I started out sitting in the pews of Catholic churches throughout the city. I wasn’t raised Catholic, so I didn’t participate in the ceremonial procedures expected of someone entering the holy place. I’d find a seat in the back and settle into the old, wooden pew. In the smaller churches, I was noticed as an outsider, but not greeted. The bigger churches were more of the same, but the church-goers seemed to question my presence less. The same thing took place at both Methodist churches I went to. It took me two weeks to realize that I’d be fairly uncomfortable working on a project about religion, something that seemed so unwelcoming to me.
Visiting the Thekchen Choling Syracuse Temple in Minoa was not on my agenda, and unlike the other churches, I hadn’t called to ask if I could document their place of worship. I just showed up, weighted down with camera gear and pleas for access. No one questioned why I was there (except to ask if I could share my photos), and I was allowed unfettered access. Each time I went to the temple, the members greeted me by name, and offered blessings from specific teachings in Buddhism. I narrowed my scope and began visiting the temple multiple times a week to document and learn about their religion.
Thekchen Choling was established in downtown Syracuse in 2014. The temple follows the teachings of Lama Namdrol Rinpoche, a Buddhist master based in Singapore. Rinchope is well-versed in several Buddhism teachings including Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The Buddhists who instruct at the temple are also experienced in group chanting, meditation, deity rituals, and several other Buddhist practices. The members take pride in being a temple that welcomes people from all backgrounds, without discrimination.
Making your way into the temple, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes, as is customary. The main room is a shrine to things that are held sacred in Buddhism. The objects are rich in vibrant colors and seem to sparkle no matter where the light is. Before worship starts, one of the board members will light an incense to cleanse the room.
After services, members are free to light candles to pray for loved ones, and take them home for continue prayers. There is rarely a day when the candles remain unlit. The members also eat lunch together, following services. They sit on the floor, in a small room, and talk about karma or “ the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.” Good karma is offered to each individual who leaves temple, Buddhist or not.
Immersing yourself in someone else’s religion can sometimes feel like being the new kid in a school at the end of the year. Thekchen Choling Temple offers a welcoming environment and a thoughtful approach on the teachings of Buddha.