At the beginning of the 100-day Gulf War in 1990-1991 a number of Buddhists, Sufis, and other non-Buddhists regularly gathered in public meetings in Tucson, Arizona. Many members of the public were attracted to the outdoor meetings. In compassionate hope, we chanted sutras associated with the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Shih Yin. This helped focus our wish that the war be short, and the suffering of all those involved, including the Earth itself, be minimized.
Ten years prior to this, three of the founders of the Karida Sangha had also created a totally secular non-profit charity dedicated to environmental education and research. Although this charity, which was named Amaterra, preceded Karida, Amaterra became like a "sister" organization for the Sangha members, providing many opportunities for compassionate action to benefit the Earth itself.
After the war, the group continued to develop its program of chanting sutras and meditating. Later, we formalized our group as a Buddhist Sangha or community. In 1994, the Reverend Gyoko Saito and his wife Toshiko visited our new Sangha. By that time we were already on a somewhat different path than that of the "Pure Land Buddhism" in which they were leaders. Even so, they were very encouraging and supportive of our creative western adaptation of traditional Buddhist practices.
We chose to name the group Karida Desert Sangha, in part, to honor the Reverend Saito and his teacher the Reverend Haya Akegarasu, whose teachings had been influential for the organizers of the new Sangha. In archaic Japanese, Karida means essence, or heart, which is of central importance in Karida practice. We study the Heart Sutra and attempt to focus on the "heart of teachings" of the Buddha Dharma. The equivalent to Karida in Sanskrit is Hridaya, a word associated with a central figure in Karida practices, the Bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin. Over the years we began to see the following teachings of the Buddha as the essence, or heart, of basic Buddhist practice and understanding, thus our name Karida:The Three Refuges
Over time our meetings took on a typical form. In the early years we met once a month in our homes. Later, the Zen Desert Sangha of Tucson, generously invited us to share their facilities. In our meetings we would recite prayers, chant mantras and sutras, and hear lectures or discuss books. All this would be combined with several periods of quiet meditation. You may read in detail and download from our library, the content of a typical meeting: "Evocation of the Bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin..." At the close of our meetings we always enjoyed vegetarian potluck dinners and engaged in lively conversation. The running joke was that if we found the first half of the meeting unsatisfying that we could always go home having had a satisfying meal.
In the first nine years many Tucson Sangha members came and went, some as far away as Europe or Thailand. By the year 2000 the Sangha's two Dharma Teachers had moved away and many members were encouraged to join other local Sanghas. (There were seven other traditions represented in Tucson by 2000.)
This "Karida diaspora" caused a shift from face-to-face meetings to enabling isolated individual Buddhists maintain their Sangha connections through the emerging vehicle of Social Media and the World Wide Web. Suprisingly, by 2010, another face-to-face group emerged in the neighboring State of New Mexico, almost as if by spontaneous combustion. This group, "Karida El Morro Buddhist Sangha," now in its ninth year (formed Oct. 28, 2008), continues to show signs of steady strength. Recently, there has been some mention of the possibility of yet another Sangha group emerging in the Albuquerque area.
Today (2017) we are working to enhance our web presence as a study resource and "connecting place" for both emerging face-to-face groups and isolated individuals who call themselves "Friends of Karida." Karida Buddhist Sangha welcomes and has embraced the teaching of impermanence in this, its twenty-fourth year.
Our main focus then, as it is today, has been on the Bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin, and the study of the Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path, and the Heart Sutra.