Spiritual seekers go to the Rime Buddhist Center for enlightenment. On the way, some of them have discovered this life's dark side.

Trouble in Shangri-La 

Spiritual seekers go to the Rime Buddhist Center for enlightenment. On the way, some of them have discovered this life's dark side.

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The center attracts not only a few longtime Buddhists but also people Stanford calls "spiritual seekers" -- people like Donna Jayne, who started attending the Rime Center about three years ago. Now in her fifties, Jayne developed an interest in Eastern religions about a decade ago.

"I went to a Sunday service with a friend, not really knowing what to expect," she says. "I was really blown away by the service. It was just so touching. I don't know why the Tibetans in town don't come, I really don't."

Part of the Rime Center's plan had been to raise enough money to be self-sustaining. So in the spring of 2001, the center opened a gift shop and began selling CDs of Tibetan monks chanting, colorful jewelry from India, woven purses, strings of malas (wooden prayer beads -- "Blessed by H.H. the Dalai Lama," $20), tapes of teachings, books on Tibetan astrology and bumper stickers: Free Tibet; Honk If You Don't Exist; My Other Vehicle Is a Mahayana. The gift shop began bringing in almost $10,000 a year.

So what if peddling trinkets while encouraging people not to want things seemed a little hypocritical? The center needed money.

"The gift shop does bring people back to the center, because people have attachments and desires," Teri Brody says. "And yeah, part of what we want to do is help people get rid of those. But that could take several lifetimes, so in the meantime, why not spend some money and promote the center?"

In July 2001, the Rime Center renovated a back room and raised enough money to bring in a young Tibetan monk, Jigme Wangchuck, from the Dalai Lama's monastery in India.

By importing just a few speakers a year, the Rime Center had begun attracting members like Brody. A fifty-year-old family practitioner, Brody had been a Buddhist since she was in her twenties, when she started studying under a Tibetan lama in California. She moved back to Kansas City in the '70s and met the Stanfords about ten years ago.

"I'm so grateful to have the center," Brody says. "For a long time, I felt there was no one else of the same persuasion as me in Kansas City." Brody attributes the success of the Rime Center to Stanford's charisma and hard work.

Writing a monthly column for the Star's Faith section and serving on the Kansas City Interfaith Council with people such as City Councilman Alvin Brooks increased Stanford's -- and the center's -- profile around Kansas City. Before long, it seemed as if Stanford was being called on whenever anyone needed a Buddhist representative for a panel discussion or a speech. He was highly visible in public ceremonies after 9/11; and before the United States attacked Iraq, he was a guest on KCUR 89.3, discussing the imminent war with other religious leaders.

Regardless of their questions about Stanford's qualifications as a spiritual leader, even many of his critics agreed that he was a dynamic director and had created a Buddhist oasis in the Bible Belt.

According to the second Noble Truth, desire causes suffering. The Buddha taught that there are three kinds of desire: desire for sensual pleasure, desire to get rid of something and desire to become something.

Apparently, even the desire to run a nice Buddhist Center can cause suffering.

As the center grew, Stanford seemed to flourish in his role as Missouri's only American-born lama.

He began wearing his red robes around town, and soon -- after consulting with Kusum Lingpa, he says -- he began giving "refuge vows" to people who wanted to officially become Buddhists.

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