17 January 2012

NoVA House of Dharma: It Just Might Work...

What follows is a set of speculations in response to a concrete problem in our region for Buddhists and Buddhist groups. I put it forward in the hope that some good may come of it.

Arlington, Virginia and its surrounding suburbs hosts many Buddhist groups. Several of them, including ours at the moment, rent space in one of three different Unitarian churches; others meet in private homes, or in yoga studios or dance halls or art galleries. We sometimes meet at Starbucks. This is OK as a stopgap measure, but does not offer the benefits of a long-term, stable location that people feel they can count on, and is often not supportive of meditative practice due to distraction and inconsistency. However, if you have fifteen groups of five or ten or twenty meeting once per week, you do not have a core around which building can be purchased or leased. This is where we are now: a thousand flowers are blooming but their future is uncertain in isolation.

One solution would be to organize several of these practice groups around one location, one building that is committed to hosting Dharma activities of many kinds. To give an example of what I am referring to, consider Ekoji in Richmond, Virginia: six or seven sanghas meet at different times under one roof, and share in the upkeep. Speaking practically, this means that a pan-Buddhist community can build up around the temple, there is less confusion in organizing Buddhist activities because people know where to go to find the Buddhists (instead of fussing over the Meetup site to find out if it really is 7:30pm on Tuesdays at the Unitarian Church or...?), and conditions and supports for practice can be improved. Sanghas would not need to compete for space with choir practice or stragglers from the previous yoga class. Instead, they would build the kinds of connections and habits that support Dharma activity. Call it a House of Dharma. The People's Dharma Hall.

So, what is needed? Oh, not much: just a big pot of money, a plan, a leader, a suitable location, and the cooperation of several Buddhist groups in the area. Can these conditions arise at once in a harmonious and productive way? It may not be likely, but it is possible: it can be done.

I would like to know from others if there is any interest in trying.

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