On Buddhism and Buildings

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On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby Jikan » Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:20 pm

I'm increasingly interested in the built, physical infrastructure of Buddhist practice in North America. Many of us practice in rented spaces or in people's homes and struggle to expand or settle into a permanent space.

More established Buddhist communities, such as the Buddhist Churches of America, have the advantage of established temples and administrative offices due to the past efforts of others. Even so, the imperative to develop more suitable spaces for practice leads to certain challenges. The BCA example includes the experience of building a very, very nice place called the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley. more here: http://jodoshinshucenter.org/home

You can see the risks involved in a project like this, even for a very well established institutional structure, in this a rather long quotation from a message sent out by Rev. Joshin Dennis Fujimoto of the Idaho Oregon Buddhist Temple, a BCA temple:

I looked at my reports from the 2009 National Council meetings and at that time we owed $7 million on the JSC debt. That was down from the $30 million we originally owed. We still owe about $6.8 million. That means the money collected over the past two years just went to making mortgage payments on the JSC building. Contributions are dwindling. If we get to a point where we can’t make our payments to California Bank and Trust, there is a very real possibility that we could still lose the building, the BCA Headquarters building, the Bishop’s residence, and whatever else has been put up as collateral. We have made a great effort to get $30 million down under $7 million. The Building is first class. The programs are excellent. The JSC is a success story. But we need to get rid of this debt that is draining money away from us.

One idea on the agenda was an Annual Giving program that was outlined and presented by Charlene Grinolds of White River. There were a lot of question marks and concerns about this program so it wasn’t accepted. But overall, everyone at the NC meeting was intent on making a decision and not put off finding a way to end the debt to California Bank and Trust. $3.175 million is owed to them. If we pay this off, the JSC will be secure. We will still owe about $3.5 million to the BCA Endowment Foundation, but this is money borrowed from ourselves.

So, one idea was to ask all of the BCA members for $420 or $35 per month for one year and with 100% participation both loans would be paid off. I was in favor of this motion. I thought if we were going to ask each member for their help, I would rather go for all of it rather than part of it. Another idea was to ask for $199 or $17 per month for one year. With 100% participation the more critical California Bank and Trust portion of the loan could be paid off. People thought this motion would be more easy to accept. This motion was passed. The motion reads: that the BCA National Council make an urgent plea to each and every BCA member to make contribution of $199 per member or $17 per member per month for one year, and one year only, to pay off the debt on the California Bank and Trust loan on the Jodo Shinshu Center in the approximate sum of $3,175,000. Members are encouraged to donate more than the recommended amount of $199. Any excess amounts will be used to pay off the loans to the Endowment Foundation. The plea for donations will begin with a sincere apology.

So the idea we have come up with is to send in a part of this money, almost $29,000 in the name of each of our members. We would be sending a list of every IOBT member as having contributed their $199 towards the JSC debt. If we do this, we will probably be the first temple to fulfill our obligation in full. We would be a shining example for all the other temples to follow suit. It would be a shot in the arm for this new effort to get rid of the debt. The Northwest District would look good. IOBT would look good. We will have done our part to protect the JSC and all its programs from foreclosure.


What kinds of karmic relations are created between banks and Buddhist institutions under these circumstances? That is, how can these relationships best be understood? (if it makes a difference, California Bank & Trust is a subsidiary of Zions Bancorp, which is a very large concern based in Salt Lake City.) What kinds of relations prevail when temples in relatively impoverished rural parts of the country are subsidizing a very, very nice building in an affluent city far away?

*I selected the BCA example out of convenience to get to these issues in a concrete way. I am certain this is not the only Buddhist mortgage story out there.*
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:40 pm

Do you know what the style of Buddhist temple architecture is called? ......."BOW- HOUSE!!"
:rolling:

Many Buddhist centers acquire buildings that were previously used as churches or served another purpose.
For example:
http://www.columbusktc.org/
This group met in a private home when it first started, then rented out a former Shriner's hall, then finally moved into this building, a former church. A few members were able to put up money for a down payment, and then as the center grew, various fund-raising events and a membership dues-system brought in more money. I think, but I am not sure, that the building is paid. But there have been a lot of repair and renovation expenses.

I don't know that there is any thing that can be called specific "karmic relations" between a bank and a buddhist center. Money issues do, however, cause problems between people and can even split organizations.
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby Chaz » Tue Jul 12, 2011 5:59 pm

Jikan wrote:What kinds of karmic relations are created between banks and Buddhist institutions under these circumstances? That is, how can these relationships best be understood? (if it makes a difference, California Bank & Trust is a subsidiary of Zions Bancorp, which is a very large concern based in Salt Lake City.) What kinds of relations prevail when temples in relatively impoverished rural parts of the country are subsidizing a very, very nice building in an affluent city far away?



I think the karmic relations will be just fine as long as the mortgage payments come in full and on time.

As far as the relations when expensive building are erected in impoverished areas will be the same world wide. Take Bodhgaya for instance. The state of Bihar is probably the poorest in India. Buddhist organizations, taken together, spend obscene amounts of money on temples, monuments, monastaries and so on in Bodhgaya and the area is worse than dirt poor. I find that situation a little difficult to stomache, but more importantly, I can't help bet wonder what the local poor think of all that?
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby ronnewmexico » Tue Jul 12, 2011 6:02 pm

Religious funding of or loans on buildings and property are very much more restrictive and harder to get than private mortages one uses to buy a home.
So I'd say one is usually not in a posiition to pick and choose.

Picking and chooseing...I'd suggest there are some banking institutions that are more moral than others. So if one was in a posiition to pick and choose which is highly unlikely, one could of course choose the least harmful institution. A very local banking institution which had little to do with the subprime mortage debacle(this can be researched in a financial persepctive of the bank available for a fee or sometimes for free) would probably amount to the most "moral" of banks.

Banks involved in the subprime issue were doing very very harmful things for purpose of profit.
That's my opinion from a differing perspective.

In just a peripheral two minute check .....Zions was apparently in the thick of subprime, and had outstanding losses in that regard, and with commerical loan defaults. They seem to be recovering and are writing many commercials loans at present. A relgious use of building would come under commercials for most intents and purposes. A more indepth check would be necessary to make a definitive judgement on morality of the institution. On that it looks not good peripherally.
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 13, 2011 1:29 am

Chaz wrote:As far as the relations when expensive building are erected in impoverished areas will be the same world wide. Take Bodhgaya for instance. The state of Bihar is probably the poorest in India. Buddhist organizations, taken together, spend obscene amounts of money on temples, monuments, monastaries and so on in Bodhgaya and the area is worse than dirt poor. I find that situation a little difficult to stomache, but more importantly, I can't help bet wonder what the local poor think of all that?


Bihar is the poorest state of India.

I noticed that, too. The Buddhist side of the town is full of expensive buildings, while the residential side is pretty run down, dirty and impoverished.

This is easily explained when we consider how it is foreigners, with foreign currencies, who built all those monasteries and monuments around Bodhgaya.

The poor people won't say or do much provided they get by. If there were severe economic and social turmoil I imagine their anger could be directed at the rich temples.
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby Indrajala » Wed Jul 13, 2011 1:36 am

Jikan wrote:*I selected the BCA example out of convenience to get to these issues in a concrete way. I am certain this is not the only Buddhist mortgage story out there.*


I think it is best for Buddhist organizations to not bind themselves in debt to banking institutions of any kind. However, this is perhaps unavoidable because people want to build temples and facilities, and not have to wait many many years until they have the whole sum of money required to start construction. The fortunes of a temple can wax and wane, so the average monthly income in one year may not be the same as in a following year.
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby Jikan » Thu Jul 14, 2011 4:10 pm

Huseng wrote:
Jikan wrote:*I selected the BCA example out of convenience to get to these issues in a concrete way. I am certain this is not the only Buddhist mortgage story out there.*


I think it is best for Buddhist organizations to not bind themselves in debt to banking institutions of any kind. However, this is perhaps unavoidable because people want to build temples and facilities, and not have to wait many many years until they have the whole sum of money required to start construction. The fortunes of a temple can wax and wane, so the average monthly income in one year may not be the same as in a following year.


I'm inclined to agree. In the BCA case, it seems as though a decision was made to invest the broader sangha's resources heavily in one building, I think with the purpose of attracting people to the practice. Money, after all, is crystallized labor. What is labor? Action, activity. What is action in Buddhist terms?... Essentially, members of branch temples are directing the fruit of their labors and that of their families &c to pay off this investment.

Looking closer at the intention of Rev. Fujimoto of IOBT:

So the idea we have come up with is to send in a part of this money, almost $29,000 in the name of each of our members. We would be sending a list of every IOBT member as having contributed their $199 towards the JSC debt. If we do this, we will probably be the first temple to fulfill our obligation in full. We would be a shining example for all the other temples to follow suit. It would be a shot in the arm for this new effort to get rid of the debt. The Northwest District would look good. IOBT would look good. We will have done our part to protect the JSC and all its programs from foreclosure.


what motivates this action? The desire to look good and to protect the institution from losing its assets to a creditor. Who is looking good to whom here? This is a worthwhile reflection.

***
I'm convinced that Buddhist groups are better off in permanent, stable buildings, even shared situations with other Buddhist groups (examples below), rather than renting space from churches or the VFW or whatever. It's a matter of stability. If people are inclined, they can move to the neighborhood where the center is located, and trust it'll be there in a year. And this builds relationships that endure.

Examples:

http://www.ebslr.org

http://www.ekojirichmond.org
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Jul 14, 2011 9:41 pm

There is a chapter in a book, I think maybe by Alan Watts, the chapter is titled something like "What About The Building?" (sorry to be so vague, I read this like, 25 years ago) in which he discusses the very topic of people thinking that they need a huge cathedral or whatever, and the burden of going into massive debt.

In my experience, it is very good for a dharma center to have its own place, whether owned or rented. The issue comes from getting the most use out of a space. If a small group of people meets once a week for an hour of sitting meditation, then acquiring a space for that is not very practical, because it just sits empty for the rest of the time and costs a lot of money.

But the advantage is that once you open a public facility, you attract more people, A lot of people feel uneasy about showing up for the first time at somebody's private residence to learn about buddhism. As you attract more people , this gives you more opportunities to generate funds. Unfortunately, a lot of dharma centers in the west seem to have a really hard time generating needed income. People complain if you ask them for money, In many Christian churches you are simply expect to 'tithe' 10 per cent of your income to the church. No wonder they have such large facilities!

I once knew a fellow who taught Tai Chi, and he rented a big space cheaply by agreeing to do repair work on the building. He then rented out the space to a dance company for their reherasals, taught tai Chi there, and behind a large movable screen was a buddhist shrine, and the space served as a dharma center during weekends and some evenings.

There are a lot of possible ways to make a dharma center possible.
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Re: On Buddhism and Buildings

Postby Jikan » Wed Jul 27, 2011 2:17 pm

Another example, which differs in a number of respects from the one I posted earlier (this from a Zen center in Seattle):

Dear Blue Heron Zen Community:

How are you? I wanted to give you an update on our recent Board of Trustees meeting
that addressed the financial needs of our Zen Center and a challenge that we have
to address to continue to offer the wonderful practice opportunities that we provide
for the Seattle area.

The good news is that we have a strong and committed core of membership and teachers
who provide a strong foundation for our Zen practice. We have had a stable funding
base for the last 5 years and have agood equity in our wonderful Zen Center in Seattle.
Our beautiful practice facility has been a wonderful resource to the community
for many years. However recently, our income has been trending down as we have
not filled our residential rooms at the Seattle facility and membership has declined
slightly.

In addition, the City of Seattle has received a complaint about parking around the
Zen Center. As a result, to continue to use the facility on Densmore as a public
meditation center we must change our zoning from single family residential to a
religious practice center which is a commercial use. We've always been concerned
that we'd have to go through this process and now we have an opportunity to correctly
zone our public meditation center. This will be a lengthy and expensive process
and will require a minimum of $5000 to go through the permitting and legal analysis
with the City of Seattle.

These are the membership rate increases the Board approved:
Associate: $15 rises to $20
Regular: $30 rises to $40
Sponsor: $50 rises to $60
Sustaining: $100 rises to $120

As always, what is most important is your practice and we do not want membership
dues to get in the way of anyone's ability to practice. However, this is a very
important time to step up and support the Zen Center. But please let me or our
treasurer Greg Eisen know if these rate increases are a problem for you. We welcome
any ideas you might have to continue to build our community.
I will be sending you a subsequent email shortly about the rezoning process and
special solicitation of funds for but wanted you to know about these decisions prior
to implementation in the next month and to enable you to help us keep a strong and
sustaining Sangha.

Yours in the Dharma,
Tom Campbell, Abbot


It seems as though two concerns are in tension with each other: the need to keep people involved is put against the need to ask for money to keep the ship afloat. No mention of needing or wanting to look good. And the logistics, and the committee work...
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