Buddhist temple in Bedford embraces its Thai traditions

By Lisa Kocian, The Boston Globe, March 25, 2012

Except for the statues of Buddha at the entrance, the Boston Buddha Vararam Wat in Bedford looks more like a New England home than a religious temple with its roots in Thailand.

Medford, MA (USA) -- The three arches in front are due for some adornment, said Rojana Laplume, a temple member; that is on the “to-do’’ list, along with finishing work on the monks’ living quarters upstairs.

<< Community aims for wider reach with fund-raiser
The Boston Buddha Vararam Wat in Bedford. The Boston Buddha Vararam Wat in Bedford. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

To help with such work, as well as upkeep costs, the small community of Buddhists, predominantly from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, is reaching out to a wider audience, with its first fund-raising dinner and concert set for 6 to 10:30 p.m. April 8 at Springstep in Medford.

Even with some decorative detail, the exterior, with its clapboard siding and white trim, will still undoubtedly blend into the suburban residential landscape on North Road in Bedford. But stepping inside transports visitors to another land. A large golden Buddha is surrounded by flowers and smaller statues; announcements in curly Thai script are posted around the entrance; and the abbot, or head monk, wearing a simple saffron robe, receives visitors warmly and offers blessings.

“I’ve been here a long time, I guess, but I always come here to say my prayers,’’ said Laplume, who commutes from New Hampshire.

She came to this country from Thailand in 1971, and later married a Canadian, but likes to keep the connection to her homeland.

“It’s your roots,’’ she said. “You don’t forget where you actually came from.’’

The temple relocated to Bedford from Malden in 1998, and took up residence in a house that was torn down in 2008 to make room for the new temple, which opened in 2009.

The community is fairly small. Between 30 and 50 people visit the temple on Sundays; holidays draw 200 to 300 people, Laplume said. People come from all over New England and even New York to celebrate, pray, receive blessings, and make offerings.

Money is tight in part because, unlike some temples, the Boston Buddha Vararam Temple does not charge a joining fee, said Laplume. So, donations have to cover about $14,000 a month in expenses.

The community includes those who do not identify as Buddhist. The temple offers meditation classes, lessons in traditional Thai music and dance, and a Thai language school, which has about 50 students, both adults and children.

Buddhism in Greater Boston has grown over the last two or three decades, according to Diana Eck, a professor of comparative religion at Harvard. The growth has come not only from immigration but also from Euro-Americans and African-Americans who have embraced Buddhism, she said, often through an interest in meditation.

“Many of them do think of themselves as Buddhist, and many go on thinking of themselves as Jewish and Buddhist, or Episcopal and Buddhist,’’ said Eck. “It would be interesting to see what they put down on a religious preference form.’’

It’s not unusual for temples to struggle with funding, said Eck. In the Thai tradition, the temple members support the monks, who do no work for money. Still, temples in Greater Boston that she has followed have become more established over the last couple of decades.

“All of them have done pretty well when you consider the fact that they are all basically from the ground up,’’ said Eck.

There are several distinct Buddhist communities in Boston, generally based on the country of origin, which have some differences in the way they practice, said Eck. But unlike some other metropolitan areas, Boston doesn’t have a unified Buddhist community, where Buddhists from other temples would necessarily support the Bedford temple.

“There isn’t really that kind of pan-Buddhist identification,’’ she said.

Temple members hope the fund-raiser will change that a bit, increasing membership but also expanding outreach to the wider public, who may be interested in learning about Thai culture or Buddhist meditation.

“This will be the start event, and we will try to gather more people to be long-term donors for our temple,’’ said Duangpon Pongphasuk, a classically trained singer who studied at the New England Conservatory and is performing at the fund-raiser.

She said the temple is important for people from Thailand to hold onto their culture here, but she also hopes people with no ties to Thailand or Buddhism will attend the fund-raiser to learn about another culture.

“It’s not only for Thai people,’’ she said of the event. “And meditation is not only for Buddhists. It’s for everyone who wants to . . . relax and to learn,’’ she said. “We fight a lot in this world. We need peace.’’

Tickets to the April 8 fund-raiser are $100. For more information, go to www.siamsmileevent.weebly.com.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv