Adelanto monk wants a $15 million Buddhist temple

by TOM RISEN, Victorville Daily Press, May 30, 2008

ADELANTO, CA (USA) -- Every weekend hundreds of people commute to Adelanto from places as far as San Francisco to see the tallest Buddhist statue in the country, which local monk Thich Dang “Tom” Phap, 67, hopes to expand into a meditation center.

The 80-ton white statue of the Buddhist saint, commonly called Quan yin in Chinese, was finished five months ago. Since then, the influx of California Buddhists bringing offerings of water, fruit and flowers for the saint inspired Phap to raise $400,000 to build a $15 million meditation center on the site.

“It would hold about 500 people, and if I had the money today, I could build it in two years,” said Phap, who came to Adelanto four years ago. “I think people will come donate money, but I need the county to help me.”

Phap is working with the civil engineer on plans and permits for the center according to Gary Lucas, president of Lucas Concrete, the Hesperia company that helped Phap raise the statue of Quan yin.

“In June he should be able to start some construction like a foundation,” said Lucas. “The more he builds, the more people will send money and the more people will believe in what he’s trying to accomplish.”

Before Phap came to America in 1978, he was a captain with the South Vietnamese Army from 1965 to 1975. He managed supplies for the U.S. Army throughout the Vietnam War. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he was jailed by the conquering Viet Cong. When released in 1977 he came to America, when he said Buddha called him to his spiritual life through a dream.

“I have seen a lot of death and everyday I pray for all the people who died,” said Phap. “After I came to America, Buddha asked me why I don’t help everybody who I see that needs help. Now meditation makes me feel healthy, happy and it clears my mind.”

Local Buddhists like Mana Aroontut of Victorville bring the monk vegetarian food to help him with his vows of poverty.

“He left everything behind to become a monk,” said Aroontut. “We think it is a blessing for us to bring him food ... There are other temples down the hill, but they are too far and I like to pray here. It gets crowded on the weekends here, 400 people were here last Saturday.”

Phap said many Buddhists pray to Quan yin since the saint, a step below Buddha as an enlightened person, has 1,000 eyes to hear and answer many kinds of prayers.

“Last week a woman with brain and liver cancer came here, she left water as an offering and prayed that she will be better.”