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Before moving to a 23 acre plot of land in Chisago City, Minnesota in July 2014, Sitagu Dhamma Vihara was a one-story rambler in Maplewood, Minnesota.
A Window into the Original Space
Within just a few blocks are a park, a church, and a fire station. The monastery has three bedrooms, each sparsely decorated and each containing a bookshelf with a set of the Tipitaka, or the teachings of Buddha. It also has a small dhamma hall with a shrine to Buddha, decorated with flowers, LED lights, a sampling of the day’s meal, and glasses of water, each being elements which are to be dedicated to the Buddha on a daily basis. The kitchen, which is always busy in the mornings as women prepare food for the monks, leads to the larger dhamma hall, which was added to the building in 2010. It can fit up to a hundred people during larger celebrations like the khatina ceremony.
Traditionally, monasteries are strictly residences for monks, whereas celebrations are held in temples. Koe explains, “But now we only have one house, monks live here and celebrate here. Maybe you can call it a temple and a monastery both together.” And the monastery seems to serve even more functions than worship and residence. Tikkha said that people come every week in order to see each other and build a community – “Here is our so-called monastery or ‘together center’.”
Along with serving as a space for Theravada Buddhist practice, Koe says,
“There’s another reason we set up the monastery – the next generation needs to learn Burmese.”
While they do not currently have the space to have Burmese language classes and camps, the monks and laypeople of the monastery have their own ways of encouraging the children of the monastery to speak Burmese. Aung encourages one of the children to repeat a chant in Burmese (and also in Pali) that he had memorized. Aung commends him as an example of the success of the monastery – that the next generation has an opportunity to learn the Buddhist scriptures, if only just a piece. Tikkha and Aniruddha also keep sweet jelly cups by the altar of the shrine to Buddha as a treat for children who perform the five-pointed veneration, or bow, in front of the monks or the statue of Buddha. “Children have to be happy when they come here,” Koe says.