A visit, a blessing from the Dalai Lama
A kidney-shaped pond with flowering lotus plants, their blossoms gingerly wafting on the breeze, sits in the backyard of the building at 68 Magoun Ave. in Medford. Prayer flags in bright, radiant colors festoon the porch and interior corridors and rooms. People labor with paint brushes, adding fresh coats of color to the walls. They climb ladders, carrying tools to install windows.
This frenetic, but fluid burst of activity on the grounds of this property in a quiet residential neighborhood has a special purpose. The Dalai Lama is coming.
His scheduled arrival Friday, his first trip to Massachusetts in five years, is nothing short of incredible, a rare occasion when something obscure but purposeful gets a chance to sit in the spotlight. This opportunity is not lost on the founders and friends of the KuruKulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies on Magoun Avenue.
"I'm Greek Orthodox and I think this is absolutely wonderful," said Theodora Stratis, 43, a leader of the neighborhood association who hopes to be standing on the sidewalk with her two small children to welcome the Dalai Lama. "I think it's so great to have the Buddhist temple here, great that the Dalai Lama is coming. It's so positive."
Magoun Avenue and its neighboring streets evoke a solid sense of family and community. Children ride happily on bicycles; people sit on porches waving to neighbors, and passersby greet strangers with friendly hellos. The Dalai Lama's arrival here is a stop on a busy itinerary that also includes a meeting with faculty and students at Harvard, a conference at MIT and a talk to as many as 13,000 people at the FleetCenter during his three-day stay. He will greet Buddhist devotees and other admirers and will also bless the new center.
"This is joyful," said Wendy Cook, the center's director, who is making sure all details are attended to. "It raises our visibility in the neighborhood. Anybody who doesn't know we're here will know it next Friday."
The Buddhists arrived on Magoun Avenue in 2001, spending $460,000 to buy the former nursing home property. They spent thousands more knocking down walls, enlarging rooms and overhauling the interior so that the center could accommodate its 70 members and those who visit. Another 750 distant members are connected by e-mail. Office space and other rooms were converted to a small library with books and pamphlets about Buddhism and a meditation room adorned with statues, fragrant lilies and vibrantly colored brocades, where people can sit quietly on cushions to worship and pray.
And while the Buddhists worked hard to remodel the building's interior spaces, they also established bonds with their neighbors, people they now know on a first-name basis. They helped resurrect a dormant neighborhood association and participated in a cleanup day for Magoun Park last May. They have put a positive, nonthreatening face on an Eastern philosophy that is not widely known or understood by a great portion of the population, particularly in a traditional neighborhood like Magoun Avenue.
Anne Severson, a new mother, remembered calling the center's resident nun, Sue Macy, and asking her to look in on her cat while she was in a Boston hospital giving birth to her son, Julian. "We feel lucky to have them as neighbors," said Severson. She and her husband, Edward Nowick, live next door to the center, in a house they purchased five years ago, three years before the Buddhists arrived.
"When you buy a home you don't get to choose your neighbors," said Severson. "We were nervous when the property went for sale, but then we found out that a Buddhist group was going to buy it. It's been thoroughly wonderful having them as neighbors. I can look over from my baby's window and see candles burning and Buddhists praying."
Macy, a Louisiana native, said these bonds are helping the center cement a presence in the neighborhood. The other full-time occupant of the center is Geshe Tsulga, who holds classes at the center twice a week and teaches students in India via e-mail. They're both very visible community members, walking in the neighborhood, using public transportation and taking strolls to the park or the nearby Mystic River.
"We always wear our robes," said Macy, who said she once worked in an investment marketing position at Fidelity. She resigned when her division relocated to Smithfield, R.I., she said. She then sold her Beacon Hill condominium, her jewelry, and clothing in order to devote herself to a Buddhist study and lifestyle. She was ordained as a nun last December in a ceremony at the Drepung Monastery in South India.
As block captain of the Magoun Avenue neighborhood association, Macy, 47, said she is trying to spearhead a petition drive that would get Medford officials to erect a stop sign at the intersection where Magoun Avenue crosses Pembroke Street. It's become a hazard for youths riding bicycles, she said.
"I've adopted that as my mission, our contribution to the neighborhood -- a stop sign," she said, explaining that she has engaged city officials in a discussion about the idea.
Mayor Michael McGlynn said he was unaware of the stop sign issue but that getting a stop sign for an intersection "starts as a simple process with the city's Traffic Commission."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.