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Buddhist monks travel to S. Florida to dedicate temple

By Peter Bernard
Staff Writer

June 16, 2003

Seven years of waiting came to an end Sunday after four days of celebration and sacred ceremonies marked the opening of the new Wat Buddharangsi of Miami, South Florida's second Thai Buddhist temple, located in the Redland area of Miami-Dade county.

"I like to look at this as a beginning for the Buddhist community of South Florida," said Miami resident Wes Barnes, a member of Wat Buddharangsi since the temple was founded in 1982. "It's a chance for this temple to start doing more things for the community."

About 1,000 people attended the festivities and ceremonies, as monks from around the United States and Thailand turned the 5-acre temple site and its brand-new buildings into holy ground with the placement of nine sacred stones in the Demarcation Ceremony.

Construction of the new temple, monastery and other buildings began in 1996, after a smaller temple on the Redland site was severely damaged by Hurricane Andrew. A 5-ton, gold-plated, 23-foot tall Buddha statue was installed in the main temple in 1998. More recently, the temple buildings were completed with the installation of windows, doors, plumbing and electrical systems, plastering and painting.

About $1 million of the $1.5 million cost of the buildings was raised by temple members and support from Thai business owners in South Florida.

Besides local attendees, the event brought 150 monks from 62 temples around the United States, plus four abbots from Thailand, marking a coming of age for the 3,000 members of Wat Buddharangsi.

"There is a calmness and serenity to this temple and this place," said Phra Thammakitivaytee, a patriarch of Thai Buddhism, through a translator. "It would not have been possible without the contributions of everyone involved, especially local people who supported the construction."

About 50 members of the Mahadhatujetiyaram Temple near West Palm Beach also attended the ceremonies. That temple and Wat Buddharangsi are the only two Thai Buddhist temples in South Florida, according to Mahadhatujetiyaram spokesman Warren Bock, who hosted many of the visiting Thai monks for the week.

On Wednesday, monks chanted in Pali, an ancient Sanskrit-based language, to bless the land. The massive Buddha statue was also infused with spirit by the monks' chants.

Thursday and Friday featured the annual Conference of Thai Bhikkus in the United States, the first time the monks gathered South Florida. On Saturday, the monks cleared all evil spirits from the site.

Sunday, the monks prayed for good spirits to inhabit Wat Buddharangsi, preparing for the Demarcation Ceremony at 3:59 p.m., when nine 50-pound marble stones suspended in rattan scaffolds over holes around the perimeter were blessed by the observant and adorned with gold leaf and other treasures.

At the appointed time, temple members cut the cords supporting the stone spheres, sinking them into their holes. After the ceremony the temple grounds officially became holy ground.

Attendees wandering the grounds of the new temple could also feast on a variety of Thai food, receive blessing with holy water and watch the visiting Thai monks chant in the main hall.

Nine men were also ordained as Thai Buddhist monks on Sunday, with several other lay people taking oaths to become monks for three days. The majority of Wat Buddharangsi members are from Thailand and Laos, but the temple prides itself on welcoming people of all nationalities.

Most temple members are lay worshipers, coming to the temple to worship, meditate and pray, but temple directors hope to offer Thai language, cultural and religious classes to children and provide permanent residence for a small group of monks.

Peter Bernard can be reached at pbernard@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4525.

Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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