All information in this article is from Thai American informants as well as some extra research I did. More information about Wat Thai of Los Angeles can be found at this link: http://www.watthai.com. All photos are by me.
Visiting Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in North Hollywood in 2006
Back in the summer of 2006 I was dating a Thai American girl and she invited me to her church, Grace Community Fellowship in Santa Clarita. Her church is next to North Hollywood and just down the road is Wat Thai of Los Angeles, a Buddhist temple of the Theravada sect of Buddhism. After the worship service at Grace Community Church that Sunday we decided to go check out the Thai temple. It looked interesting and the girl I was dating wanted to teach me about her culture and show me the religion that many people in her ancestor’s country follow. We could also eat lunch there as they sell food.
When we showed up the Buddhist scriptures were being read out loud in the soft, musical and tonal, Thai language. It sounded very interesting and calming. All of the local Thais present were sitting on their knees, with their feet out to one side. In Thai culture it is considered an insult to let the sole of one’s foot point towards any person. So they always make sure they take their shoes off when entering spiritual or “holy” ground as the shoes carry the dirt of the earth and can cause defilement. When Thais sit they make sure their feet are not pointing at another person. When I went inside I took off my shoes and sat on my knees with my feet pointing away from people as best as I could and listened. The people were praying and bowing to the Buddhist teachers to receive blessings and focus on the words from the Buddhist scriptures. The Monks wore bright orange flowing robes and had shaved heads. They sat cross legged on small pedestals or a stage as they folded their hands in prayer. The microphone was given to the monks who were reading out loud.
When I walked into the worship room for the temple there were many idols of Buddhas. One was a large gold colored statue. I am not sure if it was literally made out of gold, but it is possible. There were smaller Buddhas as well made out of different things like jade and shiny metals. Some of the statues were gold forms of the human teachers that run the temple. So some Buddhist teachers who gain high levels in their spirituality are worshipped and have idols created for themselves in their likeness. There are also many different forms of Buddha statues outside as well one can walk up to and pray to. Each statue is at a different station decorated with beautiful stones, jewels, gold/silver/and other precious metals, and jade.
Wat Temple has a small, but decent market outside with food stalls every Sunday. They sell all kinds of fruits and delicious Thai food. It is all very cheap and it’s fun to try all of the different kinds of food present. To buy food we had to convert our money into temple money, which were small tokens used to buy everything there. I think Wat Temple is a great place to hang out and have some delicious Thai snacks at a really cheap price. It is also great to experience another people’s culture. The temple is a cultural center for Thai Americans as even Thai dance lessons, language and other cultural things are taught there. After our temple visit inside, we had a nice time of fellowship outside as my grilfriend’s mother and her friend told me about Thailand, the culture and other interesting things. All of the Thais eating around us were speaking in the musical, soft language of Thai. The only other white people around me were the 2 other guys with their wives. Interesting. This experience gave me a deeper knowledge of Buddhism and Thai culture.
Buddhists, like Hindus, believe in the cycle of reincarnation. They believe that there is an endless cycle of rebirth in all creatures, and that the universe creates and recreates itself millions of times every fraction of a second. In fact, each Buddha is considered a reincarnated form of the original Buddha who was a human teacher. Jesus Christ is even considered just another form of the incarnation of Buddha in history. Therevada (Thai Buddhism) does not believe in a creator or a supreme God. Instead, everything is eternally existing in the cycle of rebirth. Some Therevada Buddhists believe it to be irrelevent wether or not there is a Creator being and it is futile to focus on sucha being. It is not something they think about. Instead, it is about human enlightenment and focus on the self. Other beliefs about the universe in Buddhism are that “Phenomena exist ‘objectively,’ but there are worlds and beings beyond the normal experience” (The Encyclopedia of World Faiths, 1989, p. 228). The ideas of spirits, ghosts, and deities exist. “In Buddhism there are five states of existences, the good states of deity and humanity and the evil states of animal, hungry ghost (Preta), and denizen of hell” (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, 1981, p. 126).
When viewing this as a Christian it is easy to see the forms of idolatry: idol worship and the worship of a false idea of God or non-gods who are enlightened humans; and works based salvation. There is no emphasis on absolute truth, as anything can be true for oneself. Buddhism is a very personal belief system for the individual to decide. Even so, it is all about work and discipline from the self that will earn points or karma that helps a person become enlightened which will let them escape reincarnation. Karma is a word that means “deed” or “action” and positive results are dispensed out when one practices good karma. Other sects of Buddhism believe that the supreme god gives out, or other lesser gods working together with an enlightened teacher dispenses out the fruits of karma. Good results when a person earns it by their own actions. These fruits that result from good karma are not freely given. On the other hand, the Thai Buddhists in the Therevada sect believe that the natural laws of cause and effect are what results in good or bad karma. Nonetheless, there is no help from God to make the first move in order to bring someone into salvation to draw the person to Himself. It is by a person’s own merit the brings it. Buddhism is a religion of the self where inner focus is the sole purpose of one’s life so that they can bring themselves into salvation from the cycle of reincarnation. This is actually a selfish concept in reality.
Buddha, who’s name was Siddhārtha Gautama and was a Hindu noble, was born in Nepal and he traveled to India where he originated his idea of Buddhism. The word Buddha is a title for a person that means “awakened one” or “enlightened one.” So Gautama was the 29th enlightened person who escaped reincarnation. There were 28 Buddhas before him according to Therevada beliefs. From there the religion spread out in one form or another all throughout Asia. Buddhists of South Asia, especially Thailand, tend to follow the Theravada sect which is the world’s oldest sect of Buddhism. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes Buddhist doctrine as the following:
“The basic doctrines of early Buddhism, which remain common to all Buddhism, include the “four noble truths” : existence is suffering (dukhka); suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment (trishna); there is a cessation of suffering, which is nirvana; and there is a path to the cessation of suffering, the “eightfold path” of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Buddhism characteristically describes reality in terms of process and relation rather than entity or substance” (www.yahoo.com/reference/encyclopedia).
So it can be understood that the goal of Buddhism is to change how one relates to the world. Sire (1997) states, “Buddhism shares many of the features of Hinduism but differs with it at a key point—the nature of ultimate reality” (p. 121). According to Buddhism we are all one and everything is united together to form one ultimate reality; which can be considered god. Realizing this is done by giving up desire and meditating for long hours to reach the next levels of Buddhism. Depriving oneself of all forms of desire and pelasure is the goal. This causes suffering, but then the suffering ceases that brings one into the right mindset. Chants are done as well from Buddhist scriptures and other sayings from the past teachers. Eventually the Buddhist will reach their idea of god, which is nirvana, the state of unity with the oneness of energy. God to them is in everything so this is a pantheistic, monistic, form of religion. Even so, some Buddhists in the Mahayana sect worship the Buddha as god and call him lord. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions states,
“In Mahayana Buddhism [there is the idea] of an eternal Buddha who embodies the absolute truth…the Lotus Sutra teaches that Buddha has lived since the beginningless time and will live for countless ages in the future…[he] manifests himself from time to time as an earthly Buddha to live and work among men” (p. 129).
Guatama never commanded in writng for himself to be worshiped as most Buddhist sympathizers will point out, but it does not mean that he rejected it, or that he did not desire people to worship him. Since all is one and one is all part of the ultimate reality it means that everyone is god and it is okay to worship them. Some teachers are literally worshipped today as well as can be seen by the idols of teachers in the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in North Hollywood. To become spiritually powerful one has to follow all of the hard disciplines of Buddhism.
Escaping reincanration is not an easy task as it can take many lifetimes to master. If a person is bad in this life he will be reborn later as a lower form of entity such as an animal. Over time through intense religious discipline a soul can reach nirvana and escape reincarnation. Some can become Buddhas themselves. Buddhism is a hard religion to understand as there is no focus on absolute truth, so knowing the rules exactly is difficult. Buddhism claims to not be a judgmental religion, but in reality it creates peitistic religious practitioners called monks who live a monastic and “holy” life through their own work to reach ultimate reality. In this way judgmental attitudes of self-righteousness are born. If one does not do such regorous discipline —following all the rules, completing all the rituals and acting in all the correctly moral ways—they are not considered as holy and lack the karma points to get them to the next level.
It is my opinion that Thai people and Thai Buddhists themselves are very kind, and loving people. They are full of respect, and courtesy. The Buddhists were hospitable and allowed me as a foreigner to enjoy their temple grounds. My Christian, Thai, American girlfriend at the time, and her Christian mother and her friend were wonderful people who helped me learn about Thai culture as well. Even so, Thai Buddhists, or any unbelieving Thai is in need of God’s salvation. No man can gain his own righteousness as all men have sinned (Romans 3:23).
In reality, Buddhists are not worshiping the true God, but instead have created their own personal idea of what God is. There is no true salvation through self-discipline acquired by the self. Only God gives people the conviction of truth that saves them through His grace. There is no God, but the Lord which is found through the Christian Bible. The truth is that no one seeks after God as it says in Romans 3:10-11, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.” There is no possible way a man is saved without the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. God loves sinners first and brings them into conviction by the Holy Spirit. Focusing on the inner-self is futile as man’s heart is exceedingly wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Only God gives a human the power of self-discipline to avoid sin and seek a holy life. The result of salvation pushes a human to have a Holy Spirit acquired desire to live righteousnly and pelase God. Man on His own cannot possibly please God or earn points to escape the flesh, such as what is taught about karma.
Many Buddhists have no concern with converting anyone to their religion, and many are cultural Buddhists whom are Buddhists in name only, and not by religious practice. The way to evangelize any Buddhist is to get them to see their own human depravity. The only faith that promises salvation through God alone and forgiveness of sins is Christianity. Christianity is not only a gospel of grace, but is a gospel of justice. Christianity punishes evil; that is why Christ died for our sins, to punish the evil we committed and it will be destroyed. God punishes sin and will judge all men after death. There is no such thing as reincarnation as it says in Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” With Buddhism there is no end to the cycle of sin and corruption, it is simply just reborn into an animal form where one has to earn good points to get back up the level to human and thus, eventually to Buddha status if even possible. Also, the universe is recreated by itself all the time and the cycle of reincarnation with the sins in the world are just reborn. With Jesus Christ, we have freedom and purity with salvation! Buddhists will only come to salvation by focusing on the true God, not the self. This can only happen if they understand the nature of the self, that it is depraved and there is no way out. Only through the forgiveness of sins by the true God; our savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13) can humans be enlightened and escape the cycle of sin we live in.
(1989). The Encyclopedia of World Faiths. Facts on File: New York, NY.
Yahoo Columbia Encyclopedia. (2006). Retrieved November, 17,
2009 from http://education.yahoo.com/reference/
Sire, J. (1997). The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, IL: