This assignment really opened my eyes to the various cultures and the diverse ways of thinking that exist within less than thirty minutes of my community. My family and I are not too strict on religion for many reasons. Honestly, religion in my family has an overall negative connotation. I will say that I was quite hesitant on completing this activity for those previous reasons but I am grateful that I did because it exposed me to a very much beautiful and in a sense misunderstood side of humanity.
The place that I decided to visit was a Theravada Buddhist Temple named Wat Buddharangsi of Miami located in Homestead, Florida. One of the first things I noticed about the place was that a broad range of ethnicities and cultures were at this Temple. The diversity of the place ranged from African American, to Hispanic, to people from different parts of Asia. Although the place was quite diversified in ethnicity, the majority of the people outside of the temple were of Asian descent. Seeing such a diverse group made me more comfortable when entering the premises because I expected to stick out in the crowd. The atmosphere was very welcoming and peaceful.
The Wat Buddharangsi Buddhist Temple is a one-story wide, white building that is decorated with two gold lions at the entrance and gold Asian-influenced décor bordering the building. Inside of the Temple, there was a large red-carpeted area made for praying and facing the carpeted area was a huge display of several statues of the Buddha with candles and incents. There were also throne-like chairs along the sides of the building to symbolize the respect and authority of the Monks. Before I even had to ask, the history of the building was disclosed. A very prideful fact to most of the people who attend the Wat Buddharangsi Temple is that the Temple had a very difficult creation. This is appealing to those who understand the Buddhist religion because most Buddhists believe that it is through suffering and difficulty in that something great will arise. The temple was built in 1982 but construction was not finished until late 2002 due to many financial difficulties. The founder of the building is Ajarn Surachett and he was sent as a young monk to Miami, Florida. When sent, Ajarn Surachett realized the need for a nice, peaceful area to practice the Buddhist religion and to spread awareness of how enlightening the practices of the religion can be. The Buddhist Temple serves the need of the community, not discriminatory to anyone not in the Buddhist religion. All member of the community are welcomed with open arms.
The attire for visitors of the Buddhist temple was quite simple, not to wear anything revealing or inappropriate in a sense. For example, no shorts, leggings (without a long enough shirt), low dipping shirts, or heavy makeup. It seemed for Buddhists, they would like to see their guests in their purest form. The person who does the teaching is called a Monk. A monk usually wears a long robe called a civara. The civara has three parts ; an inner, upper, and outer robe. The robe can either be orange (traditional for Southeast Asians) or maroon (typical of Tibetans). There is also a mala which can be in either bracelet or necklace form. The mala symbolizes human passions and the three symbols of Buddhism. Monks are also barefoot and have shaved heads and eyebrows. The shaving of hair symbolizes the practicing of Tonsure, which is shaving one’s head for support or sympathy.
The religion of Buddhism has a plethora of beliefs but there are some basic ones that all followers of Buddhism share. One of the main beliefs is the belief of an afterlife and the process of rebirth. They believe that not everything ends in death and one’s journey continues into the next life. Another common belief is reaching nirvana, which is the highest state that can be achieved, it is a state of complete peace and happiness. This state can only be reached with much practice and patience. However, some may never reach this state. One of the most guiding and significant beliefs that Buddhists follow are the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and the five percepts of life. They believe that through the true understanding of all of those all those statements that one’s life will be guided to higher and better place. An extremely positive belief if that men and women are both considered equal. Neither gender is more important than the other, both can reach high states of enlightenment and both can become monks. A shared belief between Buddhism and Hinduism is the belief of Karma. Karma to Buddhists is the action or doing of something which affects future consequences and the cycle on one’s rebirth.
There are several major religious holidays and festivals that Buddhists celebrate. One of the main ones is the Buddhist New Year. The date of the when the holiday starts is entirely dependent on the country, however, most Buddhists go by the lunar calendar. It is celebrated for three days and usually starts with the first full moon in April. It is a time to be surrounded by family and friends and large feasts. Wesak, however, is considered to be the most important holiday because it pays tribute to Buddha’s birth and death through, cleaning, decorating, and praying. Wesak commences on the first full moon of May. Another significant day to Buddhists is Dharma Day, which pays homage to the teachings of Buddha. This holiday is celebrated at the beginning of winter.
Before entering the Temple, all of the visitors were required to remove their shoes and place them in a shoe cubby. The removal of one’s shoes symbolizes respect and also serves as a sanitary precaution to keep the carpet clean. Once, the shoes were removed, the visitors were able to enter the temple and located directly to the left were small pillows that were going to be used to kneel and sit on for the duration of the teachings. When the pillows were retrieved, we placed them on the floor and knelt of them with our knees. The Monk was already in the front of the Temple and was kneeling as well. The Monk said quick greetings and then signaled for all of us to bring our hands together, put them near our foreheads, and then bow down to the ground with each hand touching the ground. Visitors were to repeat this three times. The Monk then spoke about the importance of suffering and difficulty in life. He explained that suffering is normal, and is a shared feeling within all people. One of the things that really caught my attention was how the Monk alluded one’s self to being a scientist and their life being the research. This analogy really stuck with me because there was so much truth to it. Soon after his teachings on suffering, he had us mediate for about ten minutes in complete silence. When he called for us to open our eyes, he explained that when meditating one must be still and be completely unaffected by outside disturbances. He then had us try a second time and then spoke about the origins of Buddha and his purpose to the religion as a whole. A common misconception that I’ve even had was that Buddha is not a God, but was an enlightened person who came to understand the workings of the world and taught his findings to others.
After the prayer session was finished, the Monk concluded with a period to ask questions and then required the visitors to kneel again and pray three times before leaving the Temple. On the car ride back home, I spoke with a friend about what they thought about the experience and we agreed that it was an enlightening one. I also realized how I subconsciously would compare the routine of a church to that of a Temple and in many aspects it was quite similar. These overall similarities showed me that we all may be more alike in more ways that we are inclined to think. It also made me consider that practicing meditation might be a helpful way to decrease my stress and achieve clarity.
1. “Buddhist Holidays 2013”. About.com. Retrieved April 28, 2013
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