Statistics may suggest that Portland is the least religious city in the United States, but the city has a long and varied history with Buddhism. Buddhism first came to Oregon in the 19th century with Chinese and Japanese immigrants. In 1956, Buddhist Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder passed through Portland during a three-week hitchhiking trip from Berkeley, leaving Snyder’s alma mater Reed College with the first known recording of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Today, the religiously unaffiliated notwithstanding, Portland is home to a diverse range of Buddhist communities, not to mention the highest number of Tricycle subscribers per capita of any major American city.
1.| Portland Japanese Garden
Described by former Japanese Ambassador Nobuo Matsunaga as “the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan,” this garden is a must-visit for Buddhist and non-Buddhist travelers alike. Located across from the International Rose Test Garden in Portland’s Washington Park, the extensive grounds feature distinct garden styles and include a traditional Japanese tea house. Meander along contemplative pathways and linger on storybook bridges as you slowly make your way to a stunning view of Mount Hood.
611 SW Kingston Avenue
2.| Lan Su Chinese Garden
While the older and more expansive Japanese Garden is better known, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a special destination for those looking for a meditative experience in the heart of downtown. Taking up an entire city block in Chinatown, Lan Su was built as a classical Chinese garden by artisans from Suzhou, Portland’s sister city in Jiangsu province. The garden features hundreds of native Chinese plants, several pavilions, a teahouse, and over 40 intricate lattice windows in the garden wall and interior that offer beckoning glimpses of scenes to investigate.
Schedule a tour with a trained local docent and check the garden’s calendar for public events such as calligraphy demonstrations.
239 NW Everett Street
3.| Miao Fa Temple
From Lan Su Chinese Garden, you can hop across the Willamette River to Miao Fa Temple, a Chan Buddhist temple founded in 1998 by Venerable Master Tsien Tien as a branch of the Miao Fa Temple in Taiwan. The historic building was originally the headquarters for the Third Church of Christ Christian Science Portland but has been retrofitted to include traditional Chinese Buddhist temple features. While many of the temple’s activities are in Chinese, there are also events in English, and the prayer books come with English translations.
1722 SE Madison Street
4.| Oregon Buddhist Temple
The first Buddhist priest to arrive in Oregon, Reverend Shozui Wakabayashi, established this Jodo Shinshu community in Portland in 1903. Affiliated with the Buddhist Churches of America in San Francisco, the temple opened its original three-story brick building on NW 10th Avenue in 1910 with over 500 members. After the US ended the forced internment of Japanese Americans following World War II, the members returned to Portland to reestablish their temple at a new location on 34th Avenue. The present building was dedicated in 1966. Although the original building is no longer used as a religious facility, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a commemorative plaque is posted downtown at 312 NW 10th Avenue.
3720 SE 34th Avenue
5.| Van Hanh Restaurant
Originally run by Buddhist nuns, Van Hanh Restaurant serves up delicious vegan Vietnamese food out of a big green house on the far east side of Portland. Van Hanh is known for its house-made mock meats, such as the roasted pork belly. I can personally attest to the steamed dumplings made of mung bean stuffed with taro and the spring rolls with jicama. Although the current owner is not a nun, on Sundays the restaurant makes food for the congregation at Nam Quang Temple, located on NE 148th Avenue.
8446 SE Division Street Portland, OR 97266
6.| Dharma Rain Zen Center
Formerly a contaminated landfill, the cleaned-up grounds at Dharma Rain Zen Center have blossomed into a thriving Soto Zen community with an emphasis on the symbiosis between monastic and lay approaches to Buddhist practice. In addition to teachings and meditation instructions, visitors will find restored native habitat and local wildlife. If you can’t attend a meditation session, you can walk the grounds, including a 2,500-foot-long path and trail.
8500 NE Siskiyou Street
7.| Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple
Housed in a former church in a residential neighborhood in Northeast Portland, this Zen community in the lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi offers regular meditation instruction and special programming, such as the Full Moon Metta evenings of loving-kindness, walking, and sitting meditation. If you’re looking to get out of the city, the community also operates the Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie.
6401 NE 10th Avenue
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