I visited the Wat Buddharangsi Temple for the first time on Tuesday, September 15th, 2015. It was a very interesting experience to say the least. I attempted several times to schedule a visit but no one ever answered the phone, and they did not have a voicemail set up. I found this strange, and even slightly off putting, but I decided this was the religious site I wanted to visit and refused to let this failed initial contact sway me. I was interested in visiting this particular temple long before this assignment, but I never had the time. On Friday, September 14th, someone finally answered the phone and told me I could come by at 3:00 P.M. the following day.
I am completely unfamiliar with Thai Buddhist customs, so I did some research a few hours prior to my visit. I read all of the available information on the Wat Buddharangsi Temple website. They posted the “dos and don’ts” for temple visitors. All the rules posted seemed like common sense. The one thing that stuck out to me was the type of interactions permissible between female visitors and the monks. It is not uncommon for visitors to bring fruits and vegetables as gifts, but if the visitor is a woman, the monk cannot accept the offering directly from her hand. This prompted an entire line of questioning in my mind, and I quickly wrote all of my inquiries down so I could ask about them later on that day.
As the time for my visit drew near, I found myself getting more and more nervous. Even though I always wanted to visit this temple, Buddhism is probably the farthest thing from my family tradition. I did not want to offend a monk with my ignorance. My family is full of extremely devout Christians that view people of other faiths as pathetic, stupid, lost souls. My family believes Jesus and the Bible are the ultimate truth and that everyone that does not share the same exact ideal is damned to hell. Personally, I do not subscribe Christianity, or any particular faith. If I had to categorize myself, I suppose I would fall under atheist. However, I am always opened to the possibility of a religion that will challenge my lack of faith with either science or logical philosophy. The reason I chose Buddhism for this project is because I have read a lot of Buddhist material and some of it aligns with my personal beliefs. I decided to take this opportunity in hope of speaking to an actual practitioner and picking their brain to see if I could find fault with this belief system as well.
I left my home an hour before my scheduled visit because I am directionally challenged and get lost everywhere I go. I arrived at the temple 10 minutes late due to a missed turn. The first thing I noticed was the stillness and calm of the grounds. It seemed like the quietest place in all of Miami. I called to let them know I arrived, but no one answered the phone. I call again, and I can hear the phone ringing, but no one answered. I walk around the entire compound, and there is not a soul to be seen. I am a very impatient person. At this point, I was ready to get back in my car and drive home. I calm myself down, and decide to take another lap around the temple and take some pictures. 30 minutes after my arrival, I see my first monk. He scared me half to death. I felt myself getting nervous again. I had no idea how to approach a monk. I did not want to come off disrespectful. I walked over to him and told him I was a student at FIU and that I was there to conduct an interview. He asks me if I called and let them know I was here. I let him know I called several times but no one answered. He told me to call again because sometimes they do not answer the phone, and then walked off. I called again, and someone finally answered the phone. Within minutes, another monk comes out and opens the door to the temple and we go inside and have a conversation. The monk I spoke to was very nice and answered all of my questions to the best of his ability, despite a slight language barrier.
My encounter with the monks taught me a lot about the religion itself. Here I was, rushing to get to the temple, only to have to wait around for someone to finally acknowledge me. The monks live a very simple life where the outside world does not have much bearing on the things they do. They all heard the phone ring when I called, but no one was in a rush to answer it. The monk told me Buddhism is about the here and now, being in the moment. Once I was able to get over the fact I had been waiting for so long, I was finally able to take in the beauty of the site. I am very appreciative of this experience.