is in operation (The campus itself closes for the season from early January to mid-April), numerous lessons can be taken, all of varying time, intensity, and commitment. The two most popular programs would be the lessons in meditation, as well as retreats. Meditation sessions are taught by all four Lopons. Some lessons are low-key. These focus on the basics of meditative practices, such as understanding the concepts of a mantra or Bodhicitta. These lessons can be made by appointment with the Lotus Garden, and are low-commitment. However, for those looking for a more intensive practice, meditative classes that meet regularly and look at the more advanced materials of the practice are available year-round. Retreats are also a big hit at the Lotus Garden. Led by a retreat master (A Drupon), these excursions into the 200-acre wilderness are a classic form of meditative practice. These retreats are available to both a group or an individual, and both can be accomplished throughout the year during operation. Two large retreats are planned each year, with the largest, the Mindrol Lekshey Summer Program, led by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche herself. Occasionally monks and nuns from the Mindrolling Monastery in India will travel to the Lotus Garden for a few weeks and give teachings. The arrival of the monastics usually coincides with one of the larger retreats.

While many of the practitioners who attend the Lotus Garden are converts, the largest group that the Lotus Garden caters to would be lay people with very little to no knowledge of Buddhism or its practices. The Lotus Garden, and Mindrolling International as a whole, have made it a primary goal of the Lotus Garden to educate and provide people who are curious about the practice the ability to experiment in relative seclusion. All knowledge of the Dharma is welcome at the Lotus Garden, but the primary goal of the institution would be education and further studying of the texts. This lines up with the general mission statement of Rinpoche’s Mindrolling International organization, which looks to spread the ideas of Vajrayana as a whole, and Mindrolling in particular, throughout the world, as well as to continue to discover, translate, and understand Vajrayana and other Buddhist texts, teachings, and histories. The Lotus Garden’s impact with other communities can be seen in this vein as well. Mindrolling International has other campuses throughout America, Europe, and India, all dedicated to the same purpose that the Lotus Garden embodies.

Overall, The Mindrolling Lotus Garden in Stanley, Virginia stands as one of the more authentic and intimate Buddhist experiences in the region. Incorporating the teachings of masters of the Vajrayana tradition, as well as occasional teachings by a lama and a spiritual leader of the Nyingma tradition, The Mindrolling Lotus Garden combines wise teachings with the serene isolation of the Shenandoah Valley to create one of the more interesting Buddhist communities in the United States.



“Mindrolling Lotus Garden Homepage.” MINDROLLING LOTUS GARDEN, Mindrolling                  International, 2018,

“Mindrolling International Homepage.” Mindrolling International, Mindrolling                                    International, 2018

“Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche.” Her Eminence Mindrolling Jetsn                Khandro Rinpoche, Mindrolling International , 2018,                                                


Zen Monastery Peace Center



The Zen Monastery Peace Center was founded by Zen practitioner Cheri Huber in 1987. It stands within the wilderness of Murphys, California, approximately 150 miles inland of San Francisco. Nestled in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the monastery is a residential community designed to “challenge the voices of egocentric karmic conditioning, pay attention in a kind and safe space, and realize our authentic nature.” The town of Murphys itself began as a gold mining operation in the mid 19th century and is now a modern community of approximately 2,000 residents. Huber’s center provides workshops and retreats to the general public in addition to offering a visiting monk program for more advanced practitioners. As could be deducted from the name, the Peace Center focuses on the Zen tradition. Huber’s personal emphasis is on awareness meditation as she herself is a member of the Soto School. Derived from the Chinese Coadong School, started in the 9thcentury by two Chinese monks, the focus for the Soto School is meditation without a goal and awareness as a means by which one can live mindfully in all aspects of life. This form of meditation is “an all-inclusive experience that includes and accepts everything that comes into awareness, by resting in awareness itself.”



Cheri Huber is an American author and has studied Zen Buddhism for 35 years. Having written over 20 books in her career, Huber is well known within her community. She founded her first center  – Mountain View Zen Center – in 1983, followed by the Zen Monastery Peace Center in 1987  and her non-profit organization called Living Compassion in 1997. Not only is she the founder of two Zen centers, but she also serves as a resident teacher at the Peace Center. Her practice is centered around Zen Buddhism within the Soto School, the focal point being the practice of self awareness. According to her Wikipedia page, she “likely studied Zen for some times under Jay DuPont.” However, she has no formal lineage within her school listed on her website or any other forum related to her practice. This is odd as Zen Buddhism is rather concerned with lineage. It is unclear as to exactly how Huber became involved with Zen or awareness practice. Her personal testimony is not specified in any of her published writings beyond that she has studied the subject for over 35 years. Very little is listed in her biographies both on her own website and when listed as an author or expert on other websites. Hay House Publishing claims “Cheri has been acknowledged as the country’s foremost expert on depression and spirituality” yet it is unclear upon what this statement is based.


Huber has several online venues she continually uses in order to engage her larger audience with awareness practice. For example, Huber’s “Practice Everywhere” initiative allows her followers to sign up for reminders to be more aware via email, text, and twitter. Her twitter page has 17,500 tweets with over 3,000 followers. A key aspect of awareness practice is being continually mindful and aware of your daily actions so Huber’s program is intended to guide you throughout the day with this in mind. Her Practice Blog also includes postings about her own experience with the practice. She coins phrases the “Huber Cure” which is a way to approach mindfulness. Huber’s nonprofit organization Living Compassion is also an ongoing project for both her and the local Sangha.


The community at the Peace Center is rather unique. Truly a cross between the traditional and the modern, the Center offers a wide range of opportunities to engage with Buddhist teachings and awareness practice. Upon your first visit to the monastery, you will be guided during an orientation which you are instructed in the basic postures of meditation. Classes are offered for both the local public and a more national or international audience. Additionally, classes may be virtual or physical. Huber offers the unique option of “email” classes which take on the format of formal instruction via assignments and reflections. A more traditional option would be enrolling in the visiting monk program, designed for those heavily involved in awareness practice. The duration of this program can be as short as a month or as long as a year. Week long retreats are also available and intended to further explore the practice of awareness. Other options include group coaching, meditation groups, recording and listening training, and Zen awareness coaching.


Based upon the 2010 census conducted by the U.S. government, the larger community in which the Peace Center rests is comprised mostly of white (92.4%) females (54.6%) with the median age of 56. Constituents of any Latino or Hispanic descent are the next largest ethnic group, claiming 10.1% of the total population (2,213). The people of Murphys, California are arranged mostly in nuclear families. It is evident from the data gathered by the U.S. government that Murphys is not a first or second generation migrant community. Murphys constituency is mostly older white folks, likely with European descent. This data is important because it provides context for the area in which the Monastery was established. Many, if not all, of the local practitioners are members of the Murphys community as well as the Sangha and therefore it is likely the Monastery’s ethnic composition reflects that. Based upon the profiles following Cheri Huber’s practice blog the community is predominantly white Americans. This agrees the data discussed above. It is then reasonable to conclude that Huber’s Sangha is comprised mostly of American, potentially Christian, coverts.

Clearly, the constituents of Zen Monastery Peace Center are not concerned with recreating an authentic Asian Buddhist experience, but rather extrapolating certain practices and teachings in order to improve their lives. Interestingly, a majority of the programs offered are not aimed at the local population but rather point to a national audience. Physical meditation periods and reflection groups are offered of course, but most of the initiatives and programs are directed outwards to a larger Sangha. Huber’s approach to Buddhism is as a philosophy rather than a religion as supernatural or metaphysical doctrines are not emphasized. In other words, the cultural attachments, and therefore a large portion of religious attachments, are absent.

However, Huber includes Buddha in her teachings and ascribes to the Soto School specifically. The way in which she interacts with the practice does not indicate that she or the Peace Center Sangha view what they are practicing as religion in the formal, Western sense. There is an air of spirituality yet, this is entrenched in certain American cultural assumptions and common practices.Those who attend the Monastery are not focused on achieving enlightenment in this lifetime, or in any lifetime. Rather, they are concerned with minimizing suffering throughout their lives. The Zen Monastery Peace Center is not meant to recreate the Buddhist experience within an Asian context but rather it is a place for a new audience to engage with new ideas and philosophies about the way in which we should live our lives.

As the government in America is not structured to give support to monastic communities, the Monastery must develop a way to make ends meet. Similar to the way a university would function, the Monastery functions by charging enrollment fees for their virtual and retreat programs. Yoga classes are also offered for a small fee. In order for the community to continue, members must participate literally and monetarily either through donations or enrollment. However, there is no official fee for the teachings themselves. Huber writes “We cannot and we will not attempt to sell our spiritual practice; It cannot be sold and it cannot be bought.” In her blog post she further explains that the biggest obstacle for the Sangha being able to participate is financial. Retreats, books, and classes are expensive so Huber turned to technology to make practice more accessible to practitioners.


Within the Larger Community:

According to the the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, there are 48 other organizations within California that are affiliated with them. Huber founded the Mountain View Zen Center before founding the Peace Center and these two communities engage with each other on local and regional levels. Both groups have the opportunity to attend several of the same workshops and retreats. As already discussed, Huber engages a much larger Buddhist audience through her virtual presence on twitter, through email, and via blog posts. Living Compassion, the nonprofit Huber founded in 1997, demonstrates a different way to relate Buddhism. Huber’s teachings focus on diminishing self hate or egocentric karmic conditioning and promoting self love which then leads a gratitude that fosters the desire to give. Her organization is centered around providing aid the community of Kantolomba, Zambia in terms of education, healthcare access, and food scarcity. December 1, 2018 marks the 17thannual Bridge Walk, a way for the community to celebrate the project’s progress. This is an example of the way in which the Peace Center interacts with the global community.

Nationally, Huber addresses her Sangha through the modern form of social media.  Her books are sold nationally and online and she appears on different podcasts which are available and accessible to all. You also do not have to be a consistent member of the Peace Center to participate in retreats or classes as long as you have the means to pay. Huber’s Sangha and her works are especially accessible to a national and international audience because of her use of technology. As her Twitter following outnumbers the total population in Murphys, California, it is safe to say that she has extended beyond the physical confines of the Zen Monastery Peace Center.


Here is a link to a phone interview conducted with Cheri Huber as an example of her approach to Buddhist thought:

Here is a link to a 2006 article covering a retreat offered at the Monastery. It offers more information about the Monastery itself.

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About Murphys

Soto Zen

Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple

Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple

Members of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple practice Shin Buddhism. As such, this community conducts itself in alignment with the Western Pure Land school, placing staunch faith in the figure Amithaba. Through his worship, members of the school seek to, facilitate a rebirth which enables them to practice Buddhism to its fullest extent, beyond the obstructions presented by a particular birth in the delusional realm. In other words, members of this faith desire rebirth into a world constructed by Amithaba himself, catered to honing one’s karma and ultimate merit. This achievement, to practitioners, presents itself upon the consistent recitation of a chant, particularly one that refers to their patron: “I am calling Amida Buddha” (Hart 1). As well as with aligning to the Buddha’s sutras, members of the Western Pure Land school invest significant faith into Amithaba himself, whose name means “infinite light” and whose Mahayana doctrines are said to precede those even of the historical Buddha.

This school of Buddhism, especially in Japan, accounts for a great portion of Buddhist practice around the world. It makes sense, then, that Western Pure Land would spread into North America from a migratory perspective alone. Additionally, other features of the Western Pure Land tradition attest to this sect’s prominence on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Despite being just one of two in all of Oregon, this Shin temple strives to promote those tenants which originated within Japan 758 years ago, and as a constituent of the Buddhist Churches of America, boasts, “a place where the people know and trust one another and where there is social harmony; it is harmony that gives life and meaning to every community” (Buddhist Churches of America 1).

History & Scope

While preserving a centuries-long tradition, the Idaho-Oregon Temple developed against a backdrop heavily contextualized by events of the second world war. Formally dedicated on April 13, 1947 in Ontario, Oregon, constituents of this temple congregated after relocating from the Pacific Coast to Ontario in May 1942. The relocation was forced upon the members as a result of the United States’ effort to place Japanese-Americans into labor camps during the war. Presented as an alternative to the camps, some Japanese-American farmers already working in the Ontario area made an appeal that laborers on the coast would instead be brought to Oregon and help farm the land. As a result, Japanese-Americans found a concentrated presence in this new community, and (since many of this demographic were first generation, or “Issei”) expressed cultural values which they had taken from their native Japan. Some of these values, of course, were expressed through the practice of Shin Buddhism, and before long a decision was made to form a proper congregation.

That there was Issei presence in Ontario prior to interment is noteworthy, as they provided the means through which a sizable Buddhist community could take shape. In fact, this community actually started laying the foundation for its growth in the interwar period, with the construction of a community center which allowed Japanese-American youth to participate in athletics and social activities in the 1930s. Eventually, through this smaller community’s intervention in labor camp relocation, the Japanese-American and, subsequently, the Buddhist communities in Ontario establish themselves to become a larger hub for Shin Buddhist practice in the Western United States.

Despite this particular temple springing from unique ties with American history, the Idaho-Oregon Temple is still connected to the international Buddhist community as well. As previously stated, the temple is a member of the Buddhist Churches of America as part of the northwestern district, and is overseen by Reverend Jerry Hirano, who is based out of the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple, and oversees the Idaho-Oregon Temple’s minister assistants. On its website, the temple lists its affiliate organizations, other Buddhist temples local to the northwestern United States. Furthermore, the temple maintains ties with Japan as well, as the community’s mother temple resides in Kyoto. This mother temple “provides leadership worldwide” for the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji (the sect’s formal name) tradition of Buddhism (Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple 1). Communications between the two institutions ensure the perpetuation of authentic Shin Buddhism, which has been effectively maintained for more than half a millennium.

Teachings & Practices

The mother temple, the Nishi Hongwanji, provides essential teachings, discussed to some extent in this report already, which comprise the Shin doctrine. Jodo Shinshu, the teaching’s proper name, espouses faith in the three Pure Land Sutras (The Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, The Sutra of Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, and The Sutra of Amida Buddha) delivered by Shakyamuni Buddha, a Mahayana name for the historical Buddha. The Sutra of Amida Buddha describes that Buddha’s world of pure bliss where one can do nothing but focus on the three jewels, an ideal world. Writings by founder Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) effectively offer a path toward that world by way of Nembutsu, the frequent practice of chanting Amithaba’s (or in other spellings, Amida’s) name. Other religious practices include walking meditation, demonstrated in a video below:

Chanting as a means of focus is unique amongst Shin Buddhists, and differs from traditions such as the Theravada which seeks enlightenment through meditation on the concept of no-self and nonexistence. Nevertheless, in line with the tradition of loving-kindness, Shin Buddhists seek entrance into the Western Pure land only so that they may attain Buddhahood and, upon doing so, return to the delusional world to guide others toward enlightenment. Thus, the Western Pure land is not exactly analogous to the heaven depicted in puritanical Christianity. It is interesting, though, that Western Pure Land has gained such notoriety in the United States. Perhaps to those unfamiliar with the nuances of the doctrine, Western Pure Land presents a more digestible conception of the world, as some elements reflect, at least to some extent, the heaven-earth construction present in Christianity.

We can better understand how Shin Buddhism has evolved in wake of its spreading onto the American continent by observing, in our example, the ways in which members organize and present themselves to the larger local community. Rather than identify by the term “venerable” as we might have expect, temple leaders, such as Jerry Hirano, go by the title “reverend”, not unlike those who hold similar positions within Methodist and Presbyterian communities, for example. Adapting Christian elements into their organization reflects a desire to reflect certain western values so as to appeal to a larger American population.

Furthermore, worship services and activities take place on a weekly basis every Sunday, aligning with the Western notion that this day be reserved for the spirit. These services, as well as the ceremonious events that take place throughout the year, are open to all who wish to participate and do not require temple membership. For those who desire to, “practice locally”, The Boise (their designated term for Sangha) meets weekly on Tuesday at a local Methodist church, and like all other meetings, is open to the public (Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple 1). The open-door policy, so to speak, further affirms the notion that the communally-oriented Idaho-Oregon Buddhist temple has ambitions to maintain accessibility on a great scope so that it may diffuse its doctrine thoroughly around the world, particularly on the North American continent.


The temple’s membership/community primarily hails from eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. Under the particular circumstances which saw to this community’s formation, one would expect to see a significant percentage of Issei (or Issei descendants) within its congregation. Still, Sunday services are given in English and the temple’s open-door policy indicates that English speakers are often in attendance for those services at least.

As we’ve discussed in our course, Buddhist communities in the west do not necessarily vie for total conversion to Buddhism. Those individuals interested can pick what resonates with them and adapt it so that it can fit within a person’s belief system. The Idaho-Oregon temple promotes individuality, as well. This is evident from the fact that membership is not required for participation in religious events. Reverend Hirano himself attests that there are thousands of paths towards enlightenment and that the individual must choose which one would best serve him or her. Thus, Buddhist ideals can manifest in unique ways to coincide comfortably with the individual’s life.

Open-mindedness extends beyond the topic of religion in this Buddhist community as well. This past November’s installment of a monthly bulletin published by the temple reflects on election season and the divisiveness it can bring into our worlds. Through Buddhist teachings, one must acknowledge the poisonousness of voting and still acknowledge the poisonousness of apathy. One should do his or her best to vote with a morally good conscious, to “humbly and honestly consider what is best, not just for ourselves, but other people in our region, around the region, and the world” (Anne Spencer 1). Not only does this serve as another example of members contemplating western society with a Buddhist outlook, but also expresses a tolerance for differing opinion within the Idaho-Oregon Temple community. Indeed, Assistant Minister Spencer acknowledges such diversity in the community at the beginning of her discussion. Overall, present in this community are values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and shared pleasure taken from pursuing the Amida Buddha’s Western Pure Land, and at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, people from all over are welcome to share in this endeavor.

Works Cited

Buddhist Churches of America. Web 4 December 2018.

Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Web 4 December.

Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji. “The Essentials of Jodo Shinshu- My Path” Web 4 December 2018.

Hart, Sean. “Shin Buddhism: Namo Amida Butsu.” The Argus Observer, 3 March 2010. Web 4 December 2018. butsu/article_5f92ccc3-9f6a-541c-9393-bf7f4f51f365.html

Spencer, Anne. “Politics and Buddhism.” IOBT Bulletin November 2018. Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple. Web 4 December.

American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association

Posted by Xinyu Zhang

Located on Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton, Massachusetts, the central temple of the American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association is housed in the former First Unitarian Parish of Brighton. As a historic landmark of Brighton, the temple participated in the 2007 200th anniversary celebrations of Brighton. The stone steeple and impressive stained glass windows evoke the former function of the structure. Now, large signs and images of Shim Gum Do forms grace the outside walls, welcoming the public to participate in the martial arts classes offered.PLM-Temple

Founding Master

Shim Gum Do Founding Master Zen Master Chang Sik Kim was first introduced to Buddhist teachings at a young age when he was given a koan by Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee (founder of the Kwan Um School of Zen in the Chogye Order). “A great Zen Sword Master saw the reflection of the moon in a pool of water. He drew out his sword and cut the reflection in half and the two halves separated. How is this possible?” Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee told Zen Master Kim that he could find out the answer to the koan and attain martial art enlightenment if he came to live at his temple and follow his teachings. Following this meeting, Zen Master Kim entered the Hwa Gye Sa temple in Seoul, Korea and began his formal training under Zen Master Seung Sahn Lee at the age of 13. At the temple, Zen Master Kim’s days were filled with practice. The Dharma was taught through the experiences of the daily life of the temple. Zen Master Kim’s temple work of cleaning and cooking symbolized the importance of clearing the mind, taking care of the basic necessities of life and not wasting food or energy. In 1965 at the age of 21, Master Kim undertook an intensive one hundred day retreat. During this retreat, the Master attained Mind Sword Enlightenment, through which the practice and forms of Shim Gum Do were revealed to him.

In 1971, Master Chang Sik Kim officially introduced Shim Gum Do with the Proclamation of Shim Gum Do, the doctrinal explanation of the Mind Sword Path as a Zen Buddhist practice and path. He established the Korean Shim Gum Do Association and began teaching Shim Gum Do in Korea. In 1974, Zen Master Kim came to the United States and established the American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association unifying all of the worldwide Shim Gum Do Associations.DSe4v_0VAAAt5gA

Currently Zen Master Chang Sik Kim lives and teaches at his temple Shim Gwang Sa, the Mind Light Temple in Brighton, Massachusetts. Zen Master Kim is also accomplished in other Zen arts – the art of calligraphy and of poetry – through which he continues to express the power of the moment. He is a published author of a number of books: 17 Poetry books that have been translated into six languages and “The Art of Zen Sword, A History of Shim Gum Do” and “The First Star Black Belt Forms of Shim Gum Do Zen Sword, The Manual of Course Material from White to First Star Black Belt.”

Dharma Lineage and Community

Dharma lineage of Shim Gum Do traces back to India, where it starts with the Buddha Shakyamuni, Mahakasyapa and Ananda. It then passes down to Nagarjuna and Bodhidharma and gets spread to China to the 29th patriarch Hui Ke and 33rd patriarch Hui Neng. The lineage stays in China until the 56th patriarch Shih-shih Ch’ing-kung and spreads to Korea to the next patriarch Tae-Ko Bo-Wu. Shim Gum Do Founding Master Zen Master Chang Sik Kim is the 79th patriarch in his lineage.

There are approximately 150 active members including ten live-in residents. Daily classes usually have between 5 and 15 students, and workshops will have about 50. Approximately 50% of the regular members are Euro-Americans, about 65% are men and 5-10% of the members are children. The remaining members represent the ethnic and religious diversity of the Boston area. The Shim Gum Do community is a diverse group of people including children, teenagers, students, college students, graduate students, and adults from all walks of life. In addition to the central temple in Brighton, there is a Shim Gum Do school in Pennsylvania, a club in New Jersey, teaching centers in Korea and an Italian group based in Milan.



Shim means mind. Shim Gum Do believes that all things are created by mind alone. According to the Proclamation of Shim Gum Do, this means that if you want to understand the true way “you must perceive where name and form come from and you must understand that name and form are created by mind”. They believe that in this world, one by one, each thing is complete; one by one, each thing has substance. If you cut off all thinking, return to before thinking then this is your substance and universal substance. They call this “primary point”. If you “keep this mind, you and everything, you and the universe, become one”. “Clear like space, without name and form, without opposites, that is the Absolute. “That is also “Mind or Buddha or God or Truth or Energy”.

Gum means sword. They believe that there are two kinds of Gum: a killing Gum and a life-giving Gum. Their Gum chases evil away, helps goodness, makes the correct way, manifests Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way and fights for the cause of justice. Sometimes this Gum appears as “a steel sword, sometimes a wooden sword, a fist sword, a mind sword or a no-name-no-form-energy sword”. The Proclamation says that “on the outside, it repulses enemies of peace; internally it cuts off our ignorance, makes our bad karma disappear, enables us to get complete freedom and to find the True Light”. If we function correctly then this is the Gum of correct function. Any place anytime, if we follow the situation then what appears as dirty water becomes a clear and pure world.

Do means path. They believe that everyday mind is the path, the true way. According to the Proclamation, “If you make your opinion, your condition and your situation disappear then your true self appears and finding the correct opinion, correct situation and correct condition are possible. Then all that you can see, hear or smell is the truth, all is ‘Do’.” “Do not make ‘I, my, me’, then everyday life is the truth and the path.” Then you will get the Great Bodhisattva Way and it will be possible to save all beings from suffering. The name for this is Do.

Shim is Buddha, which is clear like space.

Gum is Dharma, which is the correct function of energy.

Do is Sangha, which is Great Love and Great Compassion.

The Practice

Shim Gum Do practice is very much about mind and body energy alignment. The American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association uniquely combines Zen ‘non-action’ with action meditation and forms of martial arts. Shim Gum Do or ‘Mind Sword Path’ includes six basic arts—Sword, Shin Boep or ‘Body Dharma’(a weaponless art form similar to ‘karate’), Ho Shin Sul or self-defense (involving breaking grabs and offenses, throwing, rolling and pressure points), Long Stick, Short Stick and Two Swords. Within these six basic arts, there are approximately 1,000 forms. Students follow the Shim Gum Do path with bi-monthly tests, marking their progress through the thirty-three black belt levels. Students of Shim Gum Do begin studying either Sword or Shin Boep, and may study one of the other forms after their first year of training. Students first learn the basic forms to develop strength and flexibility. Ultimately training in Shim Gum Do goes beyond the realm of martial arts by putting Zen into action.Through the Shim Gum Do forms, practitioners develop their internal energy and balance body and mind. The Shim Gum Do action and non-action clarify the mind and transform the practitioner. It is an avenue towards getting enlightenment.

Daily, weekly and monthly classes are offered to men and women with a separate course available for children ages 5 and up. All classes at the Mind Light Temple include warm ups, training in the different forms, meditation and readings from Zen Master Kim’s Dharma talks. Students first learn the basic forms– standing, moving one’s energy and stepping. From this point, students learn forms or whole sequences of moves.

The Temple also offers a residential training program focusing on the deeper incorporation of Shim Gum Do into daily life. Residents at Mind Light Temple do not practice a monastic lifestyle and may continue to participate in worldly activities and maintain an outside job. The residents wake each morning to bow, practice meditation and Shim Gum Do martial arts. Upon returning in the evening, classes are held for the public and taught by Zen Master Kim and Headmaster Mary Stackhouse Kim. Residents also practice Shim Gum Do during the day on the weekends. Through the learning, practice and study of the forms of Shim Gum Do, one aims at developing the strength and techniques to fight the internal enemies of ignorance, desire, opinion and ego. The Shim Gum Do path of martial arts is learning to fight the demons and bad habits within oneself and build a clear direction and strong compassion.


Works Cited

American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Association. The Pluralism Project. Web. 2 December, 2018.

Shim Gum Do-Mind Sword Path. Web 2 December, 2018.

Master Seung Sahn Lee, Master Chang Sik Kim. “World Shim Gum Do Proclamation 1971”. Web 2 December, 2018.