I visited a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in West Palm Beach, and I was able to partake in some of their religious practices. There are many Vietnamese people in Florida, so the temples where created in order to provide people with the chance to practice Buddhism and express the cultural values. The form of Buddhism I experienced was Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism developed during the first century. The Mahayana believe in and follow the Pali Canon. Those who practice Mahayana Buddhism also welcome the Mahayana literature that was originally written in Sanskrit and later changed to different languages uch as Chinese and Tibetan.
Mahayana literature honors various Buddha’s and bodhisattvas. The Mahayana literature encourages many individuals to become bodhisattvas and eventually Buddhas through wisdom and benevolence. The Lotus Sutra or Kinh along with other Mahayana scriptures that emphasize that becoming a bodhisattva and gaining enlightenment of a Buddha will lead to liberation. This differs from Buddhist sects such as the Theravada because of the belief that only monks who followed the Buddha’s Eightfold Path to Liberation can become arhant who achieved enlightenment and he Nirvana.
Bodhisattvas receive enlighten but rejects the nirvana in order to guide others to find liberation. People who practice The Lotus Sutras states that anybody is capable to gain Buddhahood are will receive it in time. The Buddha or Guatama (Vietnamese definition) is clearly an extremely influential figure in Mahayana Buddhism. The Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, but he is not worshipped or seen as a god. The Buddha is greatly respected and seen as role model for people in the Buddhist community. Another important figure I learned about was the Avolokiteshuara which s also called the Ba Quan Pha Am or Quan Am for short.
The Quan Am symbolizes a Bodhisattva of compassion. At the Buddhist temple I visited, there was a small statue of the Quan Am, which was a woman holding a vase upside down. People find guidance and insurance the Quan Am. The Phat A Di Da is also known as the Amitabh in English, is another important bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. I found out that A Di Da Phat in Vietnamese temples is you to greet people and see people off, it can mean hello or goodbye. The attire within the temple was semi-casual clothing, which an be tied the why the temples here in Florida are more Americanized.
My friend explained to me that the monk with a greater a status wore a yellow-orange robe and the monks with a lower status wore brown. They also had something that looked like a sash over their robe. In Vietnam this is the kind of clothing that is worn, and similar articles of clothing can be found in China as well. The robes the monks wear interested me, and I found out that Buddhist have what is known as the “triple robe”. This is made up of a waistcloth, an upper robe, and n outer robe. The robes where designed to like the pattern found in the Magadha padi-fields, as suggested by Buddha himself.
Unfortunately I was not able to go to a special event or festival, but I still got a lot out my visit. When I first arrived at the temple I was met with a house that was average in size. It was not an actual temple like the ones you would see in Vietnam or China. The house or building is owned by clergy and temple members. My friend told me that the people in the Buddhist community use what they can in order to worship within a temple. There was an empty yard as well, and my friend told me during special occasion or festival the yard is used for performances and parking.
The house was made to resemble a traditional Buddhist temple. I saw monks chanting and sitting around the temple area. Within the temple there are is a simple room with altars and pictures of Buddha, the Quan Am (Avolokiteshuara), and the Phat A Di Da (Amitabh). The temple was very beautiful, and traditional relics can be seen throughout the temple. There were also statues of Buddha and different bodhisattvas. The tatue of Buddha can represent wisdom, courage, compassion, and grace. Fancy red cups and used to bring about offerings.
Once I arrived at the temple I had the chance to give my respects, and donate money to help the members of the temple. People offered flowers, water, and fruits to the Buddhas. The flowers that are offered symbolize wisdom meaning that individuals practice Buddhism so their wisdom will unravel and bloom. The fruit that is offered symbolizes the outcome of the honorable and honest achievements. The fruit offered are usually rounded because it shows when someone ollows the teachings of Buddha; they will become well-rounded and reach enlightenment.
The water that was also offered symbolizes the clarity, and purification of the heart. The people also held a stick of incense that was lighted between their palms, then stood and bowed three times. After they got on the floor and bowed three more times. Those who practice Buddhism do this in order for Buddha and the other deities to hear them. My friend told me that she had trouble determine what kind of Buddhism her family practices, because in Vietnam people don’t eally specify or categorize what type of Buddhism they follow.
She said when she asks what sect of Buddhism her family practices to her mom, her mother just said that “we are just Buddhist”. Everybody shares the same common beliefs and values. The thing that I saw that impacted me was the peaceful environment that surrounded the Buddhist temple. It can be seen that the people in the Buddhist community hold much respect to the Buddha, Bodhisattva, and the many teachings within Buddhism. The people there were very positive and it was interesting to see how they interacted with the things inside the emple.
The visit defiantly enhanced my appreciation for the practice of Buddhism. It was great to see the different ways people worship and practice their religion. When I performed some of the religious practices such as the bowing and giving offerings, I did not necessarily feel like I was worshipping. The only negative thing that I can think of is during my visit, I noticed that some individuals stared at me which is understandable because I did stick out a lot, but it made me a bit anxious at first (I quickly got over it). I still found it to be an interesting and different experience.
The most positive result of my visit was being able to observe and participate in the traditional practice in Buddhism, and to discover the many different elements that go into visiting a Buddhist temple. It was very different from when I go to my Christian church on Sundays. It was not as organized, with a set time of when it starts and end. You can go to the temple, pay your respects, and then simply leave. The people were friendly and the monks appeared to be humble. It was great that I got a chance to visit a temple, and I would go again if I am given the opportunity to.