Westford Buddhist temple celebrates 5th anniversary

Wicked Local, Sep 24, 2009

Westford, MA (USA) -- Buddhist monk Ajan Mangkone Sananilone left the rush and crush of Lowell five years ago to found a new temple among the stately trees and green grasslands of Westford.

He decided that an ideal spot for his temple was the old farm at the end of Milot Road. The 2.5-acre parcel of land adjoins Stony Brook and is next to wetlands and a bird sanctuary. The area pulsates with outdoor life. One can hear chirping birds and the whooshing of the wind as it rushes through the trees.

It is a perfect place to meditate, according to Ajan Mangkone, 39, who is the head, or abbot, of the Buddhist Meditation Center Wat Buddhahavana.

 He had always wanted a place of natural beauty for his fellow monks and adherents of the dharma, or the way of Buddha, to pursue their inner journeys.

“Lowell was not the vision for us. I founded this temple on this beautiful land as a retreat for meditation and to follow the path of the Buddha. I especially wanted to have a sanctuary for our young people to go to learn their culture and have something to do so they wouldn’t be lost to computers, video games and then the streets in gangs,” Ajan Mangkone said.

On Saturday and Sunday, members of the temple celebrated their 5th anniversary in Westford.

“We have come a long way since moving from Lowell to Westford five years ago. It has been really challenging and at the same time quite fun to have all of the friends and family here today,” Mangkone told the 100 people in attendance.

There are nine monks at the temple, one is a monk born in the United States and another novice who was also born in the US. There are 100 to 150 people who attend the temple, most of whom are from Lowell, Westford, Fitchburg and other surrounding towns.

Mangkone was born in Laos but left Laos with his family and settled as refugees in Australia where he was ordained as a monk. Mangkone also received a degree in civil engineering.

Rep. James Arciero was the keynote speaker at the celebration and thanked the monks for their good work and outreach in the community.

 “I would like to congratulate the monks and the board of directors on your fifth anniversary of calling Westford your home. As a state representative of Chelmsford, Littleton and Westford, I am honored and privileged to be here today to offer my sincere congratulations from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“As a freshman state representative on Beacon Hill, my first seven months on the job I found that there was a very difficult budget process dealing with all sorts of number crunching, pension reform, transportation reform, ethics reform, I truly believe that I, as a state representative, am in dire need of attending your meditation classes,” he said.

“I need more than ever to see and nurture the inner peace in my job,” Arciero said jokingly.

On a more serious note, he said, “I am impressed with the friendly and warm atmosphere that has been established here for the last five years. Your weekly meditation classes, spiritual walks, and healing techniques, have served the town of Westford and community in helping enrich and inspire people’s lives, every single day. Your outreach and commitment to our regional community, and the establishment of the summer cultural school that we have seen today, have created a guiding light for all people seeking enlightenment and inner peace,” Arciero said Saturday.

Arciero presented Mangkone with a US flag that had flown over the Massachusetts Capitol and over the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Town Moderator Ellen Harde also spoke to the group and expressed her gratefulness to the temple and its members for being such good neighbors.

“What a great gift it was to the town of Westford when the monks chose this incredible spot on the shores of Stony Brook to place their temple,” Harde said.

“I first had the pleasure of meeting the monks who live here because a dear friend of mine is a neighbor of theirs and at the time that she ended up in the hospital one could not have asked for better neighbors.

“They watched her house when she was not at home. They brought her food when she came home from the hospital. They still bring her gifts on a regular basis. I think they have figured out when her birthday is. When there was damage to her property and trees fell in that ice storm in high winds, they came to clear all that up, without saying a word that they were coming. They just came and did what need to be done for their neighbors at the end of the road at the temple – extraordinarily gracious people,” she said.

“What the moderator of the Town Meeting does, is basically, I am the chairman of a gathering of anywhere from 200 to 600 people. I can so remember the first meeting I was moderating. We were deciding whether to buy a piece of land also on Stony Brook, called East Boston Camps. What a pleasure it was for me to look out and see, at that time only a visitor, he was not yet a registered voter, representing the temple was one of the monks. That was such a wonderful feeling to know that not only had they chosen to move from Lowell to Westford but Westford was in fact now their home, even at the point of attending Town Meeting.

“At our last Town Meeting I was delighted to see him among the voters and casting his vote with the other voters in the town of Westford, Harde said.”

Westford photographer Barbara Peacock is a student at the temple and she and her friend artist Rose Tamison taught photography at the temple’s summer school. Peacock and Tamison also painted a new mural at the temple, which was unveiled at the celebration.

“It was such fun and so exciting to be a part of this. We worked long days on the mural. In fact, we raised the finished mural with ropes just a few nights ago in the dark with the light provided from cars we had lined up with their headlights on,” Peacock said.

The weekend ceremonies featured cultural dancing by children from the summer school and the awarding of school certificates. Ethnic Laotian, Thai, Cambodian and other Asian food was offered on long tables near the ceremonial tent. The grounds were festooned with banners and flags.

The Phra Bang Buddha statue, which is the sacred Buddha of Laos, was also consecrated by the monks who participated in all-night chanting on Saturday.

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