Carolina Buddhist Vihara

This profile was last updated in 2011

Activities and Schedule

The Vihara hosts evening programs (chanting, meditation and lectures) Monday through Wednesday from 6:30-8:30pm. In addition, day retreats are offered for all members during special events such as the Buddhist New Year, Wesak celebrations, guest lectures and panel discussions. One Sunday every month the Vihara holds classes for children of all ages that they call the Youth Program. During these classes, children engage in an assortment of activities ranging from meditations and chanting to Buddhist history lessons and discussions. The members of the Vihara are also encouraged and invited to attend meetings and programs sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Greenville.

History

The Carolina Buddhist Vihara was informally founded in the early 1970s with a small core group of about 40-50 members from the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee who met once a month in the various homes of members. On occasion, monks from New York would visit to lead the members in spiritual meditation and retreats. For these special occasions attendance at the meetings could reach upwards of 60-70 individuals. One of these New York monks, the Venerable Bhanti Dhammaloka Thero, saw the need for the presence of a monk in a fixed location in the Carolina region.

The present group of members steadily increased in numbers until December of 2000 when enough donations and funding were received in order to establish a formal center of worship in Mauldin, SC, on the outskirts of Greenville. At this time, two ordained monks, Bhanti Thero and the Venerable Bhanti Jagara Dhammatook, up residence at the Vihara.

In the summer of 2002, shortly after the departure of Bhanti Thero, and Sri Lankan monk (the Venerable Bhanti Rathanapala) came to reside at the Carolina Buddhist Vihara. Bhanti Jagara Dhamma and Bhanti Rathanapala lead a congregation of over 100 followers from four states.

Leadership of the Carolina Buddhist Vihara was later passed on to two female Bhikkhunis. In the world today there are about 350 Theravada bhikkhunis (women who received higher ordination as monks). Most stay in Sri Lanka; only five Theravada bhikkhunis have come to the USA. In July 2003, the first female Bhikkuni came to reside at the Vihara,  Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni, the only American-born woman to gain Theravada Bhikkhuni ordination. From Charlotte, NC, she became a novice nun in 1999 at the Bhavana Society under Bhante Gunaratana and was ordained in early 2003 in Sri Lanka.   

In 2004 Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was joined at the Vihara by Ven. Sucinta Bhikkhuni, from Germany.  Ven. Sucinta Bhikkhuni took initial vows 1991, later becoming a novice also under Ven. Bhante H. Gunaratana at Bhavana Society in WV, USA. In 1998 she received ‘higher ordination’ in Bodh Gaya, India, becoming one of the first modern Bhikkhunis of the Theravada school of Buddhism.

As of 2011, Venerable Sucinta Bhikkhuni is no longer residing at the Vihara after experiencing a calling to establish new temples elsewhere.  Venerable Sudhamma Bhikkhuni is now the sole resident nun at the temple.  This has created some constraints for Venerable Sudhamma.  Unfortunately, when counseling is requested by a male member of the community, she must request that a female accompany him per the strict Theravadan rules regarding conduct for nuns.  This has only been a minor inconvenience for the community however as more religious leaders have been able to visit and speak at the Vihara programs as there is now extra space to accommodate traveling monastics.  For example, Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was able to invite another Bhikkhuni from Vietnam and a male Bhikkhu from Britain to give Dharma talks for the Vesak celebration on May 23, 2010.  On June 6, 2010, the Venerable Kusuma Bhikkhuni, one of the first women to be ordained in the newly reestablished Theravadan Bhikkhuni lineage, also stayed at the Vihara to give Dharma talks.

Demographics

The membership of the Carolina Buddhist Vihara consists of Sri Lankan, Indian, Burmese and American followers. The main languages spoken include Pali, Singhala and English. In terms of age groups at the center, there are between 10-15 children under the age of 15 while only about 5-6 senior citizens.

Description

The Carolina Buddhist Vihara is located in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Greenville. It is a single-family, ranch-style home with a lotus flower painted on the front door. Members enter through a side kitchen door where they proceed to take off their shoes. Upon entering the kitchen, the shrine room is located immediately to one’s right in what would be a dining or family room. In this shrine room, there is a five-foot statue of the Buddha elevated on a platform with seating cushions around it, upon which there is space for two monks to meditate and chant. Facing the shrine and the monks are five rows of two cushions where the participants sit for worship. Toward the back of the room and on the right are a series of shelves which contain a small library filled with books that any member of the Vihara can check out. Behind the Vihara is a large yard which includes an oval-shaped walking meditation path that all followers are able to use.

Other

Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni lives entirely off of donations from her followers, whether in the form of money to pay the rent and utilities of the Vihara building or for food and other basic necessities. Members of the Vihara even transport the Bhikkhuni and visiting monks to and from any destination that is not within walking distance.

Visitors to this site are always welcome, but as a courtesy, please call the Vihara beforehand so the monks will be able to prepare for your visit properly.

Challenges

The Vihara has faced some significant challenges in the past; in part, due to its location in the predominantly Christian “Bible Belt.” Unlike many other Buddhist temples in the South which select land in rural areas for the building of temples, the Vihara is situated in a residential community within the town of Mauldin.  As such, the Vihara has been subjected to criticism by some community residents who attempted to enact a zoning law ordinance to prevent worship at the Vihara.  However, the Vihara was also supported by many Christian churches and local residents in the community, and the Vihara was deemed by the court system legally allowed to remain in the residential neighborhood.  Members of the Sangha have also faced job discrimination when it was discovered that they are not Christian.  

Despite challenges like these, the Vihara continues to proudly serve its community as a non-profit organization providing counseling services, raising donations and developing projects to help the community, hosting student educational visits, and encouraging interfaith dialogue.  The Vihara shares a positive relationship with its neighborhood residents as well as local colleges and churches.

Special Events

Venerable Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was very involved in the auspicious ceremonies presenting the authentic Buddha relics which now reside at the Khmer Buddhist Monk Temple Watsaosoksan in Wellford, South Carolina.  Venerable Sudhamma not only was invited to attend the Theravadan celebration but was also asked to give speeches at both ceremony locations.  At the ceremony on June 27, 2010 at the Wat Lao Buddharam Temple in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was allowed to closely inspect the relics and carried the relics in a golden vessel during part of the auspicious relic procession.  This is a very significant honor, especially because there is controversy within the male Theravadan monastic community concerning the authenticity of the reestablished Bhikkhuni lineage.  Clearly, Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni’s role in these auspicious occasions indicates that she is a highly respected colleague of the Buddhist monastic community.

Documents

Marcus Fresia and David Vendt, 2002
Furman University, Greenville, SC
 

Updated by Heather Barclay, 2005

Updated by Amanda Pruitt, research assistant of Dr. Sam Britt, Furman Advantage Research Fellowship, 2010