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Wednesday, October 15, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dharmachari Aryadaka, 55, first Buddhist chaplain in state's prisons

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Dharmachari Aryadaka discovered Buddhism in his 20s, while serving time in a Scandinavian prison, and then dedicated the last years of his life working as this state's first Buddhist prison chaplain.

Understanding the suffering made him want to alleviate it, especially as he became increasingly ill.

The Seattle native, whose name means "noble sky-goer," died Oct. 6 at the age of 55 from liver disease caused by the Hepatitis-C virus. He had a liver transplant four years ago.

Born Feb. 7, 1948, as Philip Miller, Mr. Aryadaka grew up in the Montlake area, in a house he later bought from his father and raised his family in. He graduated from Garfield High School in 1966 and took some classes at Washington State University before leaving Seattle during the draft, determined not to go to Vietnam.

He traveled the world, went to India and Nepal, trekked the Himalayas, drove through Morocco and Afghanistan, and then joined England's Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). His prison sentence came from a 1974 drug charge in Finland. He spent 22 months behind bars.

"Buddhism came out of his prison experience, when he was isolated from family," said his widow, Sandra Roulette. "He took meditation seriously and found dharma in his cell."

Mr. Aryadaka returned to Seattle when his father became ill, and he met his wife while out dancing in 1979. They married in 1983.

"He is, or was, a very loyal and devoted family man with traditional values," Roulette said. "We quickly entered into a family life together."

The couple had a son Sean, now 20, and also lived with Roulette's daughter, Megan, 28.

Mr. Aryadaka's love for nature and the mountains translated into many hiking, backpacking and camping trips for his family.

"He had a strong sense of geography and place," Roulette said.

He had sophisticated taste in art and literature and always wrote in a journal. "He was also a man's man, into tools, and could fix anything," Megan said.

Mr. Aryadaka returned to Europe and, in 1984, was ordained a member of the Western Buddhist Order.

He was given his new name after a three-month Italian retreat. They picked the name because "he embodied lofty and spiritual ideals," Roulette said.

When he returned to the United States, he began teaching meditation in his home.

"He built up the order here," said Amita Ratna, also an ordained Buddhist. "He had phenomenal energy and a deep link with the Buddhist teaching. He put that out for other people."

He cofounded the FWBO Seattle Buddhist Center on Beacon Hill.

In addition to teaching and practicing Buddhism, Mr. Aryadaka worked as a land surveyor and welder, who created metal sculptures.

Prison work was his focus in the last years of life. As he became more and more ill, it gave him an opportunity to embrace more of Buddhism.

In essence, it was a full-time job. Though he only spent about 10 hours a week inside prison walls, he worked as a volunteer and liaison among the prisoners and their families and communities.

He was appointed to the Religious Advisory Committee in 1998 and became the state's first paid Buddhist prison chaplain in 2000.

Along with Roulette and the two children, Mr. Aryadaka is survived by his two brothers, John Miller and Jim Miller, both of Seattle; a sister, Louise Peterson of New York; and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Oct. 25 at Prospect Church, 1919 E. Prospect, in Seattle. The family is asking that donations be made in his honor to the Paramita House, P.O. Box 6014, Olympia, WA 98507.

Leslie Fulbright: 206-515-5637 or lfulbright@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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