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Buddhists celebrate new temple in Mesa

by Astrid Galvan, The Arizona Republic, Nov. 9, 2008

International center's opening attracts 200

Mesa, AZ (USA) -- The only international Buddhist temple in the state held its grand-opening ceremony on Saturday.

About 200 people gathered at the Arizona International Buddhist Meditation Center, 432 Temple St. in Mesa, to celebrate both the Kathina Ceremony, which marks the end of the rainy season in Sri Lanka, and the center's grand opening.

The temple, decorated with bright colors and a 4 1/2-foot Buddha statue brought from Sri Lanka, opened a year ago thanks to philanthropist Shanthini Wijay and her husband, Mike Sawyer.

The Houston couple donated funds to help purchase the building, one of eight temples in the country.

"Everybody is welcome to this place," Wijay said.

The temple serves as both a meditation center and a gathering place for the Sri Lanka Buddhist community, which has about 200 local members.

Children's courses and meditation classes are offered on Sundays. The center is open daily.

Bhante SeeLawimala, a monk from Berkeley, Calif., attended the ceremony.

He said the center was not established to convert people into Buddhism, but instead to help them be better people.

"This is a center for them to improve their spiritual progress in the sense of how to live efficiently with neighbors and family and friends without getting into conflict," he said.

Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka Jeremy R. Torstveit also attended the ceremony and said the center was a good place for the Sri Lankan community to gather.

"This is just a milestone," he said.

Brenda Walleman, a practicing Buddhist at the temple, teaches children's courses on the first Sunday of each month.

Walleman said that about half of her students are Sri Lankan, while others come from different backgrounds.

"Kids like the multicultural part of it, like chanting in different languages," she said.


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