Buddhism Site Visit – Wat Buddharangsi of Miami

My selected religion for the site visit is Buddhism, and the site itself is known as the Wat Buddharangsi of Miami, a Theravada Buddhist temple.
Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the original teachings of the Buddha and is less concerned with erecting intricate decorations and shrines to the gods. This differs significantly from Mahayanna Buddhism, another major division of Buddhism following the Buddhist schism from the original Sangha and establishment of the Hinayana in 390 B.C.E. The Hinayana, a conservative and tightknit branch of Buddhism catalyzed the Theravada development; and the Mahayanna remained as the opposing, ‘liberal,’ branch [Hopfe, 2016]. Theravada Buddhism, which translates to “the tradition of the elders,” underscores the responsibility of individuals to achieve enlightenment, without the unnecessary dependency on gods or other external, supernatural forces. This is reminiscent of Gautama Siddhartha’s low regard for “the relevance of the gods and the necessity of worship or sacrifice” [Hopfe, 2016], hence Theravada Buddhism’s identity as “the traditional Buddhism.” The basic teachings for this branch are derived from the Four Noble truths, and the Eightfold Path or the ‘middle path.’ The four noble truths being: 1. Ubiquitous nature of suffering in all life, 2. suffering holds a direct relationship with desire, 3. eliminating desire eliminates suffering, 4. to eliminate desire one must adhere to the Eightfold Path [Hopfe, 2016]. The Eightfold path demands, right views, right intentions, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration [Hopfe, 2016]. To reach enlightenment or Nirvana is to successfully complete the Eightfold Path. The structure or basis of the Theravada Buddhism comes from the authority of dharma teachings or the sacred texts known as Tipi taka or the Pali Canon [2].
At the Wat Buddharangsi, presence of artistic creations was pronounced. The merit of such artwork in Buddhism is highly significant serving as symbols for dharma teachings and holistic understanding of the world. There are a total of eight Buddhist symbols, which vary in artistic depiction and hold nuances in significance across different branches of Buddhism. The Conch shell represents the resonating voice of the Buddha and is employed as an instrument to gather monks in temples, usually occurring in Tibetan Buddhism [5]. The Lotus flower represents the “purity of enlightenment” [5]. The Wheel or Dharmachakra represents progress and ‘spiritual mobilization;’ it embodies the dharma teachings [5]. The Parasol symbolizes the shadow of protection and emphasizes the veneration and respect for divine deities [5]. The Endless knot represents the intertwined connections of all events in the universe due to one’s karma and Buddha’s infinite wisdom [5]. The Two Fishes represent the two rivers Ganga and Yamuna in India, and are compared with the inhalation and exhalation when achieving mental stability through meditation [5]. The Victory banner essentially represents enlightenment or Buddha’s victory over “physical barriers” [5]. The Vase of Inexhaustible treasures symbolizes the treasure of Buddha’s “love, wisdom and spiritual abundance…that will never fade away” [5]. In the Wat Buddharangsi temple, the main statue of the Buddha was referred to as Phrabuddhadhammachinaraj Sakayamuneesriamaidulnakij and it definitely stood out amongst the rest of the ornate statuettes and elegant wooden shelves.
The monks present at the Wat Buddharangsi Temple held a striking appearance with their bright orange monastic robes. These monks had their heads shaven, and wore no socks, sandals or shoes. A monk had explained to me the “normal” dress code for bhikkhus (ordained monks) and bhikkunis (ordained nuns) in such temples, with monks required to wear orange, brown, or red robes and nuns required to wear maroon, brown, or white. I noticed the North American modernization of the monks, with cellphones on their person and the preaching monk using a microphone during the meditation sessions. In addition, the monks provided cushions for attendees to kneel on, and I noticed some attendees bringing in cushions of their own, all representative of the wat buddharangsi monk’s attempts to conform to American lifestyle and worshipping methods.
Regarding rituals and practices within the temple, I was only able to witness meditation sessions, as well as question and answer segments from the attendees to the monks themselves. The meditation sessions would begin with the monk reciting explicit instructions to bring the body down from an elevated and stressed state, to a calm and focused state. The ‘head’ monk would preach dharma teachings and how to achieve enlightenment as all the attendees knelt before the Buddha statue, with their eyes closed and minds focused on reaching harmony. The question and answer sessions would begin with the ‘head’ monk offering to answer any questions any attendees might have, which were usually other college students from other universities, or curious tourists. There are many rituals and ceremonies readily available to the public, which includes a weekend retreat to practice the eight Buddhist precepts [1].
Religious festivals for this Theravada Buddhist temple include the Asian Culture Festival, and the Songkran water festival, specifically signifying the Thai New Year, which is always celebrated in April [1]. The Songkran festival is especially significant because the action of sprinkling water on one another is derived from the extremely hot weather in Thailand during the month of April [6]. In addition there is the Oak Phansa ceremony and Tak Bat Thewo Fesitval, for ordination of the 8 Buddhist precepts [Buddharangsi flyer]. Holy days are of utmost importance and regard to the monks and are taken very seriously. The sacred day of Vesak, or Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on the first full moon in May [6]. The Uposatha days, are constituted of the Magha Puja, Visakha Puja, Asalha Puja, Pavarana Day, and Anapanasati Day; and all of which occur in February, May, July, October, and November, respectively [6].
There are specific rules regarding the opposite sexes in Theravada Buddhism. The most apparent rule is the restriction for male monks to come in direct contact with the opposite sex, this applied to female nuns [3]. They are also not allowed to receive objects directly given to them [7]. During my visit, I noticed that the demographics of the temple’s ‘clergy’ were predominantly male, whereas the demographics of the attendees were balanced in regards to gender. There were an equal amount of men and women present in both of my visits to the temple, indicating the universal tolerance of any gender for meditation sessions, teachings, and festivals. According the Vinaya Pitaka, a division of the Tipi taka scriptures, women were not restricted from becoming ordained nuns otherwise known as bhikkunis [2].
The establishment of Buddhism in South Florida can be explained by the cultural melting pot that constitutes this southeastern peninsula of the United States, its international connections, and global communal identity. This branch was established for “people seeking peace of mind or [information] about Thai culture” [1]. The growing presence of Buddhism in North America can be traced back to its parallelism with scientific theories and as a “religious option for the modern world,” or its promotion for peace and tolerance during the Cold War [Hopfe, 2016]. It could also be due to American’s thirst for “secular spirituality” or their longing for a “free-floating spiritual resource not tied to a particular institution… [or] dogma…” [4], this describes Buddhism’s refrain from heavy proselytism [1].
During my visits, I listened to many dharma teachings about taking responsibility to achieve Nirvana, independently. Mostly through intense mediation sessions and thoughtful question and answer segments. My curiosity had far surpassed my sense of discomfort. While kneeling within the vihara of the Buddharangsi wat, I did not feel compelled to worship another deity or god, but rather I felt I was achieving harmony with my mind, absolute peace. The only negative aspect of this site visit was the site’s rater ‘isolated’ location. This visit to the Wat Buddharangsi of Miami has thoroughly enriched my global understanding, perception and appreciation for cultures that have long adopted this philosophy, such cultures that would’ve otherwise remained completely foreign and alien to me.

Bibliography


Hopfe, Lewis M., Woodward, Mark R., Hendrickson, Brett, Religions of the world. Pearson education. 2012. Print.

[1]  Wat Buddharangsi. 5 Minutes Introduction. Miami: Wat Buddharangsi, 2015. Print.
[2]  “Tipi taka, The Pali Canon.” http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/. 2005. Accessed 11, October, 2015.
[3]  “Do’s and Don’ts.” http://www.thaitemplemiami.com/en/visitor-info/. 2015. Accessed 11, October, 2015.
[4]  Bielefeldt, Carl. “The Divisions and direction of Buddhism in America Today.” http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma5/tension2.html. Accessed 11, October, 2015.
[5]  “Symbolism in Buddhist Art.” http://www.buddhismwoot.weebly.com/symbolism-in-buddhist-art.html. Weebly.com. Accessed 11, October, 2015.
[6]  “Festivals and Special Days.” http://www.buddhanet.net/festival.htm. Buddhanet Production. 2012. Accessed 11, October, 2015.
[7]  “Culture and Religion Information sheet.” http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma5/tension2.html. Government of Western Australia office of multicultural interests. July, 2015. Accessed 11, October, 2015.

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