Le Page Architects plans to transform a 19th-century fort in Plymouth, UK, into a center for the local Buddhist community. A plan for the Buddhist temple in Plymouth. Image via Plymouth City Council’s website. Fort Austin in Plymouth, England, is currently a rundown historic site, but it may soon become a Buddhist temple, Cornwall Live reports . Last week, Le Page Architects — commissioned by the Thai British Buddhist Trust and the Thai Buddhist Community of Plymouth — submitted a planning application to Plymouth City Council that proposed transforming the fort into a traditional Thai temple. The temple would include accommodations for at least five monks, a chanting room, a meeting and education space, and an office. The grounds would host religious festivals and events, as well as gardens to grow fruit and vegetables. According to the proposed plan, the Thai community in Plymouth currently uses a small rented property. The building reportedly isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone and is in a residential area with no dedicated parking. Local police report that Fort Austin has become an overgrown gathering place for young people with signs of illicit drug use. The city hopes that the temple would discourage this behavior and prevent further deterioration to the historic building. Austin Fort in Plymouth. © N Chadwick. The fort was originally built in 1859 to defend Plymouth against landward approaches, often armed with fifteen guns and five mortars. As time went by, the fort was disarmed and became obsolete. The Ministry of Defense passed it over to the city in 1958, and it was completely vacated in April 2017. According to Buddhist Door , the Thai British Buddhist Trust has agreed lease hold terms with Plymouth City Council. The planned development of the fort would exclude changes to its historic guardhouse, rock-cut defenses, counterscarp gun casemates, and galleries. “Every day of the year, between one and 20 Thai community [members] will attend the temple to chant with the monks,” the plan reads. The plan also outlines four large annual events that would be held on site: Songkraan (Thai New Year), Vesak, the queen of Thailand’s birthday, and a Khatina robe-offering ceremony. The local community would be welcome to attend all of these events, including scheduled chanting and meditation classes. The plan also states that the monks would be available for bereavement counselling. “The proposal will result in the fort being a beneficial new use for Thai British Buddhist Trust,” the plan states, “as well as welcoming the wider community of Plymouth and the southwest region.”
HAMPTON, Minn. (WCCO) — Did you know our state is home to the largest Buddhist temple in North America?
It’s in Dakota County, and over the weekend, people from around the world gathered to celebrate a number of milestones.
In this week’s Finding Minnesota, we traveled to Hampton and found out why the temple has become a destination for Buddhists, and even non-Buddhists, around the world.
“A lot of people drive by and are like, ‘Oh, wow,’” said Chanda Sour, a temple member. “Never knew this place existed.”
The giveaway is the gold rooftops that tower high above the Minnesota tree tops. And as you drive through, the world around you transforms from the Midwest to Southeast Asia.
“When people come and visit, I say, hey, we just saved you $2,000 to $3,000 taking a flight to Asia. Asia is right here with you,” Sour said. “It’s not Hampton, New York. It’s Hampton, Minnesota.”
It’s a slight difference, but there’s a good reason why the largest Buddhist temple in North America was built here in 2007. Cambodian refugees like Sour began arriving in the 1970s and 80s.
“I couldn’t speak a word of English,” Sour said. “I was a refugee kid. The first American food I had was a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal.”
Since then, the number of Buddhists in the Twin Cities has grown by more than 80 percent. It was decided more space was needed, so with the help of donations and volunteers, a new temple called Watt Munisotaram was built away from the cities.
“It’s peaceful here. The community has welcomed us quite well,” Chanda said.
Being welcoming is an important part of this religion.
“The way you look, the way you smile, intelligence and so on. It’s the fruit or the result of the action you did in the past,” Venerable Moeng Sang, head monk of the temple said.
The Venerable Moeng Sang took his first steps toward becoming a monk when he was a teenager in Cambodia. When the temple opened in Dakota County, he was one of six monks who came to live here permanently.
“It doesn’t matter where we stay as monks–cold, hot, whatever. It depends on their mind,” Venerable Moeng Sang said through a translator.
Possessions like clothes and money are not important to monks. They live off donations, keep their hair short, wear robes and meditate–sometimes for up to eight hours a day. The ultimate goal is to achieve nirvana, which is a state where desires and suffering fade away.
“In order to follow Buddha’s advice, we have to practice on a daily basis. We have to do ‘sila,’ meaning you have to do good things,” Venerable Moeng Sang said.
It’s a way of life that Penelope Lovejoy has bought into.
“I was actually on a motorcycle ride and my friend said, ‘Hey, I think you’ll enjoy this place,’” Lovejoy said.
Lovejoy isn’t Buddhist, but a Sunday stroll on a motorcycle turned into intrigue, and now she’s a regular volunteer.
“I was so happy that there was some place I could go to outside of my world to meditate and be peaceful,” Lovejoy said.
Meditation can happen in the Stupa, surrounded by thousands of mini-Buddhas that hold ashes of loved ones. Or in the temple, surrounded by the story of Buddha. They aren’t necessarily looking to recruit members, but they are willing to enlighten others.
“We want to share our culture, our Buddhism faith. And if you like to learn, great. If you don’t that’s okay. Just come and learn about us and enjoy who we are,” Sour said.
The Buddhist temple holds a number of celebrations each year. During those celebrations, monks will come from as far away as Cambodia and Laos.
Here at Unseen Japan, we like covering religion. And we like covering technology. So naturally, we get a little hot under the collar when religion and technology cross paths.
In an article back in November, I discussed several ways that traditional religions in Japan are attempting to leverage technology to retain people’s interest. They included everything from Buddhist monks listing themselves on Amazon, to temples and shrines accepting donations via QR codes, to Buddhist temples that use drone-mounted images of bodhisattvas during ceremonies.
But the Kodai Temple (高台寺; koudai-ji) in Kyoto has taken things one step farther: it’s actually using a “sacred” android to recite scripture.
Kodai has introduced “Minder” (マインダー). Minder is modeled after Kannon, a famous bodhisattva known in India as Avalokiteshvara, and in China as Kwan Yin. Bodhisattvas are specific to Mahayana (so-called “Greater Vehicle” Buddhism), and are thought to be beings who have received enlightenment, but opted to remain on Earth instead of going to Nirvana, so that they may lead others to enlightenment. Kannon is revered as the bodhisattva of compassion across multiple sects of Japanese Buddhism, and statues to her can be found throughout Japan – the most notable perhaps being the Oofuna Kannon in Kamakura.
Minder stands 195 centimeters tall, or a looming 6’5″ – taller than your average Japanese man (1ho comes out around 170cm), and almost tall enough to star in the NBA. Minder’s head and hands are covered in silicon, but the rest of its body is exposed aluminum. The effect is like someone started building an android and, Edward Scissorhands-style, died partway through.
But Minder’s more than just a not-to-pretty face. After being unveiled at the memorial service to welcome it, Minder launched into a 25-minute sermon on the Heart Sutra (般若心経；hannya shingyou).
Kodai is a Buddhist template in the Rinzai sect, a Zen school that believes in sudden enlightenment through the practice of Zazen. The Heart Sutra is a key text in Rinzai practice, typically recited by monks prior to sitting zazen.
It will be interesting to see how far this trend goes. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, Japan hasn’t been shy about using all manner of technology, not just to spice up Buddhist ceremonies, but to offset labor deficits created by a rapidly dwindling population. A recent experiment that’s drawn a lot of attention is the use of power assist suits at airports, which enable women and even the elderly to lift heavy baggage without fear of muscle strain.
However, the use of robots and androids has a few limitations. One key drawback is that robots break down and require maintenance. Indeed, the maintenance requirements proved so extreme for the robot-staffed Hen-na Hotel in Nagasaki that the hotel “laid off” half of its robot staff. Until robots can successfully and flawlessly fix other robots, the maintenance burden will be a continuing concern for any business that thinks it can go Full Automaton.
Time will tell whether Minder is more trouble than it’s worth – or whether we can expect to see temples chock full of digital monks in the near future.
(JP) Link: World’s First Android Kannon; A Move Toward Animated Buddhist Statues – Kodai Temple
I’m the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
YANGON: Crossing a bridge to the middle of a lake in Myanmar’s Yangon region, pilgrims arrive at a temple to pin their hopes on the pythons slinking across the temple’s floors and draped across windows.
“People come here because they believe that their prayers will be fulfilled when they ask for something,” said Sandar Thiri, a nun residing at the Baungdawgyoke pagoda – dubbed the “snake temple” by locals.
“The rule is that people can only ask for one thing, not many things,” she said. “Don’t be greedy.”
In the main room of the temple is a tree with figurines of Buddha around it. The serpents move slowly through the branches, their forked tongues darting in and out as they gaze down on the worshippers prostrating themselves.
Many locals regard the presence of the dozens of pythons, some measuring up to two or three metres in length, as a sign of the pagoda’s power.
Win Myint, 45, said he has been coming to Baungdawgyoke since he was a child.
“Now I am older and I come to give offerings, which has made some of my wishes come true.”
Nearby, a monk dozes on a chair with two serpents curled at his feet, their thick bodies holding 1,000 kyat notes (worth about US$0.60) tucked in between their coils by hopeful visitors. A woman, brave enough to venture close to a python, gently caresses it.
The mythical “naga” – a Sanskrit word for snake – is a common figure seen in temples throughout Southeast Asia, where Buddhist, Hindu and animist influences are intertwined. Nagas are usually carved out of stone and placed at the entrances.
But seeing a live snake slithering among Buddha statues is rare, and for some visitors, that serves as a draw to visit Baungdawgyoke – a short drive southwest of downtown Yangon.
With snakes curled up next to meditating monks, the image is reminiscent of a story in Buddhist mythology when the Buddha sat under a tree to meditate.
According to the legend, as it started to rain, a cobra protected Buddha by fanning its hood wide over his head to act as a shelter.
Nay Myo Thu, a 30-year-old farmer, believes he will receive good fortune by bringing the snakes he finds in his fields to the temple instead of killing them, adhering to a Buddhist belief that all animals are sentient beings that can be reincarnated as humans.
“I don’t want to bring about any misfortune by killing a creature,” Nay Myo Thu said. “Catching and donating the snakes brings me good fortune instead.”
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.
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
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.
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.