Tsunami spotlights Hillsboro community

by SOPHIA TAREEN, Oregon Live, January 06, 2005

Sri Lankans in Washington County help two monks at a new Buddhist temple in Hillsboro raise relief money

Hillsboro, OR (USA) -- The Venerable Tawalama Bodhiseeha stacks two plastic jars crammed with dollar bills and loose change into a white shopping bag.

Since a tsunami devastated the coast of his native Sri Lanka, the Buddhist monk has been making the rounds collecting money for a relief effort.

Later this month, a group of monks -- one from Hillsboro -- will travel to Sri Lanka to deliver the donations. Bodhiseeha estimates he's collected $500 so far.

For about three months, Bodhiseeha, 35, and another monk, the Venerable Galauda Palitha, 53, have been running the Oregon Buddhist Vihara, the only Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in the state.

The temple has drawn the small Sri Lankan community in Washington County together, especially since the tsunami.

As in their native country, Sri Lankan families in Hillsboro support the monks, who do not work. The families alternate taking them food and organize get-togethers at the temple.

They also give the monks rides and allow them to set up the fundraising jars in area convenience stores that they own and operate.

In Oregon, the Sri Lankan population is small and slowly growing -- 214 people, according to the 2000 Census. Half that population lives in Washington County.

Until a few months ago, they never had a place to worship locally.

"Normally, in our country, every village, every town has a temple," says Ranjith Fernando, a retired engineer and community leader who lives in Aloha. "That is the most important thing for the religious part of your life."

Sri Lanka is about 70 percent Buddhist.

Sri Lankan Buddhism follows a different school of thought from other Asian countries, so Sri Lankan Buddhists don't usually attend any of the other temples in the Portland metro area.

Fernando hopes the small Hillsboro temple will become a gathering place and someday a school.

But in the meantime, there are bills and a mortgage.

"I'm sure they're going to struggle in Hillsboro," said Ruth Wilson, a Portland woman who befriended the monks when they first arrived. "They are very gracious. They are very inviting. They accept what is."

The monks' traditional bright orange robes attract attention in Hillsboro.

People ask:

"Are you the Dalai Lama?"

"Are you a Hare Krishna?"

"Are you from the jail?"

Since the tsunami, the monks' routine of prayer and meditation has been altered.

They can think only of what is happening in their home cities.

They've heard from family members: Everyone is safe.