Ganden Mahayana Buddhist Center

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 11 October 2009.

Phone: 803-256-0150
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Activities and Schedule

General program (beginner-level, open to anyone):
Wednesday 7-8:30 P.M.
Meditation and talk on a certain aspect of Buddhism. In 2003, the Monday classes were on the book “Eight Steps to Happiness” and the Wednesday classes were on the book “Understanding the Mind.”
Foundation program (in-depth study of a Buddhist text, more advanced):
Thursday 7-9 P.M., Sunday 10:30 A.M. - 12:30 P.M.
Meditation and in-depth study of a Buddhist text. Program designed by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (current spiritual leader of the Kadampa tradition). In 2003, these classes examined the book “Joyful Path of Good Fortune.”
Morning Meditation:
Monday - Friday 8 A.M.
Chanted prayers (“Heart Jewel”), 15-20 minute guided meditation taken from The Meditation Handbook.
Prayers For World Peace
Sunday 9:30 A.M. - 10:15 A.M.
Weekend retreats:
Meditation on a certain teaching for an entire weekend
Day Courses:
Meditation on a certain teaching for an entire day
Other special days/holidays throughout the month:
--8th of every month: Tara Day (female enlightened Buddha)
--Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day (commemorates when Shakyamuni Buddha first began teaching)
--Je Songkhopa Day (day to honor Je Songkhopa, 14th-15th century Tibetan lama important to Kadampa Buddhism)
--Buddha (Sakyamuni)’s Enlightenment Day
--special vows every full moon


Michelle Gauthier went to Atlanta in 1998 to set up a Kadampa Buddhist center there. In 2000, the teacher from the Atlanta center started coming to Columbia and giving classes at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. These classes went on for about a year, and then another teacher from Atlanta started giving teachings at the Yoga and Wellness Center of Columbia (located in same building as the current Ganden Mahayana Buddhist Center). The current center was rented in January of 2002 and Gauthier moved to Columbia to become the official resident teacher in January of 2003.


A “range of everyone” attends the Ganden Mahayana Buddhist Center, according to Gauthier. Attendees range in age from people in their early 20s (mainly students from USC) to people in their 50s. The group is ethnically diverse, including African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, and Indians. No one ethnic group is dominant. The "core group" (people who regularly attend events) numbers around 15, and there may be as many as 20 to 25 people attending any given teaching.


The center is located on the top floor of a business building on the outer edges of downtown Columbia (Devine street is behind Five Points, the "college hang out" area for USC students). The entrance to the building is on Devine Street, a small door wedged between two businesses, “Non(e) Such” and “The Bohemian.” The door to the upstairs area has a sign hanging above it listing the various organizations located in this office space, which include a yoga center, a marketing business, and some kind of “studio." The door is covered with various posters related to the businesses and organizations that occupy the upstairs suites.
Upon entering the door, one finds a steep carpeted staircase. At the top of the stairs is a table with informational brochures from some of the other organizations in the office space, and to the left of this is a doorway into the hallway where the various offices are located. Entering the hallway, one passes the Yoga and Wellness Center of Columbia on the left, followed by a large bulletin board with announcements and other miscellaneous postings. Rounding a corner in the hallway and turning to the right, one finally reaches Suite 3, the home of the Ganden Mahayana Buddhist Center, about halfway down this section of the hall. There is a sheet of paper beside the door that identifies the center, with the name of the center printed over an image of the Buddha’s face. The “subtitle” below the center name is “Bringing Peace and Happiness to Columbia.” To the right of the door is a folder with informative brochures for people to take.
Inside Suite 3, there is a foyer-like area with a long table to the right on which there is a great collection of packaged food and sweets, with a sign above reading, “Offerings—Please take!” Immediately to the left as one enters, there is a small table with informative brochures, outlines of the year’s teaching schedule, and a wicker basket for donations. Bookshelves line the left wall and are heavily laden with various books, brochures, devotional pictures the size of postcards—all for sale, the proceeds benefiting the greater Kadampa community.
In the back left corner of the foyer area is the entrance to the meditation room, which has an altar at the front and more bookshelves with informational packets and prayer pamphlets at the back. In the back corner of the room is a very large and noisy air-conditioning unit, which is covered (for aesthetic purposes) by bamboo blinds on the two sides visible to the room. Also at the back of the room are brown metal folding chairs, most with cushions attached, which are used to sit in during the teachings. There are also some floor cushions scattered around the back of the room.
The altar at the front of the room consists of one main central altar and two smaller altars on each side, situated atop what appear to be bureaus. The center altar is covered with a silky gold cloth with a flowery pattern and the two furniture pieces on the sides are covered with gold sparkly cloths, on which the various Buddha statues and devotion pictures sit.
The center altar consists of a large gold statue of the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni), seated on a lotus, whose petals are red, surrounded by green and blue. On the left side of the Buddha is the Dharma text, which in this case is “Heart of Widsom,” and beside that is a small lamp. On the right side of the Buddha is the gold stupa, which represents Buddha’s mind. There are two candles on the altar, one beside the Dharma text and one beside the stupa.
Directly in front of the Buddha are seven blue porcelain offering bowls, filled with water. The purpose of these offerings, according to Gauthier, is to accumulate positive karma and to practice giving. The bowls are filled with water but symbolize the seven gifts a householder in India would traditionally offer to a visitor: something to drink, something to eat, water to wash oneself, flowers, incense, light, and perfume.
On the right of the Buddha is a devotional picture of Je Tsong Khapa, a Tibetan lama who revitalized Buddhism in the 14-15th century. (In front of Je Tsong Khapa are various offerings—jars of honey and sweets). On the left of the Buddha is a devotional picture of Vajrayogini, a tantric Buddha. There are also offerings in front of this devotional picture.
The altar atop the bureau to the right of the center altar is basically a smaller representation of the large center altar. Here is seated a smaller gold Buddha (Sakyamuni), seated on a lotus, whose petals are light blue. In front of the Buddha are seven gold offering bowls and several sweet offerings (Lindt chocolates, etc) and a stick of incense sits between the Buddha and the bowls. There are again the two large white candles, and the Dharma text to the right of this Buddha is “Understanding the Mind,” the text studied by the general (beginner) class in 2003. The stupa is located on the right side of the Buddha, along with another small lamp. Hanging on the wall behind the Buddha is a framed picture representing the lineage of Buddhas.
Hanging on the right wall beside the side altar is a thangka—a traditional embroidered tapestry with a picture of a Buddha in the middle. This particular thangka represents Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom.
The altar atop the bureau to the left of the center altar is a bit different. In the center of this altar is a devotional picture of Dorje Shugden, protector of Je Tsong Khapa’s dharma. To the right of Dorje Shugden are two Buddha statues—first, a very small statue of Tara (female Buddha) and beside Tara, a larger statue of Vajradara, who represents the tantric teachings of Buddha. To the left of Dorje Shugden are two more small statues—first, a very small state (same size as the Tara statue) of Je Tsong Khapa, and then a larger statue (same size as the Vajradara statue) of Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyaguru Vaiduryaprabha, the Healing Master of Lapis Lazuli Radiance). There is a large white candle on the far left side of this altar and many offerings and smaller candles in front of the figures and picture, but no stupa or dharma texts are present on this altar.
Hanging on the wall behind this altar is a framed picture of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the current spiritual leader of the Kadampa traditon. The picture is draped with a white silk scarf.
On the wall to the left of the altar is another thangka, this one of Medicine Buddha (who is entirely blue in this representation).

Relations With Other Buddhist Communities

The Ganden Mahayana Buddhist Center is relatively young, and resident teacher Michelle Gauthier just moved to Columbia in 2003, so she has not made many connections with other Buddhist communities. She said the Zen priest had called to "say hi" when she moved to town, but this was the only connection she has had with other Buddhist groups in the area. She said the five sects of Buddhism present in Columbia (Tibetan-Gelupka, Shambhala, Zen, Kadampa and Soka Gakkai) are so different that it would not be likely for the groups to do activities together.

Interfaith Relations

Again, since Gauthier is so new to town, she has not yet been involved in any interfaith activities. She has spoken to area churches about Buddhism on several occasions. She said, however, that it was surprising to her when these churches asked her to speak to their congregations, because, she noted, she has experienced a great deal of proselytizing in Columbia.