Birth of Buddhism

By KAT BERGERON, The SUn Herald, Aug 26, 2005

Followers celebrate spiritual, physical growth on Mississippi Coast

Biloxi, Mississippi (USA) -- The community - mostly Vietnamese and other Asians with a growing number of Americans - is inviting others to celebrate with them on Vu Lan, described as a combined Mother's Day and All Souls Day.

The celebration features a visit from the temple's California abbot, Master Dao Quang, prayers for world peace, entertainment centered on motherhood and lots of Asian food.

"We reach out to the English-speaking community. This is a universal religion," said Thay Thien Tri, the temple's new monk whose name means "teacher of Zen wisdom."

Thien Tri, 31, began monk training at 13. He arrived in the U.S. three years ago from Vietnam with no practical English experience. The slight, short man with a winning smile was sent to Biloxi from California at the end of 2004 and is now in intensive English-as-a-second language classes.

With improving English, he now resides each Friday as Zen master of a meditation class that draws a dozen or more Americans. He is assisted by class leader Greg Breland, an American.

"Buddhists believe you are totally responsible for your actions," said Breland, a social worker from Gulfport. "Buddhism is not so much a belief but a practice."

The congregation traditionally opens its celebrations to others, but this Vu Lan has added significance because the new temple and its attractive gate is finished.

In importance, Vu Lan is second only to the birthday of Buddha, the 6th century B.C. philosopher who founded the religion that now has about 400 million adherents worldwide. The temple averages 40 Buddhists for Sunday service, but in typical Buddhist tradition, hundreds more come for celebrations.

Thien Tri estimates about 1,000 Buddhists live on the Coast, with 300 actively involved in the temple, whose name translates, "Temple of 10,000 Virtues." Buddhists traditionally raise money to build a temple, construct it, then hand over the temple's religious life to an abbot. That is what will happen Sunday with the visit of the California abbot, at 79 a revered cleric.

Thien Tri is his representative and the temple's first permanent monk. The religion has monks and nuns who live celibate, no-frills lives as they teach congregates with varying degrees of spiritual growth.

Several other monks home-base from Biloxi but travel to teach. Thien Tri said there are more Buddhist temples in the U.S. than monks, so many have visiting monks, as did Coast Buddhists for 19 years.

If you go

What: Chua Van Duc celebrates the Vu Lan festival, acceptance of an abbot and installation of its first monk.

Where: 179 Oak St., Biloxi

Sunday: 10 a.m. assembly of the monks and nuns in Buddha Hall; 11 a.m. main celebration begins; 12:30 p.m., lunch with the monks; 1 p.m., motherhood (a theme of Vu Lan) will be center of entertainment; 6 p.m. celebration ends.

Information: 435-0737.