Buddhist monks live simple life at rural temple

By Rev. Clairissa Beattie, Wallowa.com, Oct 12, 2011

Hurricane Creek, Alabama (USA) -- Up a dirt road, on five acres of sloping wooded grassland, Buddhist monks chop wood and carry water. Following a centuries-old balanced daily practice of meditation, physical work, formal ceremonies, vegetarian meals and discussion of the teaching, the monks of the small remote mountain temple welcome those who join them in search of inner peace.

<< Courtesy photo/Linda Sutch Buddhist monks, Reverends Meido Tuttle (left) and Clairissa Beattie, stack wood at the Wallowa Buddhist Temple on Hurricane Creek.

Sounds like a scene from ancient China?

It's happening right here in Wallowa County, about a quarter-mile uphill from the Hurricane Creek Grange, at the Wallowa Buddhist Temple.

Visitors come from afar to retreat for a week or so, usually one-by-one. Local folks take time for inner reflection, individually or in small groups meeting Sundays and Wednesdays for a morning of meditation and discussion.

Walking paths wind through pine and aspen on the forested temple grounds, ideal for quiet contemplation. Sitting quietly on a bench along Hurricane Creek, a guest or a resident monk may find solace by the tumbling glacial waters.

Speaking with the priest of the temple, Reverend Meido Tuttle, one may find a spiritual refuge. A familiar brown-robed figure in the county since she came to settle here nine years ago, Rev. Meido freely offers a kind ear, a cup of tea, and good practical wisdom to those who ask it of her. After more than 30 ears as a contemplative monastic, Rev. Meido has come to embody the compassionate teaching of her tradition. Also practicing at the temple under her guidance is Reverend Clairissa Beattie, a younger monk who came from Portland last October after 10 years of monastic training.

The Wallowa Buddhist Temple is a log cabin heated mostly with wood, so the monks are kept busy splitting and stacking firewood. During the summer heat, Rev. Meido waters young fruit trees by hand where drip hoses don't reach. Seeing her carrying water in buckets recently, a neighbor couple kindly insisted on the monks using their nearby faucet.

Living simply, day-to-day practice is pretty down to earth. Monks are vegetarian, celibate, and endeavor to live on alms. The tradition is known in Japan as Soto Zen, also referred to as "farmer Zen" because of the emphasis on training within the conditions of a normal everyday life, making it possible for anyone to practice.

Here at the Wallowa Buddhist Temple, the practice is called Serene Reflection Meditation, and scriptures are sung in English to western plainsong accompanied by a church organ.

A small congregation and other benefactors from the community provide the monastics with the basics of food, clothing, medicine, and shelter. The temple monks offer a place dedicated to this practice and the teaching, which springs from a lifelong commitment to follow the path of the Buddha. A man who lived over 2,500 years ago in India, the historical Buddha found within himself the key to ending suffering, and offered a way for all to do the same by looking within.

Buddhists attempt to live life in accord with the Precepts: to cease from that which may cause harm, to do only good, and to do good for others. One place to start is by caring gently for all creatures. On a recent Sunday morning, a memorial was held in the small ceremony hall for a beloved cat who passed away. Buddhist memorials for humans are held at the temple as well, as are weddings, and naming ceremonies for children.

The temple has become a part of life for many in the county, Buddhist or not. Now known far and wide is the traditional Indian meal held at Russell's at the Lake restaurant every spring, a sell-out event organized by congregation members Erin Donovan and Jane Harshman who began the Friends of Wallowa Buddhist Temple to offer their support.

Last autumn they also organized the first "Sitting Potato" benefit dinner held at the Coffin House for about 40 people. "It was a cozy gathering of friends around simple, delicious food and then a thought-provoking film," Donovan said.

These evenings were so successful that Donovan, Harshman, and a fundraising committee headed by Chris Geyer decided to combine the potato bake with a silent and live auction Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Wallowa Lake Camp (the Methodist campground).

There will be musical entertainment and the chance to bid on some unusual items, ranging from art and vacation homes to gift certificates and experiences. All these have been donated by some 50 local artisans, musicians, businesses, and individuals who value the temple.

"The monks offer so much, this is our way to give back," comments Harshman. "The time that I spend in the temple is very peaceful, and from that I gain so much - from the sitting times, the spiritual counseling that is offered, and the community gatherings. Participation in these benefit events gives me an opportunity to use what I have learned from Buddhism."

The Oct. 22 benefit, dubbed "Sitting Potato's Big Night," is focused on raising funds toward building additional retreat accommodations at the temple. The congregation and friends of the temple are enthusiastically coming together to volunteer building materials, expertise, and labor for the project. Construction is planned for 2012.

Geyer was moved to help generate funds for the project through a sense of community spirit. He explains: "The second annual Sitting Potato Dinner and Auction is an opportunity to support the Wallowa Buddhist Temple. It is a wonderful reminder that we are all connected. When we focus on what we have in common and not what differentiates us, we can accomplish great things."

The temple is generally open for visitors and offers meditation instruction upon request. While the Wallowa Buddhist Temple depends entirely upon donations for its continued existence, all of its activities and services are offered without charge. If you would like to come for a visit or wish to offer your help toward the building project, please call ahead at      541-432-6129 to make arrangements.