The Linh Quang Buddhist Center near Lincoln is one of nine places in Nebraska for the state’s 10,000 Buddhists to gather. This week has been a big one for Linh Quang, which serves mostly Vietnamese Buddhists. The temple hosted the Jade Buddha of Universal Peace – a 9 foot tall, 9000 pound sculpture – meant to bring peace through prayer. The Jade Buddha's visit was also an opportunity for cross-cultural education.
The Linh Quang Buddhist Center moved from downtown Lincoln to its current location in 2007 after one of the temple’s attendees donated part of his Powerball winnings for its construction. Fields of corn and prairie grass surround the long building flanked by yellow flags. The temple’s red roof stands out from a distance. Outside, the Jade Buddha sits on a high throne, surrounded by flowers and praying Buddhists, along with more casual observers. Some are getting their first exposure to the temple.
Hundreds of monks and nuns stayed at Linh Quang this week to pray at the Jade Buddha of Universal Peace. (Photo by Jackie Sojico, NET Radio)
“This is the main area where we do everything, from services, ceremonies,” Hien Le explained as she led a tour around the temple. Le is a member of the Buddhist Youth Association (BYA) at Linh Quang. Le is one of a dozen BYA members at the temple today.
BYA members are easy to spot because most of them are wearing their BYA uniforms — a blue version of a scout uniform. They’re here because the Jade Buddha of Universal Peace has attracted a lot of visitors to their temple, including hundreds of monks and nuns.
“When you have a Jade Buddha, you have a very big celebration. And we invite monks and nuns from all over the US to come. And they will pray. The praying is what helps to bring the peace,” Le said.
BYA members usually come to temple on Sundays for services, but Christine Le, another BYA member, said, this week, they’re here every day after school or work.
Visiting monk Chuc Thanh leads a dharma session in English in the dining area of the temple. (Photo by Jackie Sojico, NET Radio)
“As you can see, there's everybody running around, helping out. Every time you come to temple, there's gonna be something going on. We come here after school everyday and help out.”
Besides giving tours, they also help set up for the nightly performances of Vietnamese singers and dancers and host the visiting monks and nuns.
Chuc Thanh from Virginia Beach, VA is one of those visiting. While he’s at Linh Quang, he’s also helping to lead short classes about Buddhism called dharma sessions. In one room a monk leads a session in Vietnamese, but Thanh’s is in English because he likes being able to teach to non-Buddhists too.
“Don’t feel like the monk come here to convert. We have many Buddhists to taking care already. I don’t need to convert more. Just be yourself, and learn something from Buddhism. It’s like education. You can go to school to make you a better person,” Thanh said.
There are about 20 people gathered at one of the long tables in the temple’s dining area as Thanh tells a story about a master monk and his student.
Ninian Tong says there’s been a constant stream of visitors since the Jade Buddha arrived.
“This whole area was filled with people. Outside temple and the back, everywhere was filled. There wasn’t enough chairs! People had to stand or sit on the floors, “ Tong said.
Tong and Christine Le have both heard a lot of visitors say they didn’t know about the Buddhist temple. Le and Tong aren’t too surprised. Le says even her friends, who know she’s Buddhist, are surprised when she tells them she goes to a Buddhist temple.
Ninian Tong (left) and Christine Le relax for a minute before helping to set up for a performance at the temple. (Photo by Jackie Sojico, NET Radio)
“They take it as a big surprise. They're like, what! When they first hear about it they seem like in awe. 'Cause like they see this and they think it's something you would see in Asia or something but there could be one here.”
For Tong and Le, the time they spend giving tours and answering people’s questions about the temple isn’t that different from Chuc Thanh’s dharma sessions.
“It's all a part of learning. And it's like Buddha was here to teach us. And so it's just like a great feeling to be able to tell people what I know about Buddhism and pass it on and help them learn about new cultures and experiences around the world that happen every day,” Le said.
Tong added, “It makes us feel really happy that other people are wanting to know more. Not a lot of people know and now they know. So it's a great honor to let them know about all this.”