The main teachings of Vedanta are:
1) The Divinity of the Soul,
2) The Oneness of Existence, and
3) The harmony of religions.
The Vedanta Retreat at Scappoose has been dedicated to the harmony of religions
These grounds provide a place to conduct spiritual practices of various religious traditions i.e. prayer, worship, reflection, and meditation in a beautiful natural ambiance in the spirit of unity. There are eleven shrines honoring those spiritual traditions of the world, a series of trails and twelve dedicated meditation benches placed throughout this forest to make its 120 acres a multi-religious place of worship.
Revered Swami Aseshananda (ministry 1955-1996) the then Minister in Charge of the Vedanta Society of Portland, first conceived this idea in 1970. Most of the shrines were designed by Br. Shanti (later Swami Atmajayananda) and constructed by both Br. Shanti and Br. Sarada (later Swami Harananda), the monastic members of Vedanta Society of Portland.
1. Holy Mother Shrine: Sri Sarada Devi (1853-1920), also known as Holy Mother was born in Jayrambati, a small village in Bengal, India. She had a spiritual marriage with her husband, Sri Ramakrishna (see shrine #8). She is considered by many throughout the world to be the embodiment of God as Mother, the Source of compassion. She inspired millions of spiritual aspirants from around the world to follow the spiritual way of life. She emphasized following meditation (Dhyana Yoga) and service to the Infinite Spirit in all (Karma Yoga), thus, the two trails Dhyana and Karma were dedicated near Her shrine. This shrine was built and dedicated to Her in 1974 by Swami Aseshananda, her spiritual son, whom She initiated into spiritual life in 1917.
2. Christian Shrine: Swami Aseshananda and Br. Shanti chose this site for two reasons: 1) Historically it was the site where the Easter sunrise service was conducted by Swami Devatmananda (minister-in-charge from 1932-54) and 2) It symbolizes Christ’s walk up Calvary. The shrine design reflects European Gothic cathedral lines. This particular image of Christ on the lap of his mother was hung on a wall of a neighbor and one day Sri Ramakrishna was looking at Christ intensely and He entered a spiritual union with Christ. The Shrine was initially dedicated in 1975 and then rededicated along with the St. Francis of Assisi meditation site in 2014 by Swami Shantarupananda, the minister-in-charge of the Vedanta Society of Portland from 1996 to 2015, and Sister Mary Jo Chaves of the Franciscan Spiritual Center of Milwaukie, OR.
3. Jewish Shrine: The Biblical trail connects the Christian to the Jewish shrine as the Bible connects the two religious traditions. The three-dimensional Star of David was built as the primary structure then a carved and the central box was placed representing the Ark of the Covenant. The inscription around the box is from the Torah and the sacred name “Yahweh” is carved on top. Judaic and Vedanta paths both acknowledge Infinite Spirit without form. The shrine was dedicated in 1975 by Swami Aseshananda and then rededicated in 2012 by Swami Shantarupananda and Rabbi Debra Kolodny in a multi-faith gathering. The rabbi chose the quote from the Hasidic master Reb Nachman for the meditation site on the Biblical Trail.
4. Buddhist Shrine: This shrine was built and dedicated in 1975 to honor the Buddhist tradition. The unconventional structure was partly inspired by a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that brought Eastern and Western design lines together. The ‘Four Noble Truths’ and the ‘Eightfold Path’ of Buddhism inspired innumerable people to lead spiritual lives. This site and the meditation site further down the trail were rededicated by Swami Aparananda and a Zen Buddhist monk, Jissan Larry Christensen in an interfaith gathering in 2015.
5. Native People’s Shrine: Br. Shanti and Swami Aseshananda consulted with the Sun Dance Chief of the Sicangu Sioux peoples, Brave Buffalo, in designing, shaping and orienting this shrine in 1976. According to the Native People the Eagle is considered the most universal form of Great Spirit in North America. Its outstretched wings in a crouching position is a protective pose for its children. The eagle is positioned overlooking the valley where some of the first Native people came to this part of North America roughly 11,000 years ago. Brave Buffalo set up the circular Medicine Wheel, planted the central cedar tree and passed the peace pipe to both Vedanta and Sioux members gathered on August 6, 1977.This dedication ceremony marked the first time in human history that “Indian” Holy ones, Brave Buffalo and Swami Aseshananda, from two different continents jointly dedicated a prayer site. This site was rededicated in 2011 by Swami Shantarupananda and Brave Buffalo’s nephew and current Sicangu Sioux Sun Dance Chief, John Brave Hawk. Many Native People’s holy ones feel that their path is close to the ancient Vedic teachings where the Totality of life is revered.
6. Vivekananda Shrine: The construction of this shrine began in 1975 and the shrine was completed and dedicated in 1976. The architectural lines and ratios represent the Orissa style, a common medieval Hindu temple style. The shorter, front aspect symbolizes Shakti (relative reality) and the taller back aspect represents Shiva (Absolute Reality), thus, we enter the Absolute through the relative. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) brought Vedanta and the Yoga teachings to the West in 1893. He spoke as a representative of Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions as part of the famous Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This shrine honors both him and his inspired teachings of Jnana Yoga and is in close proximity to the Jnana Trail and its corresponding meditation site. The shrine was rededicated by Swamis Shantarupananda, Atmajayananda and Harananda in 2012.
7. Sufi Shrine: This shrine was built in 1976 and dedicated in February of 1977 by Swami Aseshananda and a member of the Vedanta and Sufi community, Mr. Harawalla. The five wooden columns holding up a stylized dome represent the five pillars of Islam (declaration of faith, 5 times prayers per day, alms giving, Ramadan fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca). The viewer of the plaque/shrine is facing east, facing Mecca. The horizontal and vertical inscription on the hanging plaque is an Islamic prayer, “None exists but God” that resonates with the non-dual Vedanta realization, “The Lord is All.”
8. Ramakrishna Shrine: The life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) depict the harmony of religions. Sri Ramakrishna performed much of his spiritual practices in a temple garden in Kolkata, India on the River Ganges where five sacred trees were planted. This was called Panchavati. Accordingly site for the shrine for Sri Ramakrishna was chosen at a place where five large trees were present symbolizing the penance of Sri Ramakrishna and five sides and five poles were incorporated into the structure of the shrine. The lowered entry was taken from the Japanese Tea House design where one bows to enter a sacred space. Sri Ramakrishna worshiped and realized Supreme Spirit as Mother both in personal and impersonal aspects. The Bhakti Trail behind the shrine symbolizes Ramakrishna’s emphasis on the path of devotion.
9. Sikh Shrine: Sikhism grew from the teachings of Guru Nanak (1469 - 1539), who was born in India. His image is represented here. The symbol on his hand and above his picture is a version of the OM symbol. The quote from his teachings speaks to the universality of the way to Divine Love and sense of Oneness that resonates with the Bhakti Yoga of Vedanta and appeals to Hindus, Muslims and people of many backgrounds. The shrine and site were dedicated in an interfaith celebration by Swamis Bhaskarananda, I/C of Seattle, Swami Atmaghanananda, I/C of Kancheepuram Centers and Sdr. Jagjit Singh, Gurudswara Sahib, Vancouver, WA, on July 4, 2016.
10. Advaita Shrine: Advaita (without a second), Nondualism is one of the ancient Indian philosophies as well as higher state of consciousness. A Shiva Lingam (symbol of the Absolute as Auspiciousness) sits in the middle of a 12 sided outer structure representing 12 Jyotirlingas and 11 Rudras and one door to enter. This site was chosen because of it being the highest point at the Retreat symbolic of the Advaita experience being the highest and all encompassing, most challenging to attain. Advaita harmonizes the whole creation - all people and all religions, as it is the experience of the Essence or Background Consciousness of all. The shrine was dedicated by Swamis Ishatmananda, Chandrashekharananda and Revve Norman Wolf on July 4, 2017 at the Vedanta Retreat.
11. Mind Mirage Seat: In the dreaming state, according to Jnana Yoga, the dream-world is projected and experienced in the mind. Similarly, the world that is experienced during the waking state is in fact, conceived in one's mind and then projected as if outside of him. In the dreamless sleep state the mind is merged in the Self, the Eternal Witness, the Substratum and absence of objects is experienced. The mind gives us experience of this world and then vanishes totally like a mirage. These experiences happen in our lives on a daily basis but we hardly notice it. The Mind-Mirage seat is dedicated to depict the nature of the mind that it is transitory. It is also to encourage to discover the Eternal Changeless Substratum behind the mind. The water in the Seasonal Vernal pool in front of the seat comes and goes away like the mind. But the pool remains like the Eternal Substratum.
12. Jain Shrine: Bhagavan Mahavir Swami or Vardhamana was born in the early part of 6th century BCE and slightly preceded Bhagavan Gautam Buddha. He was the twenty-fourth tirthankara and revived Jainism an ethical, spiritual and philosophical religion. He attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience) and taught to observe ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (non attachment). By the observances of these virtues and proper darshan (observation) and tapasya (effort) one is able to attain jnana (wisdom) and charitra (character). The principles of anekantavada (many-sided reality): syadvada (conditioned predication) and nayavada (interpretation thesis) are the unique contribution of Jainism.