At the Hindu Temple of Minnesota, everything is symbolic — from where it’s located to how it was built.
Now, a new garden will soon bloom over where broken sacred statues are buried, destroyed nearly 10 years ago by vandals. It will represent not just the violence that happened, but the Maple Grove temple’s exceptional forgiveness of the two men, for whom it has pursued more lenient sentences and redemption.
“We see every human being as always goodness, no matter what they do,” said Shashikant Sane, president of the Hindu Community Center. “To continue an eye for an eye is not the right way to go.”
On Saturday, several hundred people, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was the Hennepin County attorney during the case, are expected to attend the secular groundbreaking ceremony outside the temple, the largest in the U.S.
The Hindu Community Center and the Hindu Society of Minnesota are planning the $1 million project, which will include gardens, a fountain, and places for meditation and yoga, bringing peace to people of any faith.
“You have to take a moment like this, as painful as it was, as a teaching moment,” Sane said. “It’s not [just] something for the Hindu community anymore.”
The 43,000-square-foot $9.5 million temple rises out of the fields in the northwest corner of Maple Grove, surrounded by wetlands, soybean fields and parked combines.
Late one evening in April 2006, just six weeks before the temple was opening after years of planning and construction, Paul Spakousky and Tyler Tuomie, then both 19, broke in and bashed several statues — sanctified deities — with baseball bats and caused more than $200,000 in damage.
In the charges against them, the men said then that they didn’t know the building was a temple and that their actions weren’t religiously motivated.
“You can imagine burning a cross to the ground, how a Christian would feel,” Sane said. “To us, they’re like martyrs.”
He and other community leaders felt shock and pain. They were grieving and angry. But after an act of violence that might have spurred others to seek revenge, the Hindu leaders turned instead to peace, seeking mercy for the men who had destroyed the precious icons.
They embraced the vandals when they stood before the temple asking for forgiveness. And they showed up in court, pushing the judge to hold the men accountable, but also to be lenient so the men could redeem themselves.
“It was an incredible event for people to learn about restorative justice,” the judge on the case, Hennepin County District Judge Kevin Burke, said this week. “It was really quite a good outcome for a bad situation. That, I think, was a really strong testament to the Hindu leaders. It really was a learning experience for the community.”
The compassion garnered attention worldwide and community support for a growing Hindu population both in Maple Grove and across the Twin Cities area — estimated now at 40,000 practicing Hindus. A city forum drew 600 people. And after the temple’s opening was delayed to replace broken windows and new handcrafted icons from India, Spakousky and Tuomie served 30 days in jail and did community service at the temple, getting to know the people at the very place they tried to destroy.
“In the end, strange as it seems, the event turned out great for the community; it brought attention to the Hindu community that was growing in Maple Grove,” Mayor Mark Steffenson said. “To have the temple in our community, people were very excited. It’s been a great thing for our community.”
Klobuchar said that, as county attorney, she was shocked by the vandalism, but touched by temple leaders’ actions.
“This peace garden will be living proof that kindness and compassion can change lives,” she said in a statement. She added that the two men “will always serve as a reminder of the transformative nature of education, forgiveness and grace.”
But the benevolence didn’t end there. Over the years, Sane said, he has met the two men for lunch each year and tracks their life milestones — college graduation, the birth of a child.
“Our community welcomed them with open arms,” he said. “They’ve changed their way of life.”
Now he hopes the temple’s new gardens will continue to spread the concept of “ahimsa,” or nonviolence, and bring the broader community of all faiths closer together.
“We’re able to bring out the best in people who did the worst,” he said. “You can’t change the world, but you can start around here.”