A two-tiered wooden temple surrounded by Buddha statues rises on the edge of Tacoma’s East Side as a source of pride and inspiration for Vietnamese Buddhists.
Abbot Thich Phuoc Toan has dreamed of building the temple since he founded the Vietnamese Buddhist community in Pierce County in 1994. After 16 years of planning, fundraising and finally construction, the $1.6 million temple complex is finished. With dragon dancing and bell-ringing, a crowd Sunday celebrated the grand opening of Phuoc Hue Meditation & Cultural Cente r.
“I feel so happy,” Toan said. “It’s a dream come true for everybody.”
The new building adds to the range of Buddhist temples in Pierce County, which includes Japanese, Cambodian and Korean temples.
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The Vietnamese temple, with space for 250 people to chant and meditate, provides much-needed room to grow. The adjacent house, which has served as a temple since 2002, holds only 50 people.
Toan, 52, raised money for the project whenever he spoke at temples around the United States and Canada. He knocked on doors at homes of Vietnamese Buddhists during his travels, asking for donations.
Tuyet Nguyen , the temple’s secretary-treasurer, said the temple provides more room to meditate, chant and meet together. With the crowded house temple, “they stay home,” she said. “Now it will give them the opportunity to come and participate.”
About 150 families are members of the temple. The temple has chanting and meditation at 11 a.m. on Sundays and classes in Vietnamese language and Buddhism for children and teenagers at 5 p.m. on Fridays.
“I’m really proud that we have this to serve the comm u n i t y and also to honor the Buddha,” Nguyen said. “The beauty of the temple will attract the young people.”
The Vietnamese population has grown in Pierce County since the influx of refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s after the end of the Vietnam War. Nguyen, a refugee who came to Tacoma in 1980, said the population is still increasing as families grow and relatives here sponsor more of their children in Vietnam to immigrate.
Turnouts at the temple for Buddhist holidays and special events attract at least 600 people, drawing Buddhists from Seattle to Olympia. The temple has been in use since February while work was finished.
The nearly 10,000-squarefoot meditation and cultural center consists of the temple and a building called the warehouse, which can be used for storage or seat 300 people to hear Vietnamese singers.
The 6-acre site is meticulously landscaped with flowers, plants and trees and decorated with several large marble Buddha statues.
The grounds include the 3,000-pound copper bell that was stolen in 2005 and returned nearly two years later by a man who bought it at an auction.
The two-tone gray temple stands out with its gently sloping and pointed roofs, reflecting traditional Vietnamese and Japanese design, Nguyen said. Inside, the centerpiece of the altar area is a 12-foot-tall, 6,000-pound copper Buddha statue, custom-made in Vietnam. The altar area is adorned with orchids.
Bookcases on each side contain six small Buddha statues and dozens of copies of chants and meditations – called the Sutra – in Vietnamese.
Three chandeliers light the interior and its dark hardwood floors. Orange cushions for meditating are stacked on the sides.
Several marble statues on the grounds depict stages of the Buddha’s life: his birth, enlightenment, first lesson and death. Other marble Buddha statues stand at entrances, symbolizing virtue, compassion and wisdom.
Toan even had a “happy Buddha” sculpted on back of the exterior sign he designed for the temple at 2625 E. 72nd St.
The statues serve as reminders, Nguyen said.
“The Buddha is our teacher,” she said. “The more we look at the Buddha, the more we remember his teaching. If you follow his teaching, you can become a Buddha as well.”
The faith’s teachings were established in India more than 2,500 years ago by religious philosopher Siddhartha Gautama . Buddhists believe Gautama experienced enlightenment and showed the way to escape human suffering by letting go of uncertainty in this world. Buddhism is nontheistic and teaches that liberation from suffering can be achieved through meditation.
The core of Buddhist teaching is “to do no evil, to perform good and to purify your mind,” Nguyen said. Meditation is a way to ease stress and obtain wisdom and peace of mind, she said.
Mark Trinh has been part of the Vietnamese Buddhist community since the beginning when Toan opened a temple in a house in the 1300 block of East 48th Street.
“This is the biggest thing in life for me,” said Trinh, 75, chairman of the fundraising committee. “We have to spread the teachings of Buddha to everyone.”
Trinh estimated $1 million in money and in-kind services has been raised. The temple borrowed another $600,000 – about half from a bank and half from its members , Nguyen said.
The local Vietnamese Buddhist community pitched in with money and by doing much of the work on the temple. So far, 150 families have donated $500 each to have a foot-tall Buddha statue placed on the “Buddha wall” in the foyer to the temple. The wall has slots for 600 .
A small minority of members are not of Vietnamese descent. Bob Gach , 70, who knows Vietnamese from serving in the Vietnam War, has been part of the community for just a month, but said he feels comfortable.
He paused to admire the new temple while setting up lamp posts last week to get the grounds ready.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Gach said.