Throughout the morning, Asian families trickled in and out of the modest ranch style house on Route 1 in Scarborough. Nearly everybody toted plastic bags of oranges, fruit drinks, apples, grape fruits or some other offering to lay at Buddha’s feet.

They greeted the 10 or more shining golden Buddhas displayed for worship at one end of the 8-by-15-foot room by bowing with their heads to the floor. They sat on cushions on the floor and chanted their prayers aloud.

The True Buddha Society, located at 551 Route 1 in Scarborough, is a small faith gathering. About 50 or so members, called disciples, stop in on Sundays to pray to Buddha and socialize with friends. Though they’ve managed to maintain their group for seven years, they struggle to grow and provide essential services, like English classes, to their members.

The society has little financial support or resources. Their two part-time staff people are unpaid and their building on Route 1 is donated by a disciple. In order to offer the classes their community is requesting, they need a new space with more parking but their biggest challenge is plugging into the resources.

Because they are an insular group with so few of them fluent in English, they don’t know how to attract more members, said Yee Lin, a True Buddha member and translator 27-year-old. “We don’t know how to go about it. We don’t know many people who can help,” said Lin.

Lin is one of the few members fluent in English. She was born in America, but her family is from Hong Kong. Because she speaks English fluently, her job as teacher and translator for the society is essential. Few of their disciples speak fluent English.

Lin and the only other staffer, Dharma Assistant Lai Lin, are charged with the difficult task of increasing membership in the society with limited resources. Interest in Eastern philosophies and practices has expanded in America rapidly in the past 10 years, and Lin said that, though the core society membership is Chinese, many Americans are interested in learning Buddhism as a practicing religion.

At this time the society is unable to offer services or teachings in English because the community interest was so great, their space and parking could not accommodate everybody. Yee Lin said they receive calls regularly from community members interested in English services. The society offers only one service in Chinese on Sundays.

“The Asian community and Americans are missing out on something so true,” said Lai Lin in Chinese as Yee Lin translated into English.

They are also unable to offer the highly anticipated English language classes for their Asian community, which they previously held.

True Buddha member, Yu Lin, of Portland, speaks little English. She works cleaning office buildings in Portland. Nine years ago she came to the United States speaking no English.

Now, after taking several English courses through the True Buddha Society, she gets by on the small amount of conversational English she’s learned. Yu Lin said if a class were offered and she could find the time, she’d take another class through the society.

Yee Lin, who taught the classes, said, until the society finds a bigger space with more parking, it will be unable to offer those classes again. The strain of parking and space was too great.

There are other Buddhist temples in the area, one in Portland and one in Freeport, but Lin said they face similar challenges, with little money and resources. “Everyone has the same problem,” she said.

University of Southern Maine Interfaith Chaplain Andrea Thompson McCall said resources are a problem for many minority religious groups. Thompson McCall suggested that one option for struggling religious groups would be pairing up with larger more financially established faiths that might be willing to share their space.

Sharing space for religious faiths poses several challenges, said McCall. Many groups may feel uncomfortable using space that they don’t control. “Sometimes that’s a stretch depending on the belief system,” said McCall.

Though not a regular occurrence, sharing space is possible, and there are several groups in greater Portland that might be open to sharing their space, including the Swedenborgian Church in Portland, said McCall. “It’s not common the way bean suppers are common, but it’s not unheard of either,” said McCall.

Chances of the society finding and paying for a new space are slim. They sustain themselves through the donations of their disciples, which isn’t enough to pay the rent at the space they’re in. “We barely get by here,” said Yee Lin.

An anonymous disciple furnishes the temple, a modest house on Route 1 in Scarborough. The disciple asks the society to contribute whatever it can afford to the monthly rent, but translator and teacher Yee Lin said they haven’t paid the full rent in months.

Because they work out of a one-story residential style building with a finished basement there is limited parking. When English classes were offered, the parking problem worsened. The class attracted many disciples, but there wasn’t enough parking. In order to accommodate all students, the Society asked Dunstan School House Restaurant if they could use some of its parking space.

The Society then shuttled their disciples from Dunstan to the temple. This was not an ideal situation. Dunstan were “really kind enough to let us use the parking lot, but we don’t always want to burden them,” said Lin.

The two staff members Dharma Assistant Lai Lin and translator Yee Lin share the responsibility of teaching the two children’s classes offered on Saturday. Though many of the children speak Chinese in their home, during class they practice writing as well as speaking their native language. Similar to a Catechism class in the Catholic faith, they also learn simpler versions of Buddha’s teachings.

Dharma Assistant Lai Lin, who speaks limited English, formed the Scarborough branch of the True Buddha Society more than seven years ago. She has been a Buddhist disciple for more than 18 years. Her desire to grow her community is strong, and she’d like to incorporate Americans into the fold, teaching them Buddha’s lessons, but at this point they could not accommodate an influx in membership. “We have plans, but we didn’t have any money,” she said.

There are 100 True Buddha branches nationwide, said Yee Lin. Lin said the Society has requested money from the main branch in Seattle, but is waiting to hear back.

True Buddha disciples chant in prayer at the True Buddha temple on Route one in Scarborough Sunday morning.Anh Duong, of Portland, burns incense in worship of Buddha, at the True Buddha Society worship site at 551 Route One in Scarborough. Duong, immigrated to the United States from Vietnam 16 years ago. She has been a member of the True Buddha Society for nearly three years.It is customary for Buddha’s disciples to offer food gifts to the Buddha including fruit drinks, chips and oranges.


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