When we first found this place, I was a spiritual free-agent seeking a form of Buddhism that suited my life. In 2015 I finally found what I was looking for in SGI Nichiren Buddhism; now when I go back to Linh Sơn, I enjoy it from the perspective of a person visiting the home of friends who practice a different version of my religion, instead of from the perspective of investigating to see if I want to practice it myself.
Dan and I knew that Linh Sơn practices a variation of Mahayana Buddhism (the large umbrella category that Nichiren Buddhism also fits under). We have only gotten minimal specifics from the people there due to the language barrier, however, so I decided to see if I could get any comprehensible English through auto-translating Linh Sơn’s all-Vietnamese Web site.
After putting the Web site through Google’s auto-translation, the only thing I could verify for sure is that the “Chùa” in “Chùa Linh Sơn” means “pagoda.” To put it bluntly, the auto-translation reads like a Buddhist Mad-Lib, so I recommend not even trying it.
Instead of continuing to try and figure out what its exact teaching is, I decided to simply appreciate this place for our experience there. The experience we have when we go there is something that few people experience when they go into a house of worship other than their own—even Christians walking off the street into a church of a different denomination. No one asked us if we are Buddhist, or why we were there. They just correctly assumed that we were there to pray, they spoke to us, invited us to lunch with them downstairs, communicated some of the essential cultural and temple etiquette to us, and even gave us a few lovely gifts—all using makeshift sign language (with a little English thrown in by the two people available who speak it).
Even though I had no idea what the monk said during his dharma talk, I got the impression from him that he is a kind man, and he really took a shining to Dan particularly, and he spoke just enough English to convey a sincere invitation to us to come back any time, especially Sundays for meditation, and told us that sometimes there is someone there who presents the dharma in English.
These folks are following the Buddha’s path in whatever way they’re following it, I thought, and they seem really happy doing so, so it's clear that they get the basic purpose of Buddhism. When I offered prayers at their altar I chanted my daimoku for them, for the success and happiness of their community, and for whatever goals they came to the United States to achieve.
Every time we’ve been to Linh Sơn, almost or everyone we’ve encountered there is from Vietnam or one of its neighbor-countries. While I don’t have any plans to learn to speak Vietnamese, or to have an immersion experience in the community, what I value about going to this temple and to the immigrant-run businesses on and near Dequindre Road in Warren (including the delicious Phò Hàng Restaurant and Q Q Bakery) is that it expands my definition of what “America” is really made of, especially at at time when so many people are trying really hard to make that definition narrower and narrower.
For the record, I have had the privilege of this cultural enrichment because of Dan, whose ethnic identity to date has been more pan-Asian than specific to his own ethnicity. Recently, however, he has finally directly connected with his Filipino roots—including having just gotten back from a family reunion in the Philippines with his birth family, whom he's been wanting to find his entire life and finally did a few months ago! Yay!
I’ll write more about my reflections from this experience with two of my favorite people next week, and in the meantime I encourage you to watch Dan’s amazing documentary-style video about our outing by clicking here.
Image: "Ahimsa" by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker