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At Dharma Bum Temple, all are welcome, including LGBT community

SAN DIEGO – The Dharma Bum Temple welcomes people of every color, creed, race, religion and sexual orientation.

People can truly be themselves at Dharma Bum.

Yes, LGBT people have found another place of worship that welcomes them for who they are.

The temple was founded in late 2006 by Jeff, Derek and Maggie, who all tend to refer to each other by first names only. Jeff said the Dharma Bums follow a simple path for a happy life and accept all people.

“Buddhism teaches us there is there no difference in race, gender, age, sexual orientation,” Jeff said. “No one, in the ultimate sense, is any different than anyone else.”

Who are the Dharma Bums?

The Dharma Bums are based at the Dharma Bum Temple in downtown San Diego. They practice Buddhist teachings to live a full and happy life.

Jeff said he and the other co-founders decided to open the temple when they realized there was community interest in Buddhism. Their goal was to provide a welcoming space for everyone where people could come and learn about Buddhism and meditation in a way that would be easy to understand and pressure-free.

The Dharma Bums operate under a mission to help each person find peace of mind. The general idea is that generously helping others and giving of self will bring happiness.

Jeff said the teachings show participants that they don’t need more items and belongings to find happiness — that they can experience happiness just by sitting and breathing, for example.

There are “resident Dharma Bums” who look after the temple. They are also very active in the community. Jeff said the Dharma Bums are involved in prison-outreach programs and food and clothing redistribution for the homeless.

The Dharma Bums also create BuddhaBadges, one-inch badges or buttons, to help support charities. Every month, 90% of the proceeds from the sales of the badges are donated to an organization or charity that is doing good works across the globe.

The temple is open to everyone, even people from other religions, and there is no pressure to attend or donate money. Supporters say there is also no pressure to conform to a certain lifestyle or change the way a person is currently living. Rather, the Dharma Bums encourage participants to be cognizant of their behavior and what brings them peace of mind.

“We operate as a free space for all to gather in community and be a place of refuge for everyone,” Jeff said. “We have no memberships, there is no pressure to donate and we have no secret teaching. We are simple people sharing a simple way of life.”

The connection to traditional Buddhism

“We operate under ‘The Bodhisattva Path,’ which is the practice of generosity, morality, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom,” Jeff said. “We realize these are not just practiced when sitting silently in meditation, but in our everyday life.”

They follow the Buddhist teaching and belief that a person’s actions, or their karma, cause their happiness or suffering. They also believe that thinking good thoughts and doing good actions will bring peace and happiness.

Bill Teague, member of the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, said that the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to become one with Buddha.

“This goal can be discussed in terms of overcoming problems related to our ego: anger, greed, ignorance. Or sometimes it’s discussed in terms of happiness,” Teague said. “From one angle, the many Buddhist schools and sects are unified, as all focus on helping individuals to find happiness and realize their Buddha nature.”

Jeff said the basic teachings of Buddha are that human suffering is caused by greed, anger and lack of understanding, and that the way to escape from mental or emotional suffering is to practice meditation and compassion for everyone. And when we practice meditation and focus less on ourselves and more on others, we come to realize that our emotional and mental states are caused by our own reactions to the external environment, Jeff said.

Once people open their minds and learn to control their emotions, they can find peace of mind and heart.

A welcoming place for LGBT people

Unlike many other denominations, the Dharma Bums, and Buddhism as a whole, welcome all people regardless of sexual orientation.

“Everybody who is looking for a kind of peace of mind and freedom is welcome in the Dharma Bums Temple,” said Stefan Talian, longtime attendee of the Dharma Bums Temple. “Nobody ever asks you who you are; you can just come in, sit and breathe.”

Teague said he thinks Buddhists are more open to welcoming LGBT people because of one of the basic principles of Buddhism.

“The Buddha’s injunction to the individual to find one’s own path humbly (‘study the Dharma and work out your own way as best you can’) may prevent more virulent expressions of our human arrogance.”

Jeff said the Dharma Bums and Buddhists are so welcoming because they don’t see any difference in anyone.

“Buddha teaches us that we are the same in our true nature, so why should we even see a difference,” Jeff said. “I have been with the Dharma Bums since the beginning and people from the LGBT community have always found us as a place of refuge.”

LGTB members and attendees of the Dharma Bums Temple agree that the temple is attractive to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
“I felt like home there, like I arrived,” Talian said.

Jeff said the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist teaching, teaches that when people can go beyond their judgmental minds and stop labeling others, then they can finally be liberated from suffering. And since the whole goal of the Dharma Bums is to help others find their inner peace, judgment and labeling are not part of their mission.

“In general, Buddhists tend to not put out position papers and take stands on social issues, in that Buddhism respects the individual and individual choice to a great degree,” Teague said. “For that reason, people are often frustrated that Buddhist organizations are not prone to take a stand on abortion, or the death penalty, or the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. For the Buddhist groups I am most familiar with, such issues are a matter of individual choice.”

In addition to attending the Dharma Bums Temple as attendees, members of the LGBT community also serve as meditation leaders and host the BuddhaBadges program.

“I think when people enter the Dharma Bum Temple, they realize that there is no judgment happening,” Jeff said. “We are simply people, living a simple life and that is what matters.”

How to connect

The Dharma Bums offer a wide variety of services/classes/community workshops.

“An Introduction to Buddhism and Meditation” class takes place every Sunday at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday morning meditations are also held. A full list of times and classes can be found on the Dharma Bums website.

The Dharma Bum Temple is located at 541 Second Ave., Suite A, San Diego, CA 92101.