So I got to spend a couple days with friends and Sangha members in North Carolina. It was very pleasant – fulfilling, relaxing and potent. I had heard much about Urban Dharma, having seen it in its planning stages and hearing about all the developments, but I had yet to visit – either Asheville or UD. So this is my less-than-expert report about the Center.
Urban Dharma seems to be a multi-denominational Buddhist center. What I mean is that it is not associated with a specific lineage exclusively. I have a feeling there will be a number of Drikung Kagyu teachers coming to give blessings and Dharma talks, but the center welcomes Buddhists of all flavors. The primary Buddha statue on the shrine is of Amitabha (Shakyamuni) – not exactly Tibetan Buddhist – however there are a number of Tibetan Buddhism statues on the sides of the shrine, along with several Tibetan Thangkas – large, ornate scroll paintings scattered throughout the temple space. Therefore I got the feeling it was a Mahayana center which was flavored with the strong essences of the Tibetan tradition.
The shrine is just gorgeous. It was designed around the large (maybe three or four foot tall) stone statue of Amitabha. The shrine was built on site and the polished wooden stump which Maitreya Buddha stands on is just incredible. They said that the wood was so beautiful that they did not want to cut it to fit the shrine – instead they put a hole in the bottom of the shrine to accommodate the polished wooden stump! See the picture below to see how the wood goes through the top layer of the shrine.
Urban Dharma is well situated in Downtown Asheville. It is right across the street from the Grove Arcade – a fancy building which houses an indoor mall of sorts. Therefore the Center may receive many people who just happen to walk by and see that there is a Buddhist temple to visit. And if you have not visited, it is well worth it!
When you walk into Urban Dharma, you will find yourself in the Gallery – a shop where they sell various Buddhist ritual items, statues and artwork. The proceeds go to supporting the various Buddhist events at the center. Then behind the Gallery is the temple space. At present, there is a Buddhist shrine with multiple statues on it – the large stone statue being Amitabha, then there is a stupa, a section for Dharma texts as well as statues of Chenrezig and Manjushri. Thangkas of the Medicine Buddha mandala and Shakyamuni Buddha round out the main shrine. At present there is also a Protector Shrine dedicated to Achi Chokyi Drolma – one of the Drikung Kagyu Protector Deities. Buddhist Dharma protectors are wisdom beings who swore to protect the teachings and to offer guidance and protection to sincere practitioners. There are plans to put in two shrines, one on each of the side walls.
In the back room is a small kitchen area where we had the food for the potluck. And then upstairs is a conference room that was transformed into a storeroom where they conduct the activities of Tibetan Spirit (tibetanspirit.com) such as selling, packing and shipping Buddhist ritual items, statues and Thangkas. Very cool. These proceeds also go to support the Dharma Center’s activities (and overhead).
There were many young people at both Saturday’s and Sunday’s teachings, which I was very happy to see. It seems like a great community, and it will only get stronger as they plan to fill statues together and have more events of a community nature, versus just doing Buddhist events. For instance, this Wednesday they plan to have a dynamic music venue, which they are calling a friend-raising event (not fundraising). 🙂 Neat!!
I plan to head back to Urban Dharma in March and / or April when they have well-known teachers coming such as Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen and Garchen Rinpoche.