MATT MASIN, PHOTOGRAPHER
Thich Vien Ly stood among scaffolding and busy construction workers Monday morning, wearing his brown monk’s robe and sandals.
He looked around at newly erected pagodas and a 9-foot-tall, shrink-wrapped Buddha and smiled.
“Many people asked me to come here and build this temple,” said Thich, chief abbot of Chua Dieu Ngu in Westminster. “It’s important to the community.”
It’s not only important – it’s also a first for Westminster.
Part of Little Saigon, the community lacks a real Buddhist temple with all the traditional architecture and aesthetics.
The Chua Dieu Ngu temple, which opened on Chestnut Street in 2008, is constructing a $6 million, 20,000-square-foot traditional building adjacent to the warehouse it uses now – a large, drafty building with a stage and a spattering of plastic chairs that houses around 1,000 people on weekends.
Construction, overseen by Thich, his brother and fellow monk Thich Vien Huy and other members of Chua Dieu Ngu, started in May 2014 and is expected to be completed in about two months with a grand opening celebration scheduled for June.
Pagodas will serve as entry points to the temple. Traditional red brick tiles will cover the roof. The exterior will be painted a light orange. The giant Buddha will stand in front of the temple on a stage. Living areas for the monks will go on the sides.
“I want this to be a beautiful building for the city,” Thich Vien Ly said. “This is a place to learn meditation, happiness and salvation.”
Thich began training as a monk when he was 6. Now 60, he is the leader of the temple, as well as a sister temple in San Gabriel, which he founded about 30 years ago after fleeing Vietnam.
He said the Westminster temple’s membership has grown so large there is not enough room in the warehouse to accommodate everyone, which is why he and his brother undertook the five-year effort to raise the $6 million to build.
He speaks of the temple as filling a hole in the community.
“We fled our fatherland, and the Communists do not support human rights or religious freedom,” Thich said. “We came here, and America became our second fatherland. We need a place to practice our religion here.”
Westminster’s more than 36,000 Vietnamese Americans form a large demographic bloc in the city, and many Vietnamese are Buddhist.
“I don’t know why it took so long,” Westminster Mayor Tri Ta said, “especially since there are so many temples in Garden Grove and Santa Ana. That’s why this temple is such good news for the community. It will be a beautiful temple.”
And, in June, when the temple has its three-day grand opening celebration, it will have a certain VIP waiting to bless it: the Dalai Lama.
Discussing the Dalai Lama’s visit, Thich smiled again and said quietly, “I’m really excited.”
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