Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
Bart Hendricks, left, receives a blessing from the Venerable Israt Rittiron after a religious service at Buddhist temple in Layton.

LAYTON — At Utah's only Thai Buddhist temple, the service begins with respect: Remove your shoes, bow or do prostrations to the Buddha, light some incense, never sit on the monk's chair.

The Sunday morning service at Wat Dhammagunaram begins between 10:30 and 11 — but never later. That's because the monk or monks leading the service have taken a vow to eat between 11 and noon — but never later.

Venerable Israt Rittiron, a Thai native who is the one monk and leader of Wat Dhammagunaram, begins the service with chanting.

"We start by paying homage to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha" — the Three Gems, Israt explained later. The Buddha chant praises what the founder has done, the Dharma chant extols the benefits of the teachings, and the Sangha chant explains how to do the best for the followers, he said. The purpose of the service is threefold: to alleviate suffering, to keep the tradition alive and to bless the people.

"Everything we do, we do for the Buddha," Israt said. And while it's important to study the teachings of the Buddha, studying isn't enough, he said. The teachings need to be put into practice to stop people's suffering, he said.

Following the chants, there are teachings of the five precepts: no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying and no drinking alcohol.

Former monk Manop Phaokantha explained that killing is not just taking a life. Anything that makes another person hurt is akin to killing, he said. And abstaining from alcohol, he added, makes the other four precepts easier to follow.

The services at the temple are traditional Thai, said Roberta Chase, director of the Board for Wat Dhammagunaram. "When I was back in Thailand I said 'Oh my gosh, I'm back in Layton."'

Although some Christians find the practice of bowing before a statue of the Buddha disconcerting because of the biblical commandment not to worship idols, Chase explained that Buddhists do not worship the Buddha when they bow before the statue. The Theravada tradition of Buddhism that is practiced at Wat Dhammagunaram, she said, believes there is no central god or goddesses that created or rule the earth.

"When Buddha was asked about gods, he was silent," Chase said.

Following the service, the congregation offers food to the Buddha, and then to the monk. The monk accepts the offerings and eats while the people wait.

"Can we eat?" they call out when they see the monk is finished. Then they line up to eat.

In Thailand, where monks take vows of poverty and have no way to support themselves, monks travel door to door to beg for food. In the United States, explained member Arunee Schwab, the congregation brings food and money to the temple to support both the monk and the temple.

The monk, Schwab explained, "works for the Lord Buddha and for the followers."

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