Birthday party for Buddha promises to be unique cultural event

MANATEE -- Manatee County's Gopi and Neela Chari, who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, offer a suggestion to others who wish to match their marriage's longevity.

Seek enlightenment together, they say.

"My guru said if your wife doesn't support you in spiritual matters you might as well wait until your next life," Gobi Chari said with a smile this afternoon.

The Charis, then, are both excited about the birthday party they have organized Saturday for Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, the famous Indian teacher of spiritualism whose name means "awakened one" or "enlightened one."

Buddha would be roughly 2,556 years old this month.

"It will be a cultural event," Neela Chari said of the party, which will also celebrate divine love and divine life.

The event, which is open to the public with a $10 donation requested, is set for 4-6 p.m. Saturday at Unity Church of Sarasota, 3023 Proctor Road, Sarasota.

The Charis promise a parade of Buddhist monks, meditation, chanting, guest speakers from other faiths, a talk about Buddha, dancing, music and, as is custom on Buddha's birthday, the bathing of small statues of Buddha.

The public can take part in all of it, the Charis said.

The Buddhist dancers will be high school girls from the Tampa Bay area, the Charis said.

An Asian vegetarian dinner will culminate the festivities.

The Charis, founders of the Mitreya Center at 5318 34th St. E., in Manatee County where their teaching sessions have been enjoyed by many, hungrily explore all religions and spiritualities, including Christianity and Judaism.

Although Hinduism is a root faith for them, they attend Temple Beth El and have high praise for Rabbi Harold Caminker as a spiritual guide.

They also say their quest for enlightenment has been enhanced by visits to Unity Church of Sarasota, Peace Presbyterian Church and Center of Spiritual Awareness.

But they keep coming back to Buddha.

"We see the wisdom of Buddha running through Christianity, Judaism and, in fact, all other faiths," Neela Chari said.

"Buddha was a man who saw the suffering of the world and found a way to rise above it," Gopi Chari said.

The Charis would love to have met Buddha, they said.

"I want to be rid of all this," Neela Chari said, referring to the worries, fears, frustrations, dissatisfactions and temptations of physical life. "I want to find out his secret. I want to be his secret."

Guest speakers at the event include The Rev. Elizabeth Thompson of Unity Church of Sarasota, The Rev. Elizabeth Diebert of Peace Presbyterian Church, The Rev. Duffy Rutledge of Center of Spiritual Awareness and Kate Richmond from Temple Beth El.

A meditation session will be led by Bhante DhammaWamsha of The Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society of Clearwater.

Monk Bhante Sankicha of Great Lakes Buddhist Center in Michigan will talk about Buddha.

Information: 941-751-6950 or