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New Buddhist Temple Opens in Carlisle

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New Buddhist Temple Opens in Carlisle

Jules Struck ’19, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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A new Buddhist temple led by a Sri Lankan monk opened up two weeks ago on North Pitt St. in Carlisle and is offering services open to anyone. 

The Blue Lotus Temple is run by Bhante Soma, who came to Harrisburg in 2015 to practice and lead Buddhism classes and sessions. Around 30 people came to the first meditation session around two weeks ago, said Soma.

“I’m really mindfully excited,” said Soma. 

“People can come anytime,” he said. “These mindfulness meditations are for human beings. Anybody. All are welcome.” 

Blue Lotus Temple was started in Woodstock, Ill. about 15 years ago under the direction of Sri Lankan monk Bhante Sujatha. 11 years ago he visited Harrisburg, then Soma came to the area in 2015 at Sujatha’s request, where he found a “small meditation seed already here,” Soma said.  

Soma contacted Dickinson Professor of Religion Dan Cozort, who helped to bring Soma’s services to Carlisle. Cozort is Buddhist himself and the current president of the board of the Carlisle Blue Lotus Temple. Here, without a building, Soma practiced and held services. 

“He gradually built up more and more groups… and once or twice a year there would be a festival,” said Cozort, “so that would be a time when all the people who had been in his groups would gather in one place. And usually that place, by the way, was Allison Hall, here at Dickinson.”

Director of Dickinson’s Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Justice Donna Hughes said that Soma had participated before at the college’s Fall Faith Fest and held meditation sessions. 

“Almost for three years, I continue this mission,” said Soma, “And I created meditation groups everywhere–Hershey, Carlisle, Mechanicsburg, other locations.”

Soma led groups around the Harrisburg area in yoga studios and art centers, and would sometimes come to Dickinson. “Bhante Soma showed up and within a very short period of time, he had attracted a lot of students,” said Bethany Queen, who is Buddhist and Cozort’s wife. 

“Something that he was doing in these meditation sessions, classes that he was offering in all these different places was wanted, was appreciated, was appealing. It was quite extraordinary that he attracted in such a short period of time, such a following,” said Queen.

In 2017 the possibility of a permanent establishment was raised.

A group of Carlisle community members who now act as board members for the Carlisle temple solidified in March 2017 when they and Soma were offered $60,000 from a Sri Lankan woman from Texas to start a Blue Lotus Temple in Carlisle, on the stipulation that the group would raise $10,000 additionally, said Cozort.

“Not just people on the board of course, but there were [locals] who donated their time,” said Cozort, like yoga teachers who taught classes and artists who raised funds for the temple. “It was a community effort,” he said. 

“The location was not chosen because it was so close to Dickinson, but I think it’s great that it is so close to Dickinson,” Cozort said. 

Soma’s history as a monk began when he was ten years old, when he left home to become a monk. “It’s a long story,” Soma said. He trained at the International Buddhist monastery in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Soma grew up in the monastery, until he was invited by Sujatha in 2012 to come to the U.S. 

The language barrier was a challenge, said Soma. “The meditation and Dharma go an English way,” Soma said to Sujatha, who pointed out that Soma had learned Sanskrit, “the most difficult language in the world.” Soma was convinced. 

Soma said his “mission is to talk to young people… We need to give inner peace and happiness and compassion to that people. You know, actually, a lot of youth people are involved in peace and meditation right now.” He said some students, especially of Cozort’s classes on Buddhism, had attended some sessions. 

“A couple of Buddhist students have reached out to me and asked, are there any sanghas [communities] here, and I’ve put them in contact with Bhante Soma,” said Hughes. She said a few students showed up to a program that CSSS had offered with Soma, which are the kind of events usually only attended by staff.

“Generally speaking, we have a stressed-out society, and one where there’s too much selfishness, and not enough loving-kindness for others, and that’s really what this is all about,” said Cozort. “Some people will go because they feel a need to calm down and just sit and others will go because they really like the message that he’s giving all the time about loving yourself and extending that love to other people. I think every community needs that.” 

“I think it adds to the diversity of Carlisle,” said Queen. “It makes Carlisle a little more unusual than a lot of towns, and it really offers… kind of a refuge. People just want a place to go and sit and be quiet. There’s very little dogma or expectation or judgment.” 

“I’m just really impressed and surprised in a good way that this Buddhist temple has opened up,” said Hughes.

Cozort said for “most people, the frame of reference is church. So if they go to some place like this they expect that there is some sort of doctrine that’s going to be articulated, that everything’s going to revolve around that. And here basically you get guided meditation, and love. It’s pretty simple.”

“I think that people are pretty open to Buddhism,” said Hughes. “I think it’s a little bit more accessible to people because for the most part it’s more philosophical, and not theistic. There are a lot of people that have another faith tradition but are practicing Buddhists because of the philosophy part,” she said, a practice that is “appealing to students, and appealing I think to a lot of people.””

“I’ve been at Dickinson now for 31 years, and I always thought that something like this would work once it was established here,” Cozort said, “that there were enough people in this particular area who were interested in Buddhism and meditation.” 

Guided meditations are offered every Monday at 7 p.m. and Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Soon, Saturday meditations will be offered from 10 to 11 a.m. and Friday from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. A blessing ceremony and meditation will be held from 10 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 31. A New Year blessing will be offered on Jan. 5 from 6 to 7 p.m. The temple will be closed from Dec. 13 to 28 for Christmas vacation. The Carlisle Blue Lotus Temple is a 501(3)c non-profit organization. More information can be found at bluelotustemplepa.org.

Soma said those interested just have to walk in to participate. “I’m the meditation driver,” he said laughingly. 

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1 Comment

One Response to “New Buddhist Temple Opens in Carlisle”

  1. Ratana shifu on December 1st, 2018 8:47 am

    Please refer to the monk as “Ven. Soma”, not just “Soma”.

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New Buddhist Temple Opens in Carlisle