The Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh (BSP) is an inter-Buddhist community of various traditions and includes all Buddhist groups who wish to participate. We envision BSP as an umbrella for all Buddhist centers in the Greater Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania area.
The Mission of the Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh is to support, encourage and foster access of the Buddha's Dharma throughout our community, as a shared practice among Sangha.
The Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh began in the summer of 1995, at a time when there were only a handful of Buddhist groups in the region. All of these groups were led by lay practitioners; there were no ordained leaders. Most of the groups met in people’s homes, or at the Friends Meeting House, or at sympathetic stores. One of these stores was the Earth and Heaven Tea House on South Craig Street in Oakland.
Janet Dtantirojanarat was the owner of that store, and hosted a vipassana insight meditation group weekly. Her store was one of the few places that you could find Buddhist related items, such as statues or incense, and so local Buddhists started to visit there and hang out with Janet who was friendly and wise. She suggested that we should meet as a group to support each other, share resources and work together at community outreach.
The first meeting was held on September 7, 1995 at the Friends Meeting House. Twenty-one people attended from different groups, such as the Stillpoint Zen Center, Three Rivers Dharma, the Soka Gakkai, the Chinese Buddhists now known as Tzu Chi, the insight meditation group and other Zen groups. At that time the name Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh was chosen, and we began to meet regularly.
In 1996, a series of evening talks was held under the title “Welcome to Buddhism in Pittsburgh” that spotlighted a different group at each session. The idea was for the groups to introduce themselves to each other and to newcomers. From that grew a day long event called the “Buddhist Meditation Workshop”. The first of these workshops was held on January 25, 1997 at Mellon Institute, and featured talks with short meditation practices so those attending could learn about the different traditions active locally. The workshop was very successful, and so was repeated once or twice a year over the next few years, eventually expanding to include more lectures with the practices.
Around the same time, members of the Tibetan group Three Rivers Dharma were working with the advocacy group Pittsburgh Friends of Tibet to invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Pittsburgh. Eventually the invitation was accepted, and His Holiness visited the area on November 12, 1998. This event was a huge undertaking that required over a year’s worth of planning as well as recruitment of a small army of volunteers. The Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh was brought on board to help supply the person power, and participated joyfully in the planning process and the three events on the day of the visit. The event was a big success and a blessing for our region at which thousands were able to experience the spiritual power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The downside to the great visit was that the process was so exhausting that it created burnout in the participating organizations. The Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh sponsored one more workshop in October of 1999, after which the group went into a period of dormancy. An attempt was made to revive the Society in March of 2002, when a new board was elected; unfortunately, the energy was not there.
The second flowering of the Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh began in the spring of 2009. A suggestion was made to revive the Society by having a Vesak event that celebrated our founder Shakyamuni Buddha and brought together various groups to participate in their unique ways. Over the past fourteen years, the Buddhist landscape of this region had changed dramatically, with many more groups active- now often led by an ordained monk, nun or priest, and many more local Buddhists.
The Society’s long time treasurer, John Bogaard (also the director of Three Rivers Dharma Center) teamed up with Ven. Bhante Pemaratana of the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center to organize this event, which was held on May 17, 2009 at the First Unitarian Church. The “First Annual Pittsburgh Buddhist Community Vesak Gathering” featured seven different sanghas participating in chants and rituals of praise for Shakyamuni Buddha, a guided meditation, music and refreshments. It culminated in a peace ceremony at the Point in downtown Pittsburgh
where blessed waters were poured into the Ohio River.
A couple hundred people attended this first Vesak which was a joyous afternoon filled with feelings of fellowship between the various participants. It was really fun working together and getting to know each other better, and so the impetus was formed to repeat this event annually. The location has changed a few times, but the eighth annual Vesak was held in May of 2016. For many, the highlight of the event is the peace ceremony at the riverside.
The Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh continues now to meet regularly and offer opportunities for fellowship and support of the diverse communities that bring Buddhism to this region. May all beings benefit, may the precious Dharma flourish, and may all sentient beings dwell in peace!