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New Buddhist Temple in Riverhead gives religion higher profile

New Buddhist Temple Riverhead gives religion higher profile

A new Buddhist temple is opening in Riverhead on a busy road where hundreds of cars will pass it each day, leaving organizers hopeful the center will attract many new followers.

The Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center previously operated out of a borrowed house in a secluded Port Jefferson neighborhood, but now has bought the former church building at 5268 Sound Ave.

It will increase its staff from one monk to three, greatly expand the space it has for meditation sessions, and also open part of the two-story building in the Northville section to the public for other uses.

“I’m very happy,” said Bhante Kottawe Nanda, the head monk at the center who opened the Port Jefferson location in 2008. “I’m thankful to the other monks from other temples for their support.”

“Our goal,” he added, “is to show the real path for real peace to people.”

The official opening is Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dozens of people are expected, including monks from the sect’s U.S. headquarters in Queens, which opened in 1981.

There are only two Buddhist temples in Suffolk County, with the other in Centereach. That one is run by Thai monks, while the one in Riverhead will be run by monks like Nanda from Sri Lanka.

That said, organizers stress that it will be an American temple, open to all. They have placed American flags in front and on a flagpole. Nanda and the other monks will live in the center.

While the monks and their supporters do not advertise to try to gain adherents, some think that the new location on one of the main routes used by people heading to the North Fork, the wineries and the Hamptons will inevitably attract more followers.

“I’m very happy about it,” said Lenny Holter, an American-born Buddhist convert from Sound Beach who is an active supporter of the center. “I feel we are on the cusp of Buddhism coming to America in real time.”

The center in Port Jefferson “was very tiny,” Holter said. “We were practically sitting on each other’s laps.”

The United States is home to an estimated 3.8 million Buddhists, making it the third largest religion after Christianity and Judaism, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

Organizers bought the Riverhead property for about $160,000 two months ago, and transferred their Friday night meditation sessions in Port Jefferson there a month ago. Tuesday night sessions also will be transferred eventually, and the Port Jefferson center will be phased out, Nanda said.