Asian Heritage Month: Buddhist complex has grown since 1981

The Des Moines Register, May 18, 2006

Des Moines, Iowa (USA) -- In 1981, the Lao Buddhist community established the Wat Lao Buddhavas on the south side of Des Moines. The first Buddhist ceremony in the temple was held in honor of the Lao New Year in 1999.

Since its founding, the Wat at 1804 S.E. Park Ave. has grown from a small house to a complex of buildings that includes a small temple, a community hall for large events, and a house for the monks.

Temple organizers started with $20,000 for a building that construction workers estimated would cost $300,000. But with fundraisers and donated materials and labor, it was completed for $190,000.

The monks serve not only the people in Des Moines, but Buddhists throughout Iowa and neighboring states. Holidays that commemorate stages of the Buddha's life are a big draw, and the community hall is packed during worship and the social events that always follow. Members of the congregation bring food to share as well as offerings for the monks.

The community hall has an altar area on the north side, and a mural depicting the life of the Buddha adorns the western and southern walls. Outside the building are carvings and sculptures of the Buddha as well as animals sacred to the religion, including the naga (a seven-headed snake that sheltered the Buddha during a storm) and elephants.