Monks stay calm during California quake

The Associated Press, July 30, 2008

CHINO HILLS, California (USA) -- A monk felt the ground shake violently inside a Thai Buddhist temple, and his thoughts calmly drifted toward the birth of Buddha.

For Thawatchai Imprapra, the magnitude-5.4 earthquake that shook Southern California on Tuesday was not a time to panic but to remember the special religious meaning behind seismic events. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or major damage from the quake.

The 52-year-old monk from Thailand said he and six other monks were finishing their lunch at the Wat Buddhi Buddhist Temple when a "boom, like a small explosion" shook the ground and rattled panels off their kitchen wall. He said he remained calm, noting that seismic events accompanied the three important steps in the life of the Buddha — his birth, his enlightenment and his first sermon.

"When you offer your life for the Buddha, if something happens let it happen," he said.

Imprapra did not know it at the time, but he and his fellow monks were directly above the earthquake's epicenter. The temple sustained minimal damage from the quake — which Imprapra said was by far the largest since he came to the U.S. in 1989.

Others in the neighborhood did not react as calmly to the shaking. Gay Caldwell, 72, recalled sitting inside her mobile home when she felt the ground trembling and panicked.

"I screamed for my husband three times," she said, "I says, 'Jesus Christ,' and my cereal fell right out of my spoon. It really shook our place."

Like thousands of others in Chino Hills, Caldwell and the monks shrugged off the earthquake by midafternoon and were returning to business as usual.

Imprapra returned to his chanting and meditation, rituals that take up at least two hours every day.