Buddhist leaders have overcome neighborhood resistance toward building the largest Buddhist temple in North America and are racing to finish the 15-acre complex in time for the religion's international conference this November.
The complex will be known as the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple, "the temple that came to the West from the East," said Rev. Shih Yung Kai, abbess of the temple.It sits on a hill 20 miles east of Los Angeles in this upper-middle-class neighborhood, one of many suburbs swollen by a huge influx of Asians in recent years.
The Taiwan-based Fo Kuang Shan Buddhist society is building the temple and will be host of the 16th International Buddhist General Conference there in November, the first time this gathering will be held in the West. The conference, entitled "Unity for World Peace," is expected to attract 300 participants from 40 countries, Yung Kai said.
When plans for the $14 million temple and monastery were announced six years ago, some neighbors feared it would disrupt this quiet residential area.
"Many people in the community don't know much about Buddhism, and that can bring suspicion," she said. "Above all we want people to know we're not a cult, something strange."
Buddhism was founded in India about 500 B.C. by Buddha. The religion's roughly 250 million followers, mainly in Asia, believe that correct thinking and self-denial will enable their souls to reach nirvana, a state of ultimate enlightenment. There are fewer than a million Buddhists in North America.
The Rev. Paul Louie, a now-retired Presbyterian minister, organized several public meetings between local residents and temple representatives.
"There was suspicion about the temple but also resistance due to the fact that lots of Asians were moving into that neighborhood," he said.