GRAFTON, Mass. - Bhante Aluthgama Dhammajothi spent years searching for just the right spot for a Buddist temple and meditation center. He found it in Grafton.
Just off Old Upton Road, up a winding private drive, is the A-frame house that is now the New England Buddhist Vihara & Meditation Center, home to Dhammajothi and two other Buddist monks, Bhanthe Athtanathissa Rathanathissa and Bhante Thalewela Wimala. The three monks live together here in the quiet woods, in a home where the former living room is now scented with incense and dominated by a golden Budda.
"I looked at over 500 houses in the last three years," said Dhammajothi, who had previously housed the temple in the Framingham area. "And finally, I got this house. It's very quiet and calm, the neighbors are very nice and everyone has been welcoming."
Open since October, the temple holds meditation sessions open to the public on Wednesdays, 7-9 p.m. and is open to those who wish to read and learn about Buddism in the Theravada tradtion, a school that draws spiritual inspiration from the Pali Canon, the oldest record of Budda's teachings.
Buddists, Dhammajothi emphasized, do not aim to convert.
"We do not ask anyone about their religion, we do not seek to change it," he said. "But if anyone asks us, we will show them the answer."
In a town centered around Grafton Common, flanked by several traditional New England churches, the sight of three monks dressed in the traditional orange robes has been met with curiosity. It is, Dhammajothi emphasized, quite welcome.
"There is surprise, but people always seem happy to see us," he said. "People recognize that Buddists are peaceful, they are intrigued."
Dhammajothi came to the United States in 1993 from Sri Lanka, settling first in the New York area. At that time, there were only about three temples in the region but over the years, they have expanded throughout New York state, New Jersey, South Carolina and the Boston area.
Now a United States citizen, Dhammajothi travels through the area regularly, speaking with students and groups about Buddism, but is happy to call his little bit of Grafton home.
The temple has yet to be formally dedicated -- an opening ceremony is planned for May 19, 2012, when he hopes to welcome more of the community to the new temple.
In the meantime, the monks at the temple welcome visitors. The meditation sessions are free and the practice is useful for helping people cope with stress, body ailments and depression, he said.
"It's a spiritual practice," he said. "We can help them to get happiness."
Frequent visitors bring gifts for the new temple -- curtains for the windows, an offering of rice or food, other donations. Many bring flowers for the altar of the Budda.
"Flowers represent the impermanence of our lives," he said. "That is the main purpose of flowers. It is a symbol of our body -- we bloom for a short time, then we die."
For more information about the New England Buddhist Vihara & Meditation Center, 162 Old Upton Road, Grafton, call 508-839-5038.