My mother and I drive into a run-down neighborhood of the river-port city of West Sacramento, and find parking on the side of the street. A yard for freight truck cabs is next door, and across the street I can see a dilapidated motel and an industrial warehouse. But in the rough is a diamond of spirituality and community.
Two small houses share a large strip of property that carves a long rectangle out of this blue collar suburb. Small Buddhist flags hang from the awnings, and the garage door of one of the houses is emblazoned with a dharma wheel. Monks trapse between the houses in their orange robes. Two scents combine to extend a powerful sensory welcome — I associate both incense and curry with home, family, and tradition.
I had never been to my parents’ temple before today.
American Buddhist Seminary in Sacramento serves as the spiritual and social center for the Sri Lankan community living around California’s capitol. I would consider myself fairly well connected to the community through family functions, dinner parties, camping trips, and a few lay Buddhist ceremonies. However, visiting the temple was a new experience.
ABS was founded in 1996 as center for Buddhist study and practice in Sacramento. It also serves to train Therevada monks from Sri Lanka and Thailand for seminary work here in the United States; teaching the dhamma here in American can present significant linguistic and cultural challenges for foreign-born monks.
The Seminary is expanding. Recent architectural drawings are on the wall for a new temple — complete with a meditation garden and community room — that will expand into the now largely vacant ground behind the houses.
These photographs were taken during the New Year blessings (puja) ceremony. As the Sinhalese say: subha aluth aurudha… have a blessed new year!
All photos are copyright Nalin A. Ratnayake. Please request permission to use them.