Thich Vien Ly stood among the scaffolding and busy construction workers on Monday morning, dressed in his brown monk’s robe and sandals.
He looked around at the newly erected pagodas and a 9-foot tall Buddha wrapped in plastic wrap and smiled.
“A lot of people asked me to come here and build this temple,” said Thich, chief abbot of Chua Dieu Ngu in Westminster. “It’s important for the community.”
This is not only significant, it is also a first for Westminster.
Being part of Little Saigon, the community lacks a proper Buddhist temple with all the traditional architecture and aesthetics.
The Chua Dieu Ngu Temple, which opened on Chestnut Street in 2008, is constructing a traditional $6 million, 20,000 square foot building adjacent to the warehouse it now uses – a large building with currents of air with a stage and a splash of plastic chairs that houses around 1,000 people on weekends.
Construction, overseen by Thich, his brother and fellow monk Thich Vien Huy and other members of Chua Dieu Ngu, began in May 2014 and is expected to be completed in about two months with a grand opening celebration scheduled for June.
The pagodas will serve as entry points to the temple. Traditional red brick tiles will cover the roof. The exterior will be painted light orange. The giant Buddha will stand in front of the temple on a stage. Living spaces for the monks will go to the sides.
“I want it to be a beautiful building for the city,” said Thich Vien Ly. “It’s a place to learn meditation, happiness and salvation.”
Thich began his training as a monk when he was 6 years old. Now 60, he is the head of the temple, as well as a sister temple at San Gabriel, which he founded about 30 years ago after fleeing Vietnam.
He said membership in the Westminster temple had grown so large that there wasn’t enough room in the warehouse to accommodate everyone, so he and his brother took on the effort five years to raise the $6 million needed for construction.
He speaks of the temple as filling a hole in the community.
“We fled our homeland and the communists don’t support human rights or religious freedom,” Thich said. “We came here and America became our second home. We need a place to practice our religion here.
Westminster’s more than 36,000 Vietnamese Americans form a large demographic bloc in the city, and many Vietnamese are Buddhists.
“I don’t know why it took so long,” Westminster Mayor Tri Ta said, “especially since there are so many temples in Garden Grove and Santa Ana. That’s why this temple is such good news for the community. It will be a beautiful temple.
And, in June, when the temple has its three-day grand opening celebration, there will be a certain VIP waiting to bless it: the Dalai Lama.
Discussing the Dalai Lama’s visit, Thich smiled again and said quietly, “I’m really excited.
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