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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Children play with banners at Northeast Indiana Buddhist Temple.

Ceremonies open temple

Monks from around world help dedicate Theravada Buddhist facility near Hoagland

The most venerable monks are served first at the tea ceremony.
Anuruddha sports a New York Yankees hat to keep warm before the tea ceremony.
Bob Rynes, with his wife, Kristi, worked on the construction of the temple.
Families pray before the chanting begins at the dedication of Sri Lankan Buddhist temple.
Abbott Aluthnuwara Anuruddha of Sri Lanka, left, chats with another monk. Monks from around the world came.
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
In a pavilion on the altar, monks begin chanting at the dedication of the Northeast Indiana Buddhist Temple.

It may not have had the most auspicious of beginnings.

Just a few days into the construction of a new meditation center and shrine for the Northeast Indiana Buddhist Temple at its monastery outside Hoagland in November, member Bob Rynes of Spencerville fell through an old roof while working on the construction.

In the 15-foot fall, Rynes fractured the C6 vertebrae – and broke a bone in his shoulder and tore ligaments, tendons and nerves that paralyzed his left arm for a time and resulted in surgery.

"When I hit the ground, I knew it was bad. I used to ride rodeo, so I'd broken things before, and I knew what it felt like," Rynes says.

For weeks, Rynes, 46, wore a cervical collar and arm sling. But when he was able, he went back to the job site and helped as other temple members pitched in.

And by April 20, there was scant evidence of the mishap as Rynes joined local devotees and about three dozen monks from around the world for two days of elaborate ceremonies to dedicate the new 800-square-foot sacred space at 7528 Thompson Road.

Such ceremonies are rarely seen outside nations where practice of Theravada Buddhism is common, says Jeff Smith of Angola, a practitioner of Buddhism who assists several area monks.

Theravada has been the predominant religion for centuries in continental Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Dedication events last month included instruction in meditation, a tea ceremony in which senior monks were served by members of the community, blessings of children and altar items and all-night chanting by groups of monks.

The ceremonies were capped the next day by a procession in which a large, golden-colored statue of a serene-looking Buddha was transported, under an umbrella, by devotees on foot. The journey covered about four miles – from another monastery on Tillman Road where the statue had resided during the renovations.

Prayer flags fluttered outside the monastery, trees decked with hundreds of multicolored lights twinkled at sunset and statuary in a meditation garden was draped with flowers.

The dedication was planned for about the same time as the Sri Lankan New Year because many members of the temple come from that country. They and their children, many wearing white clothing, contributed traditional dancing and festive food, lit candles and set off fireworks in celebration.

Part of the ceremonies included uncovering statues of the 28 incarnations in history of the Buddha that line the walls on the sides of the new meditation space.

Abbott Dhalangama Devananda says the ceremonies are to bring blessings to the facility, where he has lived for about five years after starting a monastery on Webster Street in Fort Wayne in 2003.

The growth of the community led to the move to the rural countryside, he says – in the city there wasn't enough parking for celebrations that might attract 200 people or more.

The expansion came about because about 25 to 30 devotees meeting for meditation classes each Monday at 6:30 p.m. were crammed into a tiny room. It was recently dedicated as a library and also holds overflow room from the main meditation space.

Devananda, who began living with monks at the age of 9, said he was especially honored when his teacher and "father monk," Aluthnuwara Anuruddha, abbot of Kotde Rajamaha Viharaya in Sri Lanka, came to the dedication and taught local devotees.

Theravada means "Teachings of the Elders," and teachings are traditionally passed along orally by elder monks. The tradition started when, it is believed, the enlightened Buddha's cousin, Ananda, committed the Buddha's sermons to memory. He and 500 of the most senior monks convened after the Buddha's death around 480 B.C. to recite and verify them.

Today, Smith says, senior monks are still held in utmost esteem. To have many of them in one place is seen as especially auspicious in a religion that stresses "merit-making" or good works, including providing things and services to monks.

"They are just revered," he says.

Several Sri Lankan attendees said they had not been able to hear extended chanting in their religious language, Pali, the original language of the Buddha, for years.

Rynes, a union business agent, says he was raised Episcopalian but began practicing Buddhism about four years ago after being introduced to it by his wife, Krista, 47, and her mother.

"I'm a much calmer and a much happier person," he says. "I used to be a homicide detective in Florida, so I've had high-stress jobs and been a high-stress individual. It's helped me understand why some people are the way they are."

Rynes mediates daily, having had "a jump start on it" by retreating to the woods and a pond at his home to reconnect and calm down after work. "I was doing it without knowing what I was doing," he says.

Now, working on the temple, "just to give back to the monks," has been healing for him, he says.

"That's just, that's just the Buddhist way of helping and being grateful," he says, something practitioners often refer to as "loving-kindness."

"A lot of people misunderstand what Buddhism is. They think it's an extreme religion, but it's not. It's giving to other people."

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