The Buddhist Sangha Council
of Southern California


Although Buddhism was introduced into this country one hundred years ago, until recently the various temples and centers, struggling for their own survival, remained generally isolated and self-absorbed, with infrequent contact with each other. Early in 1980 a crisis in one of the Buddhist communities prompted several of its monks to call together a number of prominent Buddhist leaders of several temples to discuss the problem. At this initial meeting the elders realized that closer communication and cooperation among Buddhist leaders of various traditions would provide greatly needed support and cooperation within the larger Buddhist community. This series of meetings then resulted in the establishment of the first permanent cross-cultural, inter-Buddhist organization in the United States: the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California.

The Council is composed of ordained monks, nuns and ministers from all the major Buddhist traditions: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, and from all Buddhist ethnic origins: American, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, European, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Sri Lankan, Thai, Tibetan and Vietnamese.

The Sangha Council set as its primary goals greater communication, understanding and cooperation among Buddhist groups in Southern California and support and promotion of Buddhism and Buddhist activities. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara spearheaded the early efforts with the close assistance of the Late Ven. Dr. Thich Thien-An, the late Ven. Dr. Faitana Khampiro and Ven. Phra Thepsopon, who has now returned to Bangkok. Other founding members included Vens. Subhadra Goldwater, Thich Man-Giac. Kim Do Anh, Walpola Piyananda, Pannila Ananda, Karuna Dharma and ten other Sangha members, both Asian and American born.

The Council headquarters, first located at Lao Wat Buddhagodom, moved in 1981 to Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara and then in 1985 to the College of Buddhist Studies. While the membership has grown slowly, but consistently, the Council has been very active in many different activities.

Philosophy and Goals

The original founders of the Council formulated the philosophy of the Council when they wrote:

"For many years Buddhism has existed in the United States in small communities and the Order of Buddhist monks, nuns and ministers has been scattered. The large immigration of Buddhist Asians and the growing serious interest of the American people in the study and practice of the Buddhist way of life has resulted in a blossoming of myriad study groups, meditation centers and temples across the United States. ln Southern California Buddhist centers and temples have multiplied and the Buddhist Order has increased manifold.

"Therefore, we the Sangha members of Southern California have come together in this Council in order to establish firm lines of communication within the Order, to give aid and support to the monks, nuns and ministers, both as individuals and as an Order, to discuss and act upon all matters and concerns dealing with the Sangha and the dissemination of the Buddha Dharma, and to engage in ecumenical cooperation with all religious groups."

The specific purposes of the Sangha Council are:

To foster cooperation of all Buddhist groups in Southern California with the intention

To bring about greater harmony

To promote interfaith cooperation among all Buddhist groups

To aid and to coordinate and organize the affairs of the Sangha

To hold Buddhist ceremonies, services, festivals and religious activities

To facilitate ordination into the Buddhist Order

To provide proper education, training and leadership in the Order

To prepare teachers of Buddha Dharma

To promote religious, cultural, social welfare and charitable activities

To help initiate or support any project which will help to disseminate the spirit of the Buddha Dharma


Since its inception the Sangha Council has been very active in a variety of projects and activities, both within the Buddhist community and within the larger interfaith community of Southern California.

Activities in the Buddhist community

The Sangha Council annually sponsors a Buddha's Birthday Commemoration, held at a different temple each year. The celebration features a religious service of chanting in various Buddhist traditions, a Dharma talk and a cultural program of music, dance and arts of the ethnic communities.

The Sangha Council has sponsored meetings between His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the XlVth Dalai Lama, and the ordained Buddhist clergy of Southern California. The Council provided a program on Buddhist culture and practice at Kwan Um Sa Buddhist Temple for a group of 150 Los Angeles school teachers, sponsored by the Los Angeles Festival to increase their knowledge of minority cultures in Los Angeles. The Sangha Council from time to time sponsors seminars and special programs, such as those honoring Colonel Henry Steele Olcott and Dr. B. R. Ambedkhar for their invaluable work in revitalizing Buddhism in Sri Lanka and India.

Sangha Council representatives attend the major functions and observances of its member groups, working untiringly to increase the communication and interaction with Buddhist groups in Southern California and has developed cordial relations with Buddhist groups in other areas of the country. It has been very instrumental in the formation of the American Buddhist Congress, the first national multi tradition organization of Buddhist temples and centers. The President of the Sangha Council, Ven. Dr. Ratanasara, was elected its first executive president, and many other Sangha Council members serve on its Executive Board.

The Council has acted several times as mediator in disputes within the Buddhist community and provides support and guidance for Sangha members during times of difficulty or transition. It has also taken a very active role in assisting temples which are having problems within the larger community. The Council participates in Campus ministry by providing chaplains at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA) and frequently provides speakers for classes at various colleges, universities and high schools. In addition, the Sangha Council is the major contact for the media regarding Buddhism, and Sangha Council members have appeared on an increasing number of television programs in the form of special features, interviews, news reports and moments of inspiration.

College of Buddhist Studies

A major project of the Sangha Council was the College of Buddhist Studies. First begun in September of 1983 and closed in 2003.The College offerd a variety of courses in Buddhism and Asian languages, both canonical and modern. The College curriculum was divided into two sections: the program of academic studies and the program of community course studies.

An important part of the College program was the year long Dharma Teacher's Course, designed for serious students who wanted a systematic study of the development of Buddhism from its beginning roots.

Activities in the interfaith community

The Buddhist Sangha Council from its inception has been engaged in numerous activities with other religious groups. Sangha Council members met with His Holiness Pope John Paul II at the Japanese Cultural Center in September 1987, along with leaders in the three other major non-Christian religious traditions of Judaism, Hinduism and Islam.

Los Angeles is a city of great ethnic and religious diversity and religious leaders of many of the great world traditions are working together as the Inter religious Council of Southern California to foster understanding and religious tolerance. The Buddhist Sangha Council is very happy to be an active member of this valuable organization. Dr. Ratanasara, the past president of the Buddhist Sangha Council, is a also past vice-president of the Inter religious body. The Sangha Council joins in all of the Inter religious Council activities, including dialogue, conferences, retreats, and development of policy statements. Other activities include the observance of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II's statement on respect for the non-Christian traditions, the annual breakfast to honor Martin Luther King. Jr., as well as various Jewish observances and holocaust commemorations.

The Sangha Council has a very cordial and friendly relationship with both the Roman Catholic Archdiocese and the Jewish community of Los Angeles, with continuing interaction on a variety of levels with both communities. Of great importance is the ongoing Buddhist-Roman Catholic Dialogue, which was initiated in February 1989. This dialogue allows representatives of the two religious belief systems the chance to explore and expand their understanding of each other. The Buddhist dialogue team, consisting of eight persons, both clergy and lay, led by Sangha Council president Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara, meet with the eight member Catholic team, led by Father Gil Romero, every month to enhance deeper understanding of each other and to engage in a more profound dialogue than words alone can give. The Sangha Council and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles have frequently joined in conferences and seminars on various topics, including the Buddhist-Catholic Retreat and Dialogue at Serra Retreat, Malibu, California, October of 1998.

Future Plans

Future plans of the Sangha Council include the offering of Summer Dharma School for children, the development of Dharma school materials, the publication of books and pamphlets and the creation of a central Buddhist library.

Although it has been in existence for only twenty years and its membership is not large, the Sangha Council has been the pioneer in promoting inter-Buddhist cooperation and harmony. It looks forward to continuing to foster greater friendship and unity for the development of Buddhism in the United States.


May the Buddha Sasana flourish forever