Hindu gems hidden in the hills above Scappoose.

 

It is unknown, but to a few, that in 1936 the Vedanta Society of Portland purchased 120 acres of newly harvested hillside in the Tualatin range to house their future spiritual retreat. This acquisition is all the more surprising since it occurred during the harshest years of the Great Depression and was organized and financed by a relatively minor chapter of the Hindu church in the US. Officially known as the Ramakrishna Order, the Hindu presence in the United States had begun only 100 years prior, when the first Hindu representative Sri Vivekananda had toured many of the major cities of North America with the intent to introduce Hinduism to its thriving population. Sri Vivekananda was graciously received by “cultured circles” in many of the major cities from New York to San Francisco and Seattle, but he never came to Portland. And yet it was here, due to the efforts of his primary disciple who was familiar with Portland that a local chapter of the Ramakrishna Order was founded.

Oregon in those days was not a very “culturally diverse” community and acceptance by the locals was hard to come by. Initial efforts to establish a Hindu center in progressive Lake Oswego failed due to local resistance. Thus, it is even more astonishing that the Hindus found peace and acceptance in a rural community that had only recently begun stringing the wires to bring electric light to its rural citizens.

Despite these odds, the Portland Ramakrishna Society managed to scrape together the payment and secured a 120-acre property that included a log cabin, a tool house and a small shed. In 1954 the Society replaced the original buildings and completed an octagonal temple topped by a golden dome in a clearing set above the property. This rustic temple became the first Hindu Temple in the Pacific Northwest.

But challenges were afoot. Multnomah County, in its efforts to raise tax receipts objected to granting the Society tax-exempt status for the entire 120-acre tract, and would only grant an exemption for a single acre upon which temple stood. Transcendence not being a particularly practical response to this secular challenge, the Society took umbrage and sued the county! During the contentious proceedings it became apparent that the county interpreted the tax exemption as extending from the church building itself, and it seemed possible that the Society might be forced to relinquish the tax exempt status for lands that lay too far away from the temple itself. But, it appeared, the penumbra of tax exemption depended upon whether the structure served a spiritual purpose, no matter how large or small it might be. This revelation gave rise to a novel response. In case the tax collector fail to note the intrinsic spirituality of these hallowed groves, the Vedanta Society began to construct tiny little shrines all across the property, each with its own spiritual umbrella that extended into the forest around it. In 1974 the first wooden shrines were constructed to the Sri Ramakrishna (the founder of the Order) and the Holy Mother. The following year shrines to commemorate the Buddha, Christ and Ramakrishna’s disciple Swami Vivekananda were added. An Islamic Shrine followed in 1976, and finally in 1977 the American Indian Shrine was built on a slope overlooking Sauvie Island and the site of the first known Native American settlement in this area.

While this is private property, the Society allows respectful visitors to enter and wander amongst the shrines. The members of the Society have been repairing the buildings after a period of neglect took a toll upon them. The Shrine to the Spirit of the American Indian was recently rebuilt due to winter storm damage. On one of my many visits to the property I spend several wonderful hours conversing with the Lakota artist that was adding a series of symbols onto the structure. Later I returned to find Vedanta Society mapthe structure adorned with symbols of buffaloes and lightning – an iconography indigenous to the plains Indians. But as the Society explained, it was the Lakota that responded to their appeal so it was the influence of the Sioux that prevailed in this land usually associated with the Salmon and Raven.

 

About Jim

Love to spend time getting lost in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest with Zoe, my Siberian Husky.
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24 Responses to Hindu gems hidden in the hills above Scappoose.

  1. Matt Fields says:

    Hi Jim, It’s Matt Fields. I was hoping to take my daughter to the Hindu temples in Scappoose today, but am having trouble reading the map on your site. Do you recall the name of the road to get in? Thanks in advance, and it was great seeing you at Sauvie Auction last weekend….have a great day.

    • Jim says:

      Hi Matt:

      Turn on Watson Rd – that’s the one that leads to The Joy Creek Nursery. The road splits. Take the left hand option – that’s Gilkison Rd. Follow it to the end and follow the gravel road straight ahead – past the gate. Keep going until you see signs for specific shrines.
      Jim

  2. Dick Butkiss says:

    This is my favorite spot… its awesome!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jim says:

      Dick: I appreciated your enthusiasm, and your procreative inclinations. I did edit your original message a bit to avoid offending folks. By the way, this retreat is owned and managed by the US branch of the Hindu religion, not the Buddhist religion. I hope you continue to find inspiration in these unique structures and treat them gently so that we all can enjoy them over the coming decades and centuries. Maybe some day you’ll be able to tell your kids that they were just a twinkle in your eye when you last visited the “treehouse”.

      Jim

  3. Alyse L says:

    Thanks for this post, Jim! Good job on the website too.

  4. Sheri says:

    Visited there on Saturday. Very awesome place, loved the peacefulness, you could literally hear the pine needles falling to the ground.

  5. Elena says:

    Is there a specific place to park then walk/hike?

  6. Amber says:

    Just went yesterday for the first time and although there was snow and trees down from the recent storms it was very peaceful! Can’t wait to go back in the summer to hike around the area more.
    Just know the gal at the temple (I believe she lives there) said it’s normally not open all the time. They welcome respectful visitors and we’re shocked anyone was even out yesterday.
    Also for anyone looking for it…..there are 2 gates at the end of the road. Easiest way directly to temple is the gate to the left and not straight ahead.

    • Jim says:

      Amber:
      I usually don’t go to the temple itself, because I feel like it’s an intrusion into their religious retreat. That’s why I take the path that goes straight forward from the end of the road – there a sign on that entry road that welcomes visitors. On my way out I use the road I came in on, or I use the the lower road around the back of the knoll upon which the temple is located. I’ve met Terence that work on the trails on many occasions and he’s assured me that we’re welcome as long as we treat the place respectfully. In fact I even let the Society review my blog about the shrines to be sure I had their “blessing”. But it maybe true that the space immediately around the temple has limited access, especially when they’re having some sort of celebration…

  7. Randi says:

    Yesterday I tried to go up there and there was signs everywhere saying no trespassing so I was very confused as to whether we should proceed or not.

    • Jim says:

      When you’re facing the end of Gilkison Rd, you’ll see a private driveway on your right. On the left is the yellow gate that leads up to the Vedanta temple and the groundskeepers cabin. I avoid both of those, but if you continue straight you will see a gate/chain that blocks vehicular access to a road that runs north between the two aforementioned roads. There are “No trespassing” signs on the left hand side of this road – that are intended to prevent people from leaving this gravel road and straying to the right and into the private property that is located there. The gravel road itself is not closed and leads back to the shrines. Private landowners often sign nearby roads to inform people that they are on the edge of private property. If the road you are on has a sign in the middle of the road that says “no Trespassing”, then you can’t proceed. I do not believe that the gravel road is signed in this manner – or at least it wasn’t a month or so ago.
      Jim

  8. Justin says:

    I was just up there. I didn’t see a no trespassing sign in the middle of the chain gate but the whole area is littered with no tresspassing signs. Espesscially the gravel one with a chain. I would like to be able to go up there but not intrude either.

    • Jim says:

      The gravel road with the chain across it is the legitimate access road. The no trespassing signs are to prevent you from straying off that gravel road onto the property to the left of the road. As you proceed down the road you’ll find a sign constructed by the Vedanta folks welcoming you and asking you to be conscientious visitors, etc.

    • Jim says:

      I hope you realize by now that the gravel road with the chain link fence IS the way to get into the property, unless you enter by the official entrance. The gravel road leads more directly to the shrines. On that gravel road you will encounter a map and advice for visitors. Jim

  9. Lisa Stalder says:

    Is this location still visitable? I would love to go check it out. Is out true that there is a hidden waterfall at this location?

    • Jim says:

      There might be a hidden waterfall on the upper reaches of Raymond Creek, but I’ve never encountered it after extensively crawling up and down Raymond Creek. Most likely they’re referring to the waterfall on Carcus Creek which is much further north and on PRIVATe land. I have seen that waterfall but with permission from Mr. Van Natta, the owner.

      Jim

      • Jim says:

        The Vedanta Society retreat is open to the public.
        BTW, I will be leading a group into the Vedanta Shrine hike later this fall. I will do it on behalf of the Columbia Land Trust – so contact them to see how you can bid on this tour at our annual fundraising dinner on September 14th. I will also be offering “guided” hikes all about the Chinooks, and another devoted to chanterelle hunting in late October/early November.

        Jim

    • Jim says:

      The Vedanta Society retreat is open to the public.
      BTW, I will be leading a group into the Vedanta Shrine hike later this fall. I will do it on behalf of the Columbia Land Trust – so contact them to see how you can bid on this tour at our annual fundraising dinner on September 14th. I will also be offering “guided” hikes all about the Chinooks, and another devoted to chanterelle hunting in late October/early November.

      Jim

  10. April says:

    For anyone interested in maintainting this space, there is a Karma Yoga work day the first Saturday of the month in the nice weather to help clear trails and do maintenence. Its a good oppprtunity to meet the members, give back, and see the inside of the temple. There was also a new Advaita shrine and trail built over the summer, steep and uphill. Vedanta welcomes respectful visitors. No trespassing signs are for adjoining properties not theirs. Organized groups do need to contact the society in advance. I lead Yoga hikes up there and they like to know about groups to minimize conflicts. There is some logging on adjacent lands coming up and some of the roads are shared. If the gate happens to be open do not drive up. You may get accidently locked in. I know one person this happened to. Sometimes the caretaker leaves it open when he goes to town and shuts it when he returns. Please consider leaving a donation in the box at the top of the drive. Sometimes there are maps at the gate as well.

    • Jim says:

      Dear Vendata Society:
      Hi! I’m one of your most enthusiastic supporters. I worked closely with Terence (one of your community’s stewards for the Retreat) to get agreement on how to accurately characterize both the Retreat and the Portland Chapter of the Vedanta Society. Of course, I included this gem of a “spiritual jaunt” in my new trail/story collection. OSU published “Hiking from Portland to the Coast – An Interptretive Guide to 30 hikes” in late 2016. Since then the book, has steadily attracted readers and hikers because of its unusual perambulations and the related historical anecdotes.

      Recently I took a small group of Multnomah Athletic Club hikers around the property. I will contact you via Terence to make sure I’m abiding by your concerns.

      Jim Thayer

  11. liz Michel says:

    I went today and there were workers nearby cutting trees down for logging. It was very distracting to hear chain-saws and trees falling.

    • Jim says:

      At least you can know that the 200 acre parcel that the Vedanta Society owns is safe. Unfortunately, much of the eastern slope of the Tualatin Mountains (aka “West hills”) beyond the end of Forest Park is reaching maturity (from a timber company’s perspective). Have patience, it will grow back. The cover of my book shows a view from the top of Buck Mountain that is no longer visible because the short trees that you see on my (2005) photo have grown into a 25 ft juvenile forest.

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