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Buddhism in Boise

Looking east to tame the beast


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In a city so overwhelmingly, exhaustingly Christian, it is more than a little surprising (and refreshing) that a viable and diverse Buddhist community has emerged here. I'm not talking about the ubiquitous westernized meditation fads that have inundated the country, but instead the sanghas, centers and temples representing sects, disciplines and teachings going back centuries. The practices followed by these groups are steeped in tradition, often representing a lay order, and typically having a prominent historical or contemporary figure as its spiritual guide.

With some exceptions, it has been transplanted followers from the outside world and other states who have brought Buddhism to Boise. In 1992, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist nun named Nhu Tam Thich came to Boise to open the Linh Thu'u Buddhist Meditation Temple, which operates in an unassuming, single-story house at 2312 Overland Road. Nhu Tam heard of Boise from Buddhist nuns and monks on the coast who visited here to speak, and she decided it sounded ripe for a permanent temple. Linh Thu'u has a rather spectacularly appointed altar in a quiet, inviting space. On Saturdays, from 10 to noon, the Treasure Valley Dharma Friends hold their weekly meditation sessions there.

Last September, a Japanese Buddhist temple and activity center called Soka Gakkai was established, the local chapter of a worldwide lay organization founded on the writings of a 13th century teacher in Japan named Nichiren. Located at 2404 S. Orchard and serving Idaho and Montana, its 80-plus members meet Sundays and perform meditative chants read from scrolls created by Nichiren that simplify the basic truths of Buddhahood and the sutras or scriptural narratives attributed to Buddha and his early disciples. The first Sunday of each month, the temple holds a world peace prayer service.

Of the estimated dozen sanghas (meditation and study groups) in the Boise area, the oldest is The Open Path, founded in 1975 under the guidance of the Canadian master, Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche. Rinpoche was the first westerner to be recognized as a lineage holder in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and established centers internationally. The teachings of this master are an unusual blend of Tibetan Buddhism and western philosophical thought. In addition to mindfulness practice and Puja (activity) sessions, Open Path regularly schedules retreats and workshops conducted by teachers in a range of subjects.

Also well-established is Beginners Mind Sangha, started in 1994 by members of the Order of Interbeing, a socially engaged lay order dedicated to application of the Buddhist precepts to contemporary life, founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, the widely published Vietnamese Zen master. Beginners Mind's weekly practice meetings, held Wednesday evenings at the Yoga Center on Rose Hill Road, are comprised of sitting and walking meditation, chants, recitations and Dharma discussions, all based on the daily practice at Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in southern France, and includes monthly renewals of the precepts known as the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The sangha also sponsors three-day retreats conducted by visiting teachers, monks and nuns (with one coming up in early May), plus individual Days of Mindfulness throughout the year, and publishes a newsletter called The Little Bell.

The Soto tradition of the San Francisco Zen Center founded by Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki-roshi informs the Floating Cloud Sangha, started four years ago by Brian Goller, who is an ordained lay person in that tradition. It truly is a "floating" sangha in that it meets at the various homes of its members every Tuesday for sitting meditation, or zazen, followed by readings from and discussions about a wide range of books on Buddhism and its practice. Its approach is, therefore, both simple and intellectual. The sangha brings in teachers from the San Francisco center for weekend retreats, as it will this April 9-10.

The proliferation of practice groups in recent years, combined with how rarely they are publicized, makes checking out the Buddhist experience in Boise somewhat complicated. Consequently, there is discussion of creating a clearinghouse of information on these organizations. What is important to remember is that all these groups are open to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, anyone seeking to achieve a mindful, compassionate way of life.


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