Buddhist temple opens

Decked out in a colorful array of spiritual artifacts, silk wall hangings and golden Buddhas, Ashland's Kagyu Sukha Choling has opened its doors for meditation and classes — and will hold a public grand opening on Saturday.

The $1.5 million temple was the dream of two Tibetan Buddhist lamas, Yeshe Parke and Pema Clark, who arrived in Ashland 10 years ago and began building a spiritual community filled with dedicated donors and volunteers eager to do much of the construction work.

Teachings began June 6 under the guidance of KSC's spiritual director, Lama Lodru Rinpoche of San Francisco.

"Everyone was smiling and had tears of joy," Clark said. "I tried to introduce him, but I was so happy, I couldn't speak."

Entering the second-floor sanctuary the viewer takes in red accented altars, teaching thrones, candles, statues and painted silk wall hangings portraying the faith's divine beings, including Green Tara, White Tara and the Future Buddha, who regularly incarnates on earth, Clark said.

"So many people come just to look, and they say it makes them happy just to look at it," she said.

When he consecrated the new temple, Rinpoche said it was the first new Tibetan Buddhist temple built in an urban setting on this continent (most are retreats far from cities), and that "it was amazing it's in a small town like Ashland," Clark recalled.

"He reminded us that this temple doesn't belong to KSC or to the religion but that it's for the community," she said. "Anyone can come. The purpose of this building is to support any person wanting to develop more peace of mind and warmth of heart. People who come here have affiliations with many faiths, and they all benefit from calming down, opening up and letting go."

Rinpoche also said the Dalai Lama at some point would visit the temple.

Classes are Monday and Tuesday evenings, with meditation Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings. The schedule is at kscashland.org and includes special events such as "inner yoga" and a series exploring the meaning of ceremonial objects in the shrine room.

The room, also called the sanctuary, is unabashedly decked out in bright reds, golds and other beautiful colors, Clark noted, because "everything is sacred, so all this color expresses the purity and exceptional beauty of genuine reality — and if you're inspired and uplifted by it, that's very good."

Taking in the three-story, 6,000-square-foot temple, Parke said, "If I'm honest, it's a miracle. Hundreds of people contributed time, energy and skill. I'm overcome. I'm in tears twice a day."

Despite the current recession, contractor John Fields advised the temple be built if money and donated labor could be found, because prices would be more affordable. Just more than $1 million was raised from 500 people, with $600,000 in private loans and fundraising in an ongoing process, Clark said.

"But we're over the hump, now that we've created the building ... and a community has grown out of it," Fields said. "It's energy-efficient and sustainable. It uses less land and transportation than rural temples. It's adapted to the heart of the community and is totally accessible. You can walk to it. It's a 21st century building."

The building's consulting architect, Joyce Ward of Ashland, said the local Buddhist sangha (congregation) "came in early on and said they wanted it all non-toxic, sustainable and honoring of the earth. It was a great expression of how building needs to be now. I was amazed at the army of volunteers and how it's all gone so easily, without the power struggles you might expect ... all setbacks were met with optimism and equanimity. It's a wonderful expression of grounding, plenty and permanence in an impermanent world."

Much of the high-level craftsmanship was donated or given at cost, Clark said, naming many artisans who created the stunning double entry doors, the stained cement floor, the rock walkways, the chic kitchen and other features.

The purpose of the complex, she stresses, is the spiritual journey, which means "an awakening, an inherent quality of our heart and mind, which we describe as being very open with a quality of goodness. Every human being has this essence, which is uncovered and recognized through meditation and contemplation."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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