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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Spiritual leap Tibetan Buddhist study group gains affiliation with monastery

February 4, 2008

By Dana Massing
dana.massing@timesnews.com
GoErie.com, PA
Feb 2, 2008

Cathy Roan passed out sheets of cream-colored paper with special
significance for the Tibetan Buddhists gathered in the Erie yoga studio.

The papers outlined the topics in an upcoming eight-week introductory
program about the basics of Buddhism.
But more than that, the pages marked a change for local Buddhists who
have been meeting for five years.

Roan said the handout was the first "where we can actually call
ourselves a center."

What was once simply a study group has now become the Erie Karma Thegsum
Chöling, an official center affiliated with a Buddhist monastery in
Woodstock, N.Y.

For Tibetan Buddhists in the Erie area, that change means eligibility
for a teacher of their own, a deeper commitment to their Kagyu lineage
and the nonprofit status that could help them get a building.

"Because we're a center now, we would have the opportunity to have a
resident lama," said Roan, one of the group's organizers.
A lama could lead the Buddhism basics class that Roan, who has been
practicing the religion for fewer than five years, will try to guide her
fellows through.

She and another organizer, Jim Hamilton, said their study of Tibetan
Buddhism would have been easier if they'd had a local lama to question.

Group members have had to make their own way through titles like "A
Teaching on the Chenrezik and Amitabha Sadhanas" and "The Great Path of
Awakening."

"You can only get so much out of reading books," Hamilton said.

Until the Erie center gets a permanent lama and location, which he
admitted could take years, the center will still receive yearly visits
from Lama Kathy Wesley of Columbus Karma Thegsum Chöling. Her center in
Ohio is also part of the Kagyu lineage, one of the four main strands of
Tibetan Buddhism. The Columbus center also is affiliated with the
Woodstock monastery, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra.
Wesley said the new Erie center will now have the benefit of visiting
teachers from the monastery who were born and trained in Tibet and have
more credentials than she does.

"The level of teaching will improve dramatically (in Erie)," she said.

She described a lama as "a person who acts as a spiritual parent" and
said it's comparable to a Christian minister.

Becoming a center and seeking a lama were part of what Hamilton sees as
a logical progression for the group.

So is getting a building.
The Buddhists currently meet at Plasha Yoga Studio, 10 E. Fifth St. With
the nonprofit status granted to a center, Hamilton said, they could
accept donations of money or even a building that would give them a
place of their own.

Although grateful for the studio space, Roan said, "We lug in all of the
notebooks and tapes and articles for the shrine ... and statues every week."

The Erie center has 11 committed members and attendance at their Sunday
morning gatherings in the yoga studio sometimes reaches 20, Hamilton said.

Tibetan Buddhism only came to the U.S. about 40 years ago, Wesley said;
and the Kagyu lineage less than that, arriving in the mid-1970s. Her
denomination has a couple thousand practitioners, she said.

Roan said the name of its new center, Erie Karma Thegsum Chöling, means
the Erie dharma place where the Kagyu lineage and the three so-called
vehicles are taught.
Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha, she said, and the vehicles,
also known as yanas, are ways of getting there.

Wesley said its members are all trying to learn to develop their
Buddhist practice skills and are a warm and relaxed bunch who have
learned a lot about building community. She said she's very happy
they've become a center.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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