Buddhists offer proceeds from temple to Red Cross

By ROD MICKLEBURGH, Globe and Mail, January 5, 2005

'Jaw-dropping' decision by B.C. master 'best lesson ever' for his congregation

VANCOUVER, Canada -- Small in numbers but big in heart, a little-known Buddhist congregation in British Columbia is selling its major temple, worth an estimated $500,000, and will donate the proceeds to the Canadian Red Cross tsunami-relief fund.

If the former church on one hectare of land in the Fraser Valley community of Mission does not sell quickly, the temple itself will be donated to the Red Cross to be auctioned off, congregation spokesman Phien Nguyen said yesterday.

"We can have a temple of compassion, instead," said Mr. Nguyen, noting that the congregation of Vietnamese-Canadians had planned to use the sale to build a more suitable temple closer to Vancouver.

The extraordinary gesture was announced at Saturday prayers by the 40-member group's Buddhist master, Venerable Thich Nguyen Thao.

Yesterday, seated cross-legged on a pillow before a large white Buddha at the group's modest ceremonial hall in Burnaby, the brown-robed master said the idea bubbled up spontaneously from his heart as he contemplated the misery of so many in south Asia.

"I feel that we can share a little bit of suffering with them. . . . And by doing this, we can help all faiths join together to make the world, which is so full of hatred, a better place to live," he said through an interpreter.

Mr. Nguyen, the spokesman, said many in the congregation were initially stunned and not exactly overjoyed by their master's decision, announced without consultation or warning.

"But we are all happy about it now. Our master has spent many years teaching compassion and this has been the best lesson ever for me."

He said he has known the Buddhist master for many years, since his arrival in Canada as a "boat person" in 1980, and something seemed to come over him as he prayed for the tsunami victims last weekend.

"After the prayers, he looked different," said Mr. Nguyen. "He stood up, facing us, and he just announced it [donating the temple]. It was jaw-dropping for all of us. We were very surprised."

Members had donated thousands of dollars each to buy the defunct church in Mission five years ago for about $300,000 and convert it to a Buddhist temple.

However, the hour-long drive to Mission for weekly prayers proved too daunting. Attendance dwindled, and last year, the congregation decided to sell the temple and use the funds to expand a residence it owns in Burnaby into a full temple.

Now, the money will go to the Red Cross instead.

"If it goes through, this will be a very unique donation, certainly one of the larger ones we've had," said Carmen MacKenzie of the Red Cross's Lower Mainland office.

"They are concerned about the disaster and they are showing their concern in a good way, a big way."

Ms. MacKenzie added that another Buddhist leader came to the Red Cross office recently to make an individual donation of $100,000.