Buddhist meditation center lands in Mesa

by Srianthi Perera, The Arizona Republic, Sept. 18, 2007

Mesa, Arizona (USA) -- Those interested in meditation have a new place to learn and practice it in the Southeast Valley. The Arizona International Buddhist Meditation Center has established a venue in Mesa.

The registered, tax-exempt, non-profit society is primarily run by Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Venerable Siyabalagoda Ananda and the Rev. Dhammapala Kennard.

"I've been here 17 years trying to get a center. Finally, we can start the work," said Dhammapala of Chandler, who embraced Buddhist philosophy and was ordained in Malaysia in 1995.

The center is housed in a 1,400-square-foot dwelling on a 15,000-square-foot lot off Broadway Road east of Horne in Mesa, which was purchased with the assistance of a philanthropist. Sri Lankan-American Shani Wijay of Texas, donated seed money for the purchase in memory of her parents.

Meditation practitioners and members of the small Sri Lankan community in the Valley have pledged to contribute a nominal monthly fee toward paying off a loan and helping with upkeep.

"The mission of the center is to explain the practical benefits of the Buddha's teachings and apply them to people of all ethnicities," said Ananda, who lives at the center.

To that end, he also is organizing classes in Buddhist teaching for children.

In the United States since 1982, Ananda has served Buddhist communities in New York and Washington. In 2002, he moved to Phoenix where he served a year as resident chaplain at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.

Since arriving in the Valley, Ananda sought to fill a void and establish a Buddhist center for community work.

Dhammapala, who lives part time at the Mesa center, retired from a 24-year career in federal service and volunteers for American Red Cross, helping displaced people find temporary shelter. His recent large project was in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina.

Dhammapala has been conducting meditation classes in homes for a small but dedicated group for years.

"We're trying to help people calm down and relieve stress," he said. "People are working so hard, everybody's so busy that we have to explain how to do meditation and how to benefit from meditation."

Cen Goldstein, who moved to Gilbert from Indonesia, has been meditating for seven years. She looks forward to weekly visits to hone her skills and said the group setting has helped her maintain focus.

"Of course it'd be a lot easier when you're not in somebody's house," she said.

Vipassana (Pali-language word meaning Insight Meditation) is usually associated with the Theravada Buddhist practice, which is the orthodox Buddhism practiced in Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Dhammapala, however, does not limit himself to Theravada Buddhism, and has also practiced Mahayana Buddhism, found in China, Korea, Tibet and Japan.

According to him, there's a great deal of interest in meditation among Americans who come to Buddhism for the practice of meditation rather than religion.

As for him, he has benefited by a combination of meditation and learning Buddhist teachings that are beneficial toward enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal of Buddhists.