On August 13, a group of three women stole thousands of dollars from the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Spokane, Washington.
Authorities believe the women may be part of a criminal network specifically targeting Buddhist temples. Last year, the alleged criminal network stole US$30 from the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion. On this occasion, it is estimated that the thieves got away with 000 US dollars in cash and gold.
Malia Etheredge, who has served as the temple's communications coordinator and community member for nearly 10 years, described the theft as "a great loss" to the community. (KHQ)
According to local media, the three women inspected the temple property a day before the robbery, walking around the perimeter and looking inside the grounds. Two of the women then returned to the temple on August 13, asking for prayers from the resident monk, Geshe Phelgye. When the monk entered the temple building to perform the prayer ceremony, a third woman entered the temple grounds and attempted to gain access to the onsite residence where the money was kept. She was unsuccessful as the resident monk had locked the door before leaving. However, the thieves returned later that day after Geshe Phelgye had gone for a walk.
“It's heartbreaking to be targeted. How can we protect ourselves in the future? I don't know. Etheredge talked about the theft. “The fear is now present inside the temple, and the financial concern is there too. But the peace is still there, a few thieves cannot steal it from the Buddhists. (KHQ)
It is traditional in Buddhism for lay practitioners to ask monks for prayers and offer gifts and donations in return in order to support the temple. The thieves took advantage of this tradition to commit their crime, wearing medical masks and scarves to conceal their identities.
“This practice is not about money. It never was. However, finances are even tighter following the events of this weekend,” Ethredge observed. “As a Buddhist community, although we are not violent, we are very wise and we will catch them. I intend to notify as many temples as possible. (KHQ)
Ethredge also expressed concern for the safety of his teacher and that of everyone practicing at the temple.
The theft created additional problems for the Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion. The stolen money was intended to finance the purchase of a new heating/cooling system for the temple, whose mission is to "promote peace and compassion for all beings, as we desire for ourselves". . (Facebook)
The Buddhist Institute of Universal Compassion held a garage sale on August 18-19 to try to recover some of the lost funds and set up a GoFundMe page to receive donations. For in-person visits, the temple is located at 728 E Rich Avenue Spokane, Washington 99207.