Henepola Gunaratana, an author, meditation instructor and president of the Bhavana Society Meditation Center in West Virginia, is traveling the Midwest to give a message of peace, which he describes as the central message of Buddhism.
"Especially in this world full of crime, war, problems, difficulties, they need the message of Buddha," he said. "People are longing for something which can give them some degree of satisfaction, some degree of hope."
Some people follow Buddhism as a religion; others view it as a philosophy. Some use it as a form of alternative medicine, for pain relief or to treat mental illness. Others simply practice meditation to find peace.
"I just think, given we're in the heartland where things tend to come a little later than on the coasts, I think we're finally beginning to open as a community to these practices and these teachings," said Mary Struck, who reads Buddhist teachings and organized a local study group.