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Vietnamese buddhist temples in america - the new tourist destination

11/07/201218:56(Xem: 3434)
Vietnamese buddhist temples in america - the new tourist destination

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Vietnamese buddhist temples in america - the new tourist destination

Vo Van Tuong, USA

All many years long, we have travelled the whole states of the USA and provinces of Canada, from west to east, from north to south; we have already visited hundreds of Vietnamese Buddhist temples including big, medium and small ones; with monks or with nuns and even with Buddhist-layman or laywoman; also including temples belonging to Northern Buddhism, Southern Buddhism and Mendicancy sect…

Despite in the USA, in Washington D.C or in a remote village in Minnesota, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Louisiana (USA) or in provinces Ontario, Québec or Vancouver city (Canada)…Vietnamese Buddhist Temple is easily recognized from a distance.


 Anywhere Vietnamese people exist, there is the Buddhist temple. The Vietnamese Buddhist temple has preserved the national cultural character for over thirty years in the USA. Visiting a Vietnamese Buddhist temple on Sunday, tourists will experience the warmth of fellow-country people sense, feel lively through the acculturation trait between the Orient and the Occident, and also deeply feel two lines of verse of the poet and monk Huyền Không:

The temple roof protects the national spirit,
and the eternal lifestyle of ancestry

Let me start at the name of the temple. In Vietnam, Buddhist temples are often named after the content related to Buddha Dharma such as: Sakyamuni, Amitabha, Bhaisajya-Guru (Buddha of Medicine), Alokitesvara (Kuan Yin) (Kuan Yin), Dharmaratna (Dharma treasure), Saddharma (Wonderful Law), Dharma propagation, Lotus flower, Zen Light, Sukhavati (Pure Land)…; related to virtue such as: Eminent Virtue, Eminent saint, Prolonging the life, Virtue and Severity…; or related to the name of location such as Bái Đính, Linh Mụ, Ngọc Sơn…For Vietnamese Buddhist temples in the USA, their Vietnamese names are related to the fatherland; “Trúc Lâm” is related to the special Zen sect of Vietnamese or to Dharma names of Vietnamese eminent monks. Names of ancient Buddhist temples, Patriarchal temples and beloved Vietnam country are often used as popular official names. For example, Vietnamese Temple in Seattle, Vietnamese Temple in Los Angeles, Vietnamese Temple in Phoenix, Vietnamese Temple in Sugar Land (photo 01); Trúc Lâm Đại Đăng Meditation Center in Bonsall, Chánh Pháp Buddhist Meditation Monastery in Oklahoma, Bồ Đề Meditation Center in Braintree, Đạo Viên Meditation Center in Lantier, Vĩnh Nghiêm Temple in Pomona, Pháp HoaTemple in El Monte, Linh Sơn Temple in Austin, Phổ MinhBuddhist Temple in Fort Smith, Vạn Hạnh Temple in Santee, Quan ÂmBuddhist Temple in Montréal, Linh Mụ Temple in Stone Mountain, Kỳ Viên Temple in Washington, Pháp Vân Temple in Mississauga, Kim SơnMonastery in Watsonville, Liễu Quán Monastery in Warner Springs, Từ Quang Patriarchal Temple in Montréal, Minh Đăng Quang Monastery in Westminster, Ngọc Sơn Monastery in Portland, Ngọc Hòa Monastery in San Jose…    

The association with the name of the temple is the history. Temples with Vietnamese names were founded very early. They are Vietnamese Temple in Phoenix (1983), Vietnamese Temple in Sugar Land (1990). Especially, Vietnamese Temple in Los Angeles was founded in 1975 by Most Venerable Thích Thiên Ân, which was the first Vietnamese temple in the USA. Until now, many Vietnamese temples have been built and present all over states of the USA and provinces in Canada; however there have not been any accurate statistical figures. We have already referred to the list of overseas Vietnamese Buddhist temples on many Buddhist websites and yearly-published documents but 60% of them could not be contacted by phone. For some temples, we even came there but only saw a vacant ground.

The area of each temple, in general, is different. However, from a distance, pilgrims can easily recognize the Vietnamese temple by its Buddhist flag and open-air statue of Alokitesvara Bodhisattva (Kuan Yin). In some places, the open-air statue of Alokitesvara Bodhisattva (Kuan Yin) is the destination where ten thousands of Buddhists and tourists come for pilgrimage and worship every year, such as: Vietnamese temple in Sugar Land (photo 02) Chân NguyênBuddhist Meditation Center in Adelanto (photo 03), White Sands Buddhist Center in Mims (photo 04), Tam Bảo Temple in Tulsa (photo 05), Quang Nghiêm Temple in Stockton…

Temples with spacious area often worship many open-air statues of Buddha or Bodhisattvas with their lively compassionate features in the front yard or the precinct of the temples. They are the Sakyamuni Buddha statue, the garden of statuaries of the Four Buddhist Holy places, the Buddha Amitabha statue, the Maitreya Bodhisattva statue, the 18 Arhat statues…in the sites such as: Viên Quang Buddhist Monastery in Clover (photo 06), White Sands Buddhist Center in Mims,Cổ Lâm Temple in Seattle, Linh Sơn Temple in Santa Fe, Diệu ĐếTemple  in Pensacola, Pháp Vương Monastery in Escondido, Bảo Quang Temple in Santa Ana, Kim Quang Temple in Sacramento, Thiện Ân Temple in Fresno (photo 07),Phước Huệ Temple in Tacoma, Địa Tạng ViênQuang (Ksitigarbha) Temple in Lynnwood (photo 08), Từ Quang Patriarchal Temple in Montréal…   

When talking about the architecture of temple, we often mention the main gate, main hall, tower, lecture hall, meditation hall, monastery… The architecture of Vietnamese Buddhist temples in the USA is very multiform.

The temples with the triple gate are: Cổ Lâm Temple in Seattle (photo 09), Địa Tạng Viên Quang (Ksitigarbha) Templein Lynnwood, Phổ Hiền Temple in Worcester (photo 10), Minh Đăng Quang Buddhist Temple in Tampa (photo 11), Tổ Đình Từ Đàm Hải Ngoại Temple (Overseas Từ Đàm Patriarchal Temple) in Irving (photo 12), Pháp Vân Temple in Mississauga …

The main structure of the temple is the main hall, multipurpose hall and monastery. Many main halls with the Oriental and Vietnamese cultural architecture were new built or reconstructed from a church, for example, Chân Nguyên Buddhist Meditation Center (Desert temple) in Adelanto, Huệ Quang Temple (photo 13), Bảo Quang Temple (photo 14) and Hoa Nghiêm Temple in Santa Ana, Vietnamese Temple in Sugar Land, Vạn Hạnh Temple in Santee (photo 15), Viên Thông Temple in Houston (photo 16),Pháp Quang Temple in Grand Prairie (photo 17), Phổ Từ Temple in Hayward,Đức Viên Temple in San Jose,  Tam Bảo Temple in Baton Rouge. Some temples built Báo Ân (Acknowledgement) tower such asTam Bảo Temple in Baton Rouge, Pháp Vân Temple in Mississauga, Quan Âm (Alokitesvara or Kuan Yin)) Temple in Montréal… In comparison with temples of Northern school, temples of Sothern school have the common style; Mendicancy Buddhism sect also preserves the beautiful style of traditional architecture such as Ngọc Sơn Monastery in Portland (photo 18), Minh Đăng Quang Monastery in Tampa…

 For the general architecture of 10 recent years, many temples were new built largely and solemnly such as Viên Thông Temple in Houston, Chân Nguyên Buddhist Meditation Center in Adelanto. Many temples were largely built such as: Kim Sơn Monastery in Watsonville, Điều Ngự Temple in Westminster, Bát Nhã Temple in Santa Ana, Trúc Lâm Đại Đăng Meditation Center in Bonsall, Sakyamuni Meditation Center in Riverside, Tịnh Luật Temple in Houston, Vietnamese Temple in Sugar Land, Viên Quang Monastery in Clover and hundreds of other temples. The specialty in founding solemn temples is that almost all monks and nuns themselves built them. For example, all nuns and Buddhists of Viên Thông Temple themselves had built this big temple for 7 years (photo 19). The zeal, affection and effort of so many overseas monks, nuns and Buddhists are innumerable!

In general, the majority of temple’s main halls worship all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Arhats, Dharma Guardians, Burned-faced Bodhisattva, Rajas (King of hell)… In Vietnam, the disposition of statues in temples is often different according to regions, sects or schools. Meanwhile, in the USA, the majority of Vietnamese temples dispose the Buddha shrine simply, solemnly and rarely different. The general model for worshipping is as follow: In the middle on the uppermost range, the Sakyamuni Buddha statue is worshipped; on both sides are worshipped Alokitesvara Bodhisattva (Kuan Yin) statue and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva statue (photo 20). On the next lower range, the statues of the three Pure Land sages are worshipped in front. On the corners of both sides in the main hall are the Dharma Guardian and Burned-faced Bodhisattva. Behind the Buddha shrine, there are the Patriarch Bodhidharma altar and posthumous photos all patriarchs and abbots who passed away. Besides, other statues worshipped in temples are Amitabha Buddha, Bhaisajya-Guru Buddha (Buddha of Medicine), Maitreya Bodhisttva, Manjusri Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Cundi Bodhisattva or Mahakashyapa or Ananda…

Almost all big or small statues are ordered to be made in Vietnam, of stone, bronze, wood, ceramic, fiberglass…with the design similar to statues in temple in Vietnam. Also some temples order statues made in Taiwan, China… but not many.

The sonority of bold Vietnamese character is even expressed in other aspects in overseas Vietnamese temples. Besides statues, Dharma implements, Dharma utensils, Dharma garments of Buddhism such as bell, drum, bamboo bell, altar, incense-burner, pennant, parasol, Dharma robe…are carried from homeland by Buddhists. Despite living in the USA, therefore, when Buddhists enter the temple they also feel the closeness, the warmth of national spirit.

With regard to the language, all communication, chanting sutra and reciting the Buddha’s name in the temple are in Vietnamese language even if traditional ceremonials are performed according to each school or each Zen sect. For great ceremonies, especially at Dharma lecture with the attendance of many foreign Buddhists and children, monks often use both Vietnamese and English. Besides the knowledge and bachelor of Buddhist studies (Buddhology), many Abbots graduated with academic title of Ph.D at the USA, Japan, India and other countries, such as: the late Most Venerable Thích Thiên Ân, the late Most Venerable Thích Mãn Giác, Most Venerable Thích Viên Lý, Zen Master Khải Thiên, Most Venerable Thích Đỗng Tuyên, Venerable Thích Thiện Thái, Venerable Thích Hạnh Đức, Abbess Thích Nữ Giới Hương…

The images of activity habit of the above-mentioned temples prove the vitality full of stages in the attainment of Buddha-truth and bold with national trait of Vietnamese temple in the USA. There is the schedule of chanting and recitation in the majority of temples. Besides, at the weekend, temples there are sutra recitation, Dharma lecture (photo 21) and free vegetarian meal. In some temples, Vietnamese language classes, many kinds of Buddhist family’s activities, projects of society, health and charity are organized. Every year, the festivals such as Lunar New Year, Mid-Autumn, Great Vesak, Ullambana (festival of hungry Ghosts), Amitabha Buddha’s Birthday, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s Birthday, Buddha’s Enlightenment, Bhaishajya-Guru’s (Buddha of Medicine) Dharma Assembly… are solemnly and considerately organized in order that many Buddhists and fellow-country people everywhere can come to the temples for cultivation, worship and performance activities… The image of which hundreds or thousands of people attend the ceremonies, participate in cultivation courses in Pháp Vân Temple (Canada); Vietnamese TempleKim Sơn Monastery (photo 22), PhápVương MonasteryViên Quang MonasteryChân Không Meditation Center (photo 23), Minh Đăng Quang Patriarchal Temple,Như Lai Meditation TemplePhổ Từ Temple,Liễu Quán TempleBuddha Recitation Hall in Fremont, Vô Ưu Meditation Center (USA)makes viewers full of emotion. It is more emotional that among of them some old people are sitting on the wheelchairs, some children are bashful beside their parents…Everyone are also heartfelt and respectful. Their mind is joyful but solemn. The images of which young Buddhist teachers instruct 500 children to study Vietnamese language attentively (13 classes in the morning, 13 classes in the afternoon) in Đức Viên Temple in San Jose on weekly Sunday, or 80 American good believers come to Tam Bảo Temple (photo 25) in Baton Rouge for meditation and Dharma talk to the Abbot on every weekly Friday evening, and from 500 to 700 monks, nuns and Buddhists attend the yearly courses of North American Dharma cultivation (photo 26, 27, 28)… prove that an air of  new and good development has taken shape for Vietnamese Buddhism in the USA step by step.

With this progress of development, I should think that, in five or ten years, the aspect of Vietnamese temples in the USA will surely change very much. Vietnamese temple, in future, will become the center of religious, cultural, educational and social activities not only for Vietnamese-American residents in each region but also it will be the place of noble-inclined spiritual activities for local American; Furthermore, it is the place which preserves the Vietnamese cultural character, simultaneously exchanges culture and acculturates in localities, creates the development of rich, varied and more progressive culture.

With the above-mentioned characteristics, Vietnamese temple in the USA is also the spiritual tourist destination which is purely joyful, safe and useful. We hope that from tens of temples which is the tourist and pilgrimage destination at present, in future hundreds of Vietnamese temples in the USA will become tourist attraction receiving ten thousands and hundred thousands of Buddhist and tourists all over the world to come for visiting, worshipping, cultivating and activities. All become the integral spiritual shelter for countless beings in the world full of worldly impurity.

[*] Master of Arts in Social Sciences and Humanities from HCM City University (1996); Honorary Doctorate from World Record University (2013); Author of the books: Viet Nam Ancient Buddhist Temple, Social Sciences Publishing House, Ha Noi (1992); CD Rom - Viet Nam Buddhist Templesin the past and the present, Education Publishing House, Ha Noi (2007), Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Temples, Volume 1, Hương Quê Publisher, USA (2014).

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