Exclusive: Inside the tiny Buddhist temple that serves half a million Dubai worshippers – The National

In Dubai’s busy Jumeirah neighbourhood there is a simple villa. It is painted white and sits beside a row of near-identical dwellings.

But turn the handle of its metal door, step over the threshold and you enter into another world.

The smell of incense drifts through the air, green bodhi trees provide shade, while a monk dressed in simple robes walks past. The atmosphere is calm, meditative and the sounds of a frantic city seem very far away.

This is Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery, the UAE’s only Buddhist temple and it caters to the half-a-million strong community here.

Close to 350,000 of these are from Sri Lanka and the temple offers a respite for people far away from their homes. Theravada Buddhism is the strain practised in the UAE and this is strongest in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Buddhists have lived here for decades but in 2009, the first formal temple opened in Satwa – the result of efforts by community leaders to build awareness about Buddhism.

At this time, the Buddhist community operated quietly out of respect to the host country before moving to Jumeirah a few years ago.

Its leaders have not courted publicity but in the past few years their profile has increased in tandem with the UAE’s commitment to tolerance. The temple is the only one on the Arabian Peninsula and now, The National has been granted rare access inside.

The temple in Dubai is open every day but crowds swell on Fridays. From 6am, they start to arrive. Dressed in white clothes to symbolise a simple life, they first take off their shoes.

One women carries a metal bowl filled with water to the bodhi tree. She holds it carefully in both hands and circles the tree, deep in contemplation.

“The bodhi tree is a symbol of where Buddha became the enlightened one,” says Susika Vishwanath, a 43-year-old Sri Lankan volunteer. At its base sit offerings of flower petals and flickering candles. “It gives shelter and shade so we are repaying.”

About a thousand people from across the country come on Fridays to meditate, listen to the monk and make offerings to Buddha. People donate food for the monks while upkeep of the temple is provided through private donations.

“We are away from our families. And this is the only place we can relieve our pain,” says Sam Edirisinge, a Sri Lankan who has been coming to the temple since it opened.

“This gives us a chance to recharge our batteries.”

Two Buddhist monks are in the UAE at any given time. They live a Spartan life, must follow more than 200 rules a day and can eat only from 6am to midday.

The monks recite some of the 18,000 verses of Buddha’s teachings in Sinhalese, a language spoken in Sri Lanka, then give a sermon after which people bring them food. Two more sermons follow in the afternoon and evening.

“It is a really difficult life for them,” says Rubesh Pillai, a volunteer whose wife runs the temple.

Buddhism is not an organised religion but a philosophy that outlines the outcomes of any decision.

“Buddhism simply says, if you do that – this will happen. There is no compulsion,” says Mr Pillai.

Unlike Islam or Christianity, there is no supreme god.

Its teachings place emphasis on a life without indulgence or greed. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and the decisions one takes now affect what happens later.

Buddhists must adhere to five rules, or precepts, every day such as refraining from harming living beings and lying. Eight precepts must be followed on Fridays.

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Sasika Ranasinghe, 34, has travelled from Abu Dhabi.

“I work as a quantity surveyor, which is very stressful. It is good to have a temple like this to release our stress,” says Mr Ranasinghe, who is from Sri Lanka.

“Our minds can get polluted – we get angry. So I come here to purify the mind.”

In 2019, the UAE will mark the Year of Tolerance. The Buddhist community has participated in inter-faith events, attends iftar during Ramadan and can quietly go about its business.

“There are no restrictions. No obstructions are placed in our way,” says Mr Pillai. “The only problem we have is that the location is too small for us.”

The community in the UAE needs a larger temple. They are talking to the Government and Mr Pillai says he wants the build the largest Buddhist temple in the world in Dubai that can accommodate 10,000 people.

He even hopes to bring religious tourism here from Sri Lanka if he is successful.

“Three million people come from Sri Lanka to India every year to visit religious ruins. Let us build it here and we will bring half of that tourism back into Dubai.”

Inside the temple, the monk has started preaching. A white stone statue of Buddha sits to his right, while two pictures on either side of the statue show Buddha’s followers.

The crowds fill the rooms and spill out into the garden. After prayer there is a meditation programme. Rows of plastic chairs are then laid down outside where the Buddhists enjoy a simple meal of rice, meat and vegetables.

Dilumini Rukmaldeniya, 29, has been coming since she arrived from Sri Lanka a year ago.

“Buddhism teaches us to live peacefully,” says Ms Rukmaldeniya, 29. “I feel the same here as I do in Sri Lanka. I thank Dubai.”

Updated: December 31, 2018 10:23 AM

Grab Sunday brunch at a Buddhist temple in Tampa



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Grab Sunday brunch at a Buddhist temple in Tampa


The Wat Mongkolratanaram, or Wat Tampa for short, is a Buddhist temple that offers an outdoor Thai food market on Sunday mornings. Over a dozen vendors serve up all types of authentic Thai cuisine.

Copyright 2018 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Tucked away under the Selmon Expressway, you can find one of Tampa’s best brunch spots.

The Wat Mongkolratanaram, or Wat Tampa for short, is a Buddhist temple that offers an outdoor Thai food market on Sunday mornings. Over a dozen vendors serve up all types of authentic Thai cuisine. 

  • Grilled pork or chicken on a stick
  • “Guiteow” – Beef or pork noodle soup
  • “Phat Thai” – vegetable and noodles
  • Various chicken curry dishes with vegetables
  • Egg rolls
  • “Som Dom” – Thai Papaya salad
  • Fried bananas, taro root, and sweet potatoes
  • A wide variety of Thai desserts

Don’t forget to quench your thirst with Thai tea, coffee, coconut juice or lemonade. 

Once you’re done with your meal, walk over to the produce tent to pick up your favorite fresh fruit and vegetables. There are also orchids, flowers, fruit trees and other plants for sale. 

The Thai market runs every Sunday from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Make sure to show up early! The food goes quickly.

The market is cash only and the menu is very affordable. All proceeds are donated to the temple.  

Wat Tampa is located at 5306 Palm River Road, Tampa. Click here for more information. 

Copyright 2018 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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7Everyday Hero leads the rebuilding of a Lao Buddhist Temple

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — In Westminster, a group people with little to no construction experience are busy building something quite significant. 

You may have seen the big red, curved roof as you travel on Wadsworth Boulevard near W. 108th Avenue. 

It is a massive Lao Buddhist Temple. 

“Progress is slow, but it is done from the heart,” said Sunnie Gist, temple member. 

The original temple was lost in an electrical fire in 2011. And with it went a gathering place for the Laotian Buddhist community. Wanting to keep the community together, Gist volunteered to lead the rebuilding effort, even though she had no construction experience. 

“I want to see everybody happy,” she said. 

Insurance covered just a fraction of the rebuilding after the fire. To help save money, temple members do much of the construction work on their days off from their full-time jobs. 

“Pretty much about 90 percent of what you see here is from our volunteer work,” Gist said. 

She said she has found local contractors to donate time and materials. 

“She has been the heart and soul behind this,” said Mayor of Westminster Herb Atchison. “I am astounded over what has been done.”

Gist’s husband, Darren Gist, said words don’t describe how proud he is of her of tackling this project. 

Gist has been working on this project despite some serious health issues. 

“She has lung disease, lupus, and pulmonary hyper tension,” her husband said. “She’s trying so hard and is being so brave with a time table that is so short.”

Atchison said the commitment she has to the temple, even with all her challenges, has never wavered. 

Right now temple members meet in a tent.  They hope to have the new temple done by April, in time for the Lao New Year.  But without more construction help, that may be the biggest challenge yet for Gist. 

“This is something that she needs to see done before she leaves us,” her husband said. 

Gist said she helps when she can, and steps away when she doesn’t feel OK. 

Through it all, she remains positive. She praises the community of Westminster and its mayor for their help thus far and said she hopes she will see the day the temple is complete and open to everyone of every faith.  

“This will be open for anyone who wants to come medicate, anybody who wants to come and learn, anybody who wants to learn about our community, our land and our culture,” she said. “So, this will be open to everybody.” 

Darren Gist said in the Buddhist culture, people put their community first, before themselves. 

“And that’s what she has done here,” he said of his wife. 

Mitch Jelniker anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. He also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Mitch on Facebook and Twitter. Nominate a 7Everyday Hero here.