Thursday, January 31, 2002

Buddhists worship, learn in Scarborough

Published in the Current

Buddhists from all over Maine and the Northeast come to Scarborough to practice their faith. The state’s chapter of the True Buddha School has its Maine headquarters on U.S. Route 1, just south of Anjon’s Restaurant.

A small ranch house has been converted into a gathering place for a group of mostly Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists now living in the region. They follow the teachings of a Buddhist cleric based in Seattle, who teaches in the Tantric or Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, the same style as that followed by the Dalai Lama.

They came to Scarborough looking for a place for the society in the Greater Portland area, and found an affordable building in a good location here in town.

Yee-lin Lee, one of the people who runs the Scarborough temple, said people tend to come to offer gifts to the Buddha on the first and 15th days of the lunar months. She said most of the people are Chinese and Vietnamese, but members of other nationalities also come to the temple.

Lee said there is a particularly large turnout for Chinese New Year, which this year will be celebrated on Feb. 12, 2002, on Western calendars. It will be the Chinese year of 4699, the Year of the Horse.

Lee said she had started to notice an increase in the number of people who don’t speak Chinese at some of these events, and at their suggestion began a program to introduce Buddhism to English speakers.

Rev. Lianhong, a Buddhist monk from Oakland, Calif., came to town to deliver a series of teachings on the basics of Buddhism. About 50 people turned out for the first session, Jan. 16, despite a freezing rainstorm. Turnout was so good, in fact, that most people had to park at a larger parking lot near the Dunstan School Restaurant and get shuttled to the temple.

Lianhong began the first teaching with a disclaimer: “I am not here to convert you to Buddhism,” he said, though he said he wouldn’t turn away anyone who wanted to learn more.

In the first session, Lianhong gave a brief history of the life of the Buddha, and talked about the basic principles of the Buddha’s teachings, which are common to all three Buddhist traditions, Mahayana (most common in China and Japan), Theravada (Thailand, Cambodia and Burma) and Vajrayana (Tibet and Himalayan regions of several countries).

The class also explored other aspects of Buddhist teachings and meditation, with Lianhong offering suggestions for improving mindfulness and focus while meditating, and encouraging people to find meditation in all daily activities.