Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye wasn’t planning on staying in Spokane.
The Tibetan Buddhist monk came here in 2011 as Gonzaga University’s first global scholar in residence and then accepted Eastern Washington University’s invitation to be a global scholar and adviser.
But with only a visa, and without the funds to secure a green card, Phelgye thought it was time to return to India.
“I thought maybe my karma was up,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m giving up, I’m going home.’ ”
Residents in northeast Spokane, however, may have noticed his plans have changed.
Instead of packing his things, Phelgye spent the summer slinging a hammer and renovating a 92-year-old, 3,700- square-foot church building into Spokane’s Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion.
Donors and volunteers were able to pull together the money and services he needed to get his permanent residency.
Those efforts, Phelgye said, inspired him to open a dharma facility through the nonprofit he launched when moving to Spokane, Universal Compassion Foundation. In June, the organization bought what used to be Christ’s Fellowship Church at 728 E. Rich Ave.
The temple has already been tagged with graffiti, but members said they feel welcome in the area as neighbors have come by offering to help with the move, inquiring about Buddhism or asking for prayer.
“It gives me hope that we’re here to help and inspire where there’s need,” Phelgye said.
The temple had a soft opening earlier this month and currently offers yoga, Buddhist teaching and meditation on Sundays.
“It already feels too small,” Phelgye said, laughing about the Nov. 12 service. “There were not enough seats (for the potluck).”
The sangha has about 15 core members, plus regular visitors, who for the past several years have been meeting in a home in Corbin Park.
Down the road Phelgye said he wants the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion to have an academic focus.
“I’m hoping to possibly offer some degree courses in affiliation with some universities here,” he said.
He also wants to open a Buddhist day school for grade-school students.
“If we could (teach them) Buddhist ideals and philosophies and wisdom, we could create good people in the future,” he said.
Phelgye also hopes that one day the institute will be able to open a Buddhist elderly care home.
“These are some of my dreams,” he said.
Malia Woods, who has been a part of Phelgye’s sangha for more than three years, said she thinks the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion is good for Spokane because it promotes diversity and because it complements Christianity through its messages of compassion and love.
“We’re open to people in all walks of life. There’s no discrimination. It’s a safe space for the people of Spokane who are in need of it right now,” she said.
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Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.