History

The Carolina Buddhist Vihara was informally founded in the early 1970s with a small core group of about 40-50 members from the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee who met once a month in the various homes of members. On occasion, monks from New York would visit to lead the members in spiritual meditation and retreats. For these special occasions attendance at the meetings could reach upwards of 60-70 individuals. The people in the area saw the need for the presence of a monk in a fixed location in the Carolina region.

The present group of members steadily increased in numbers until December of 2000 when a supporter donated a formal center of worship in Mauldin, SC, on the outskirts of Greenville. At this time, two ordained monks, Bhante Dhammaloka Thero and the Venerable Bhante Jagara Dhamma took, up residence at the Vihara.

In the summer of 2002, shortly after the departure of Bhante Dhammaloka Thero, and another Sri Lankan monk (the Venerable Bhante Rathanapala) came to reside at the Carolina Buddhist Vihara. Bhante Jagara Dhamma and Bhante Rathanapala lead a congregation of over 100 followers from four states.

Leadership of the Carolina Buddhist Vihara was later passed on to two female Bhikkhunis. In the world today there are about 1500 Theravada bhikkhunis (women who received higher ordination as monks). Most stay in Sri Lanka; only five Theravada bhikkhunis have come to the USA. In July 2003, the first female Bhikkuni came to reside at the Vihara,  Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni, the only American-born woman to gain Theravada Bhikkhuni ordination. From Charlotte, NC, she became a novice nun in 1999 at the Bhavana Society under Bhante Gunaratana and was ordained in early 2003 in Sri Lanka.   

In 2004 Ven. Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was joined at the Vihara by Ven. Sucinta Bhikkhuni, from Germany.  Ven. Sucinta Bhikkhuni took initial vows in 1991, later becoming a novice also under Ven. Bhante H. Gunaratana at Bhavana Society in WV, USA. In 1998 she received ‘higher ordination’ in Bodh Gaya, India, becoming one of the first modern Bhikkhunis of the Theravada school of Buddhism.

As of 2011, Venerable Sucinta Bhikkhuni is no longer residing at the Vihara after experiencing a calling to establish new temples elsewhere.  Venerable Sudhamma Bhikkhuni resided as the sole resident nun at the temple. Many religious leaders have been able to visit and speak at the Vihara programs due to the extra space to accommodate traveling monastics.  For example, Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was able to invite another Bhikkhuni from Vietnam and a male Bhikkhu from Britain to give Dharma talks for the Vesak celebration on May 23, 2010.  On June 6, 2010, the Venerable Kusuma Bhikkhuni, one of the first women to be ordained in the newly reestablished Theravadan Bhikkhuni lineage, also stayed at the Vihara to give Dharma talks.

Demographics

The membership of the Carolina Buddhist Vihara consists of Sri Lankan, Indian, Burmese and American followers. The main languages spoken include Pali, Singhala and English.

Description

The Carolina Buddhist Vihara is located in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Greenville. It is a single-family, ranch-style home with a lotus flower painted on the front door. Members enter through a side kitchen door where they proceed to take off their shoes. Upon entering the kitchen, the shrine room is located immediately to one's right in what would be a dining or family room. In this shrine room, there is a five-foot statue of the Buddha elevated on a platform around which there is space for two monks to meditate and chant. Facing the shrine and the monks about 10-15 cushions may be placed, where the participants sit for worship. Toward the back of the room and on the right are a series of shelves which contain cushions and small library filled with books that any member of the Vihara can check out. Behind the Vihara is a large yard which includes a walking meditation path which surrounds a sandy area, which all followers are able to use.

Other

Any Venerable Bhikkhuni or bhikkhu who lives at the Vihara is dependent entirely off of donations from her or his followers, whether in the form of money to pay the rent and utilities of the Vihara building or for food and other basic necessities. Members of the Vihara even transport the Bhikkhuni and visiting monks to and from any destination that is not within walking distance.

Visitors to this site are always welcome, but as a courtesy, please call the Vihara beforehand so the monks will be able to prepare for your visit properly.

Challenges

The Vihara has faced some significant challenges in the past; in part, due to its location in the predominantly Christian "Bible Belt." Unlike many other Buddhist temples in the South which select land in rural areas for the building of temples, the Vihara is situated in a residential community within the town of Mauldin.  As such, the Vihara has been subjected to criticism by some community residents who attempted to enact a zoning law ordinance to prevent worship at the Vihara.  However, the Vihara was also supported by many Christian churches and local residents in the community, and the Vihara was deemed by the court system legally allowed to remain in the residential neighborhood.  Members of the Sangha have also faced job discrimination when it was discovered that they are not Christian.  

Despite challenges like these, the Vihara continues to proudly serve its community as a non-profit organization providing counseling services, raising donations and developing projects to help the community, hosting student educational visits, and encouraging interfaith dialogue.  The Vihara shares a positive relationship with its neighborhood residents as well as local colleges and churches.

Present Situation

On January 18th 2012 Venerable Ayya Sudhamma Bhikkhuni was joined by Venerable Ayya Sudinna, who stayed until February 28th, 2012 at the invitation of the community. Meanwhile Venerable Sudhamma left the Vihara on January 30th in order to take up residence at Santi Forrest Monastery in Australia. Later Venerable Sudhamma returned to the US and founded a monastery in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In the absence of a monastic, Venerable Sudinna was invited to serve the community in Greenville at the Vihara. On November 13th, 2012 Ayya Sudinna returned to the Vihara, and is at present time conducting all religious activities.