Pataskala Residents question plans for Buddhist temple

BY CHAD KLIMACK, The Newark Advocate, June 24, 2009

PATASKALA, OH (USA) -- Some area residents and religious leaders are worried about a proposed Buddhist development setting up shop along Blacks Road on the city's eastern edge.

Residents and pastors recently approached the Pataskala City Council to express their concerns.

"I question where the funding comes from, and what their real intentions are and the impact on the community long-term," said Gale Road resident Glenn Graham, a pastor at a Kirkersville-area church.

Valley Road resident Andrea Adkins questioned the proposed development's financial impact on the city, considering one element would possess tax-exempt status.

"There's not tax money coming in," Adkins said. "That's not going to benefit the city at all."

Pastor Gary Nelson, of One Purpose Community Church, added he has nothing against Buddhists, although they possess differing views. However, Nelson questioned how the development would incorporate a temple with a restaurant, market and spa.

"I see a businesses set up on a nonprofit status," he said. "I don't know really how that's going to benefit the community that much if they use the religious status that me, as a pastor, I understand, but to come in and try to funnel money maybe out of this country, I have no idea. Those are questions I would like to have answered through this process."

John Tai, of Columbus, is working to develop the project, and Tai said area residents and religious leaders have nothing to fear from the project -- or Buddhism.

Tai, a Catholic, said Buddhism sometimes is misunderstood.

"It teaches you to be a better person," he said.

Tai said the temple would fall under nonprofit status, but the rest of the development would not.

"It's separate; the nonprofit is the temple," he said. "The restaurant and spa is commercial. We would have to pay taxes on it."

Some residents have asked city council if the development's employees would come from overseas.

Tai said that would not be the case. Eighty to 90 percent of the 300 to 500 employees would be locals, he said.

As for Nelson's concern regarding where the profits would go, Tai said he is raising money in Thailand, but future profits would not leave the United States.

"What money we get here is going to stay here," said Tai, adding he hopes to use some profits to help disadvantaged youth.

Pataskala Mayor Steve Butcher has heard some of the concerns about the project, and he has spent recent weeks trying to allay any fears associated with it. He conducted research into Buddhism to better answer questions from concerned constituents.

Newark resident Kathy Wesley, who serves as a lama at a Buddhist temple in Columbus, has practiced Buddhism for more than 30 years. Wesley has not spoken to Pataskala City Council or gotten involved in the debate, but she hopes the proposed Pataskala temple comes to fruition.

"I think it would be a wonderful addition to this county, which has a history of respecting all religions and races," she said.

Wesley grew up Catholic and attended a Catholic school. She became a Buddhist after becoming interested in yoga and meditation.

"Some people think of (Buddhism) as a new age religion, but it is a faith that has been around 2,500 years," Wesley said.

Buddhism appeals to Wesley because the meditative aspects clear her mind. However, she cautioned Buddhism is not solely focused on looking inward.

"One of the decisions Buddhism teaches is love and compassion for everyone," she said.