Recently I had the unique pleasure of visiting a Buddhist temple. It is situated in the heart of Texas which for some is possibly the last place to expect a temple like this. Ah yes, stereotypes abound.
I was staying in Arlington at a place called The Gompa (place of quiet learning) working with my internal arts teacher, Dr. John Painter. We had a full work schedule but took a few hours one afternoon to pick up another Gompa teacher, Robert Castaldo, and visit this extraordinary place. It was the highlight of my week.
It’s a Vietnamese Buddhist temple and has been there for many years. I suspect whatever suspicions local residents may have entertained have faded into the background over the years. Here’s a link to the temple’s Facebook page.
It was a stunningly beautiful afternoon with a cloudless sky, warm breeze, and temperature smack dab in the middle of the perfect human comfort zone. Around 72F (22C) is what I think of as the Goldilocks temperature – not too hot, not too cold. Along with this, there was virtually no humidity to speak of and the overall effect of the weather was easily captured in one word – perfect.
Sometimes when visiting a place that is open to the public, there can be crowds. Parking lots can be full, the constant buzz of several private conversations hover in the air. But not this time. There were 3 other cars there and no one else touring as we were. We had the exterior grounds to ourselves and could walk amongst the garden paths freely as if they were laid out specifically for our enjoyment.
The first impression of the temple and grounds was its size. This is not an insignificant institution. It’s a large, spacious location with several areas one can visit, pause, and reflect with a sense of openness created partially by the amount of space. We slowly made our way to the statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. As you see in the picture, it’s a large statue made all the more beautiful by the surrounding rock formation. For more information on her, see the link below.
We made our way to a fascinating set of statues depicting the first sermon by the Buddha. It’s known as the Deer Park sermon and was the first time he gathered people around him to share what he had discovered in his arduous meditation process of enlightenment. The statues are life size and I felt their power as an homage to a profound moment in human history, the beginning of what became Buddhism.
Entering the temple itself is like entering another world. As cliche as that sounds, it is exactly the best way to describe it. Shoes are left outside the door which we opened cautiously to ensure no classes or events were underway. It was empty except for a lone woman walking slowly around the perimeter of the room. She immediately greeted us with folded hands to which we responded in kind, and she returned her attention to her journey. Dr. Painter had visited the temple many times so was helping us understand what we were seeing. She was engaged in walking meditation, slowly making her way around the outer edge of the room, step by step with full concentration. It was as simple as it was sublime.
The interior main hall is huge. The colours are strikingly beautiful, complimented by obviously well-kept order and purpose. The main space is carpeted and for the most part, empty. The eye is immediately drawn to the end of the hall due to a large, stunningly beautiful statue of the Buddha. He is complimented by specifically placed flowers, bells, and meditation cushions.
We slowly walked up to take a closer look at the items there. Anything written was in Vietnamese and some of the item’s purposes were beyond my current understanding. But the effect was one of deep reverence for a 2500-year-old tradition.
As I placed a small offering in a box, I noticed movement in the center of the room. Dr. Painter was standing there with arms extended, obviously doing some kind of meditation. When he finished, I walked over and asked him what he was doing. He explained it as a meditation to draw in the peaceful atmosphere of the temple. It involves specific arm positions combined with an inward intentional thought which goes “may the peace of this place fill me”. This is done for the body, the heart, and the mind. Finally, it is extended outwards to the world. He simply said, “try it”.
So I stood there, allowed my body and mind to settle down and did the meditation. Each posture evoked a very special feeling for which I don’t yet have the words. But towards the end of it, I stood there with my arms extended to each side, the palms facing forward, a posture I often use to receive the atmosphere of a place. Without warning, I felt a deep emotional sensation in my chest, and my eyes filled with tears. Something about the deep peace of the place touched me. It was only momentary yet as I ended the meditation, I knew something had happened although I’m not sure what.
After this, we reluctantly left the peaceful interior temple and completed our tour of the grounds. There were a few temple members arriving and they were graciously warm in their acceptance of our presence and were pleased to have a short conversation.
Several days have passed since this experience and the effect lingers with me. I know enough not to try and examine that moment of tearful emotion in the temple, but it left an impression on me. I know there are many possible explanations, all of them based on what someone believes to have happened. All I know for sure is that something transpired in that wonderous place.
Remember, I was doing a meditation on “may the peace of this place fill me”. Perhaps I received what I asked for.
For more information on the temple, click here
For more information on Kuan Yin, click here
For more information on The Gompa, click here