Finding Minnesota: Buddhist Temple In South Suburb

by Jeanette Trompeter,, Oct 7, 2007

Farmington, Minn. (USA) -- Minnesota may not be the first place you think of when you consider the element of cultural diversity, but it is out there. The state has a rich tapestry of thriving ethnic and religious communities.

It is not exactly what one would expect to find in the middle of a Minnesota bedroom community like Farmington, Minn. But not far off Highway 50 stands a gathering place for those who practice or are simply curious about Buddhism.

At the center of an 80-acre parcel stands a centerpiece of this religion -- a traditional Buddhist temple where monks of all ethnic backgrounds come to pray, meditate and study.

The entire facility is called Wat Lao. It was built and is maintained by the Lao community that began planning it 20 years ago.

"We have this great temple because we have to preserve our custom. To bring those who are here, new generations to come to temple to show respect to the elderly people," said Sam Pandanouvong, Wat Lao board member, through his translator, Sue Vongkhamdeng. "We have to serve to everybody -- Hmong, Burmese, everyone is available to come to temple."

Monks live here and come from other temples worldwide to stay, study and pray here. Their days begin before dawn with morning prayers. Breakfast, lunch and chores are sandwiched between more meditation.

The day WCCO-TV visited was a special one, with a full moon ceremony dedicated to loved ones no longer here.

The monks passed prayers, blessing and gifts to those who have left this life, and offer spiritual blessings to all living creatures left behind through water purified through their afternoon ceremony.

The language may be foreign to many Minnesotans, but the mission at Wat Lao is shared by anyone who has ever yearned for an inner peace. And all are welcome, said Pandanouvong, and should not feel intimidated if they don't understand the significance of each word and gesture.

Wat Lao took 20 years to come to be, but is still far from complete. Growth comes when donations do. In staying with the Buddhist ethos, there is little solicitation or even information about how to get involved.

There is also no hesitation in sharing the Lao Buddhist way with anyone who manages to find their way to this unexpected spiritual escape right here in Minnesota.

The next big ceremony and celebration at the Temple will be Oct. 27. The prayer service starts at 10 a.m, followed by a celebration and more prayer and meditation in the afternoon.

The temple does not have a Web site, but if you'd like to visit, take Highway 77 south toward Farmington, Minn. Merge onto Cedar Avenue South and keep taking it past Highway 50. The temple is on your right about a mile past Highway 50.