Buddhist temple opens in Hillsboro

By Ellen Ast, Oregon Live, June 21, 2005

Hillsboro, Oregon (USA) -- The Oregon Buddhist Vihara, the state's first Sri Lankan Buddhist place of worship, opened this weekend in Hillsboro. There at the temple's opening ceremonies were a couple dozen Buddhist monks, draped with robes customarily worn by the Asian religion's spiritual leaders in brilliant red and orange shades.

Honored guests included officials and high-ranking monks, called Abbots, from temples in Los Angeles, New York City and Sri Lanka, along with Hillsboro City Mayor Tom Hughes and Chief of Police Ron Louie. 

The seven-hour ceremony was held at the temple located southwest of downtown Hillsboro at 148 SE Walnut St. Last year, funds were donated by a Sri Lankan family to renovate the white house that now serves as the temple and residence for three Sri Lankan Buddhist monks.

Shoes must be removed before entering the temple -- a bare, white-walled former living room flooded with natural daylight. On dark, polished hard-wood floorboards, worshippers bow before a gold, five-foot statue of a meditating, cross-legged Buddha. He sits high at the rear of an altar that fills a nook located at one end of the living room.

At Buddha's feet is a table with flowers, gifts and other symbols of rebirth celebrated in Buddhism, explained by 25-year-old Suranga Jayakody, a Portland State university student who moved to Portland two years ago from Sri Lanka to receive a college degree from the U.S.

Like many members of the state's small Sri Lankan community, there were few places for Jayakody to gather and worship with other Sri Lankan Buddhists.

Theravada Buddhism, described by Michael Parks, a secretary for many Oregon Buddhist monks, is a more conservative, orthodox branch of Buddhism and is the dominant religion in Sri Lanka.

Saturday's celebration was a rare event for many native Sri Lankans. A few hundred guests that day, most in variations of ethnic dress, participated in Buddhist chant and ritual, watched as American, Sri Lankan and Buddhist flags were raised in the temple's front yard and feasted on Sri Lankan cuisine, buffet style.

The temple will serve also as a public cultural center and there are tentative plans to begin education programs.