Open hearts and doors at Powell St Buddhist Centre

by Joanne Davies

“Buddhists, in a sense, are like inner scientists; we are encouraged to ask questions. It’s not like ‘Oh Buddha said it’s true, so I believe;’ in a sense it’s a working hypothesis. You don’t have to be Buddhist to try these methods. In fact, His Holiness says it’s really important to keep your religion, but if you find something in Buddhism ... great!”

- Gyalten Wangmo

After 16 years living in the area, I’ve seen the ‘Buddhist Centre’ sign on Powell Street many times, so was happy to finally visit recently to take a look.

The beautiful 2.5-acre property nestled at the end of the cul-de-sac has been home to the Dorje Chang Institute since 1994. DCI is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, an organisation devoted to preserving and spreading Mahayana Buddhism worldwide.

The centre is a peaceful sanctuary welcoming people of all beliefs to visit, whether to enjoy the gardens or participate in the pujas and classes on offer.

Commanding a magnificent view over the park-like grounds is a traditional Stupa, situated atop a tower holding a beautiful prayer wheel dedicated to world peace. Inside the prayer wheel, sit 111 billion mantras, reduced in size onto microfilm. Visitors are encouraged to turn the wheel and offer prayers.

I met with Geshe Wangchen, a Tibetan monk and resident teacher since 2003, and programme coordinator, Gyalten Wangmo in their cosy, welcoming library to learn a little about Buddhism.

The history of Buddhism was written 2,500 years ago in the story of a prince who had everything he could wish for but, yet, could not find happiness. The prince recognised that as long as his negative emotions existed, he would never be happy, so he retreated to meditate until he was able to subdue them. Meeting with success, he told his disciples to analyse the practice and follow it - but only if it made logical sense to them. Such remains the questioning approach of Buddhist practise today.

Geshe-la said, “Although we have a very strong faith to Buddha, we do not just accept everything he says; we analyse. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has met with great scientists to discuss a scientific approach to how we can reduce negative emotions and develop compassion, kindness and love. This is the main Buddhist philosophy of mind-change practise.”

Followers strive for mind-change in part through meditation, which is taught at the institute. Classes are held in the Gompa (meditation hall) and are arranged to suit the busy schedules of people with full-time jobs and other responsibilities.

Buddhist philosophy classes are also on offer. As Gyalten says, “Buddhist philosophy is very detailed, and the more you delve into it, the more depth you find in it.”

“The whole point of Buddhahood,” she says, “is to help every other living being to achieve that state also. When you are free of negative emotions, when you have all the qualities of wisdom, compassion and loving kindness, you are in the best position to help others.”

Additional to the classes, Pujas (prayer rituals), prayers and dedications can be requested via the website or in person.

The institute is available to anyone who wishes to participate, regardless of their doctrine, culture or social standing. The website,, lists the calendar of classes, events and guest speakers. The Dorje Chang Institute is a registered charitable trust, and donations of any amount are welcome.

An afternoon at the centre left me smiling, with the warm reassurance that a questioning mind can still foster an open heart. It’s wonderful what you find, when you follow the signs!