Lama Thupten Rinpoche

Lama Thupten was always drawn to meditative practices, even before they were formally defined as such. He lived in many places throughout his life, but one of the most significant was Selma, Alabama. Thupten witnessed the brutality of racism firsthand, but he also found solace in nature and solitude. Even as a child, he spent a lot of time alone, observing the world around him. 



Mingo's spiritual journey began during their teenage years, driven by a curiosity that extended beyond their Christian upbringing. In search of answers, they explored various religions, ultimately finding a connection with Buddhism and alternative spiritual paths. This exploration led them through phases of atheism and anastism before settling into a belief system rooted in Buddhism.


Gou Yuan Fa Shi

Guo Yuan Fashi is a Buddhist monk trained in Chan Buddhism. In 1985 he first encountered Master Sheng Yen’s teachings while attending a seven-day retreat in New York. He then decided to become a disciple before finally leaving his job in Toronto, Canada, to become a monk in the Chan tradition. He was ordained in 1987 in Taiwan. For over twenty years, he accompanied and became translator to Master Sheng Yen in various Chan meditation retreats in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, and Mexico.



Grace, a native of Toronto, Canada, was born into a unique blend of religious backgrounds – her father a devoted Won Buddhist and her mother, a hybrid of Won Buddhism and Presbyterianism. Raised amidst the teachings of Won Buddhism, Grace's exposure to its practices deepened during family trips to Korea. Although she initially attended the temple due to her parents, her true connection to the faith emerged during her university years.



And that's when I said, I need a break. It is a flier with one of the reverend's doing a retreat at the one Dharma Center, which is like four hours from here in upstate New York. That is my beginning of real, you know, waking up to ways of really cultivating myself under this long spiel. But now that's by way of introduction.



So I kind of grew up in what was nontraditional, if you will. And so I joke because I see that Won Buddhism as the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Buddhism.



Albert recalls his first experience walking into the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, describing the imposing yet intricately designed doors that symbolized the beginning of his journey. Upon entering, he was struck by the diverse and down-to-earth community, challenging his expectations of a predominantly Asian congregation. The fact that the reverend was a female resonated with Albert, emphasizing the equal respect in Buddhism. Curiosity led Albert to explore the temple's teachings, appreciating the absence of emotional manipulation and the focus on understanding oneself and fostering interconnectedness. The chants, like the golden chain, and the absence of labels provided a liberating experience. Albert delved into Buddhism's varied forms, including Pure Land Buddhism, which allowed him the freedom to be himself and practice responsibility without conforming to specific rules.



January 2004. I participated in my first 10 day Vipassana retreat as taught by SN Goenka. It was a profound experience for me. I re-lived deep-seated memories and the emotions that came with them and started the process of shedding old traumas, dramas, and attachments to suffering.



My first year of high school I attended an independent Episcopalian school that required us to take a course teaching “world history” and “world literature” as seen through the lens of the religious traditions of the world. The course was constructed explicitly as a rite of passage, and the challenges were so intense that every one of us was transformed by the experience.


Alex M

Growing up, my mother would take my brother and I to Chinese Buddhist Temples scattered around the Bay Area on a very sporadic basis. Usually, just a few times a hour, if that. I wouldn’t say that I was introduced to the dharma per se then, but it does have a place in the memories of my childhood as an introduction to traditions and ritual.


Mingo recounts their introduction to the Sangha, primarily experienced online with Lisa and One Dharma, later exploring a joint venture with People of Color Sangha associated with Wildheart in Nashville. Seeking a community different from their usual one, especially during a period of heightened racial tensions, Mingo found a warm and diverse environment within these online spaces.

One Dharma, although often comprised of older and primarily white individuals, provided Mingo with a sense of balance and intention in their lives. Urgently needing a community that could offer diverse perspectives and discussions on both emotions and Dharma practice, Mingo found this balance and appreciation for diversity within the Sangha.

The online Sangha not only embraced diversity but actively acknowledged and appreciated it. Despite occasional issues related to race, the Sangha was open to discussion, even featuring a “mindfulness of whiteness” group during times of heightened racial tensions. Mingo felt a genuine concern for their experiences as a minority and appreciated the safety and equanimity cultivated within the Sangha.

Lisa’s teachings played a crucial role in fostering an open-minded and diverse community, as she welcomed a variety of thoughts, cultures, and people. Overall, Mingo found a refreshing and supportive community that not only acknowledged diversity but actively worked to create an inclusive and safe space for all practitioners.


Lanell, drawn to the symbolic significance of the Dharmakaya in Won Buddhism, resonates deeply with the circular representation of life. Influenced by her cultural upbringing and studies in African philosophy, Lanell finds connection in the circular philosophy, transcending cultural boundaries.

In her exploration of various religions, Lanell critically examines the cultural trappings present in each, from Islam’s insistence on praying in Arabic to the racial dynamics within Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even in Won Buddhism, she observes elements like clothing, food, and naming practices that reflect Korean culture.

The issue of taking on a Korean name becomes a significant struggle for Lanell, who values the cultural and familial significance of her birth name. Wrestling with the decision, she undergoes a process of self-reflection, growth, and acceptance. Eventually, Lanell acknowledges the interconnectedness and interdependence of all cultures, understanding that adopting a Korean name doesn’t diminish her African identity but expands her sense of self.

Despite recognizing cultural differences, Lanell embraces the notion that every culture is part of her, allowing her to navigate various spaces while maintaining her unique identity. Her discernment lies in understanding cultural practices within their contexts and appreciating the diversity that enriches her understanding of the world. In essence, Lanell wears the tapestry of cultural experiences with acceptance and a broadened perspective.