Photographs by Anne Hiles

The Path to Enlightenment

By Meg Eppel | Feb - March 2006

Founded in 500 BC, Buddhism is a religion that is 2,500 years old. Today over 350 million people follow the way of the Buddha. Buddhists believe in Buddha’s teachings, “the Dharma,” and the religious community Buddha founded, “the Sangha.”

The majority of followers live in Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and Japan. However, there are Buddhists worldwide, including here in North County. The Thai Buddhist Temple of California, “Wat Buddhajakramongkolratanaram” is located at 139 11th Avenue in Escondido.

The temple is in a typical neighborhood and at first glance resembles one of many houses on the block. Looking closer, a visitor will notice Thai writing on top of the temple building, and a gazebo with a gold statue in the front yard. The statue and gazebo are both new, having been purchased with money from a recent temple fundraiser.

There is also a shrine with candles and small elephant statuettes to the right of the gold statue. There are three buildings on the property; the temple, the monks’ house, and a dance studio. The temple also rents out a recreational hall next door for special events.

To enter the temple visitors must remove their shoes to step on the bright red carpet. In the back of the room is a large gold statue with incense and a pillow placed in front of it for prayer. To the left are several pillows against the wall for the monks to sit.

In the back half of the building is the kitchen where the monks cook. In many temples the monks do not cook for themselves. Part of the Sangha dictates that members are expected to honor Buddha, following basic moral rules to support the monks. Part of supporting the monks includes preparing their meals.

The monks eat first, and then the members. Monks eat all of their meals before noon and then fast until the next day. Gary Brailey, the temple tour guide, told me that this was the only place to find authentic Thai food in the area.

Outside the kitchen is a back patio with picnic tables for members and visitors. To the right is the dance studio. Here the children learn traditional dance and music. Every summer a teacher from Thailand comes to the temple for three months to teach dance, music, and language.

There are dance performances once a month at the temple. Once a year, the temple hosts a festival at Kit Carson Park; 2000-3000 people attend every year. The temple also hosts a New Year’s party for any who wish to attend.

In front of the dance studio is the monks’ house. Currently there are four monks at this particular temple. The discipline of monastic life is considered essential to those who seriously seek nirvana.

The monks wear robes to distinguish themselves from other members of the community. They are expected to live a life of poverty, meditation, and study. They are also expected to avoid any kind of sexual activity. Some remain monks for life and others only for short periods of time.

Followers of Buddhism believe existence is a constant cycle of death and re-birth. One’s current position in life is a direct reflection of a person’s previous life. This cycle is always filled with many pains, and the only way to escape is by reaching a “state of peace” or “happiness nirvana.” This is achieved by losing attachment to worldly items and beliefs.

One way to reach nirvana is through “The Middle Way.” This way of life avoids both uncontrolled satisfaction of human desires, and extreme forms of self-denial and self-torture. Another concept is “The Noble Eightfold Path.” The eight practices include the knowledge of truth, resisting evil, not hurting others, controlling one’s thoughts and feelings, and practicing forms of concentration.

“You don’t have to go to the temple and pray, it’s really a way of life,” Brailey said.

After visiting this temple; I would have to agree. Buddhists must follow a strict path to enlightenment, immersing every aspect of their lifestyle into their beliefs. One must be acutely disciplined, and totally devoted to the ways of Buddha, if they ever hope to reach a peaceful state of nirvana.

For more information about “Wat Buddhajakramongkolratanaram” call (760) 738-6165 or go to www.watthaisandiego.org.

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