The southern Utah community of LaVerkin, near Zion National Park, is a modest little town inhabited mostly by descendants of Mormon pioneers. It’s a place where “Democrat” is a bad word, and Pioneer Day is celebrated with perhaps more zeal than the Fourth of July.

One recent morning, however, the front door of a well-kept LaVerkin home opened, and out onto the tidy lawn spilled a radiant assemblage of a dozen or so maroon-robed Tibetan Buddhist monks. The traveling group hailed from the Drepung Loseling monastery in India, and they had come to give teachings to a small but dedicated sangha that has sprung up in this conservative desert region.

The credit for the success and growing popularity of this sangha goes primarily to one local woman, Midge Henline. Although Henline had been curious about Buddhism for a number of years and had read numerous books, she’d never really pursued her interest until one fateful day in 1999, when she spotted two Tibetan Buddhist monks shopping at a Wal-Mart store in nearby St. George. She got up her courage and approached them to ask if they offered teachings.

That chance meeting eventually led to the founding of the Thupten Choling sangha, which now hosts traveling Buddhist teachers and provides a forum for their teachings. The sangha holds gatherings in a meeting room that Henline built onto her home, and the teachers stay in newly constructed guest quarters.

Since that chance meeting in Wal-Mart, Thupten Choling has grown from the germ of an idea into a dedicated group of about fifteen members who meet every other Sunday in Henline’s home to meditate, discuss Buddhist readings, and share tea and snacks afterward in Henline’s kitchen. Several times a year, visiting monks from the states and abroad give dharma teachings, drawing an attendance of thirty or more.

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