Buddhist event will show city's many teachings

by TIM SULLIVAN, Oregon Live, June 1, 2005

Organizers say this year's Change Your Mind Day is as much about meeting minds as converting them

Portland, Oregon (USA) -- Inner Southeast Portland teems with the teachings of the Buddha. From Oregon Buddhist Temple on 34th Avenue to Dharma Rain Zen Center on Madison Street, the area is packed with places for Buddhists to worship.

Yet the gathering spots offer different things -- while one songa, or congregation, may emphasize meditation, others prefer chanting. Some temples stress the Heart Sutra, others the Diamond.

The diversity is one of the messages leaders of Buddhist congregations hope to convey during their second annual Change Your Mind Day Festival on Saturday at Colonel Summers Park in Southeast Portland.

"Portland has such a rich choice of Buddhism here, and we need to celebrate that," says Heidi Hoogstra of the Portland Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an event organizer.

The first Change Your Mind Day happened 12 years ago when the Buddhist magazine Tricycle held a free afternoon of meditation instruction to introduce the public to Buddhist thought and teachings. The event was held in New York City's Central Park because organizers thought some might shy away from formal worship spaces.

It attracted a few hundred people. Since then, Change Your Mind Day has grown into a worldwide event on the first Saturday in June, with festivals from Houston to San Francisco.

"It's a great opportunity for those who have been curious to meet a variety of teachers and forms of Buddhism to see if one of them clicks for them," says the Rev. Ryuoh Faulconer, the resident minister at Southeast's Nichiren Temple of Portland. "And I feel that the Buddhist community needs the kind of friendship to build stronger songas."

Portland has a long tradition of Buddhism, thanks to immigrant communities from Asia. The Oregon Buddhist Temple recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Nichiren Temple soon will be 75 years old.

But in Portland, and throughout the Pacific Northwest, Buddhism also enjoys a high convert rate. Just as Change Your Mind Day is a U.S. invention, many of the Portland event's participating songas have a Caucasian emphasis in their makeup. Although Faulconer says two-thirds of his songa is Japanese American (Nichiren Buddhism is a Japanese lineage), it's the non-Japanese American congregants who tend to come to worship every week.

The Dharma Rain Zen Center was founded by mostly European Americans in the mid-1980s when it split from a California-based group, says Domyo Sater, a resident monk at the center. Its songa, made up primarily of white converts, has grown to 160 members.

Faulconer makes a connection between liberal Southeast residents and the growth of Buddhism in the area. "They tend to be people who have done searching before and are dissatisfied with the religion they grew up with," he says. Sater jokes that there are three kinds of Buddhists in the United States: Catholic, Protestant and Jewish.

Last year was the first that Portland joined Change Your Mind Day. Faulconer had attended other Change Your Mind events, and thought Portland's different Buddhist songas could use a way to get to know one another better.

"A lot of the Buddhist community, we're ignorant about other forms of Buddhism," Faulconer says. "This is to realize that the Buddha taught a lot of different things."

Last year's Change Your Mind Day attracted a few hundred people. This year, organizers hope for more. A dozen participating will offer drawing and coloring, traditional dancing, storytelling and music.

"It's very American in that it goes across denominations and celebrates diversity," Hoogstra says of Change Your Mind Day, "but I hope this can become a universal Buddhist holiday."

Change Your Mind Day, Saturday, 12:30-5:30 p.m., Colonel Summers Park, 1925 S.E. Taylor St. Free.