Serves Burgeoning Allston-Brighton Community
monks Phramaha Samrong Maha and Phramaha Anan are looking
for a 10-acre parcel of land to build a bigger temple.
Every day at
7 p.m. silence falls over a small second-floor apartment on Commonwealth
On carpets in
the living room and the corridor, about 15 people sit, shoes off,
eyes closed, heads down. They are paying their respect to Buddha
and, as one says later, "looking for peace of mind."
This tiny apartment
is a Buddhist temple that quietly opened its doors last summer to
serve Brighton's growing Asian population. However, it already has
outgrown its congregation. That's why the three shaven-headed orange-robed
monks who oversee the temple are looking to move to a larger home
The monks' prayers
are just one indication of a vibrant population of nearly 2,000
Buddhists living in the Allston-Brighton) community, also the home
to immigrants from Brazil, Russia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
shows that the number of Asians in the neighborhood has increased
by 28.2 percent since 1990 to 9,600. They are the fastest growing
ethnic group in the neighborhood, comprising 14 percent of Allston-Brighton's
At the temple, the monks and the majority of worshippers are Thai.
Phramaha Samrong Maha, one of the youngest monks, is proud of his
community but concerned that it is growing so fast.
a bigger temple," he said. "This is too small for us and
it gets really crowded." Samrong, 28, said that three more
monks will come from Thailand in June, when the temple moves to
a larger apartment in Watertown. "We need help sometimes. We
also invite monks from Chicago, New York and Washington because
there is a large number of Buddhists in the community."
at 1765 Commonwealth Ave., the temple is sustained by donations
and offerings. Worshippers, who come in small groups, all contribute
to the rent. The money is sometimes collected through the little
bonsai that are scattered around the living room; worshippers hang
$10 bills in their branches before leaving. The monks call these
bonsai "money trees."
Many of the
Buddhists who come to Wat
Nawamintararachutis, as the temple is called, are also
Lao. In addition to these worshippers, a growing number of Vietnamese,
Sri Lankans, Cambodians and Burmese have started to attend the meditation
believe in the same Buddhism," Samrong said.
small group of Thai residents pray at the temple on
a Sunday afternoon.
an aroma of incense, the living room of the apartment is decorated
with red rugs and pillows, bronze figures of Buddha, flowers, pictures
of the Thai royal family, a computer and a television for viewing
Buddhist teacher talks.
At the entrance, beside a sign that reads, "Please take your
shoes off," there are several brochures written in Thai that
announce the schedule of the monks' meals and the meditation hours.
The fliers also appear in a national Thai newspaper and are distributed
around Allston-Brighton's Thai restaurants and shops.
Facing immigrants' needs
While the increasing demand for religious services and meditation
reflects one aspect of the growing Asian population, there are other
signs of the neighborhood's struggle to meet the new immigrants'
needs. For example, many Asian residents do not speak English and
ask for translation help in order to pursue basic needs such as
buying a house or paying their taxes.
There is a lack
of available translation services in the neighborhood, particularly
for Chinese speakers, according to a report by the Allston-Brighton
Healthy Boston Coalition, a neighborhood association
that works to improve immigrants' situations.
The report also
suggests the neighborhood should increase linguistic and cultural
services for minorities. Residents interviewed for the study said
there is a great need for multi-lingual employees in the neighborhood,
but that they are hard to find.
aren't many services for the Asian population in Allston-Brighton;
probably because there weren't many Asians a few years ago,"
Meredith Polin, a representative of the Allston-Brighton Healthy
Boston Coalition, said. "However, people should look for multicultural
employees in order to help this growing population. It's obvious
they do not have the same opportunities as Americans have."
other immigrants, also face documentation problems. Large portions
of immigrants in Allston-Brighton are undocumented and they are
most likely not counted in the census. The Boston Coalition report
explained that the dilemma arises when they are afraid to speak
up and therefore are unable to access the services they need.
Buddha statue, center of the prayers, at the Wat Nawamintararachutis
Monks at the
temple have faced similar problems. For example, Phramaha Anan,
another of the three monks, speaks broken English and has been taking
ESL courses at the Boston Center for Adult Education since he arrived
in Boston last August. Before that, he studied English for three
months in Thailand, as one of the requirements of his missionary
program. After he passed an English test and sat for an interview,
the Council of Thai Bhikkhus in the United States decided Anan was
prepared to come to Boston.
this city. I came here to pray, run the meditation and help the
Thai and Asian community. I think I'll stay a long time," Anan
'like those in Thailand'
ago, Anan, along with the six members of the board of directors
of the temple, asked Joe Milano, honorary Thai Consul in Boston
and owner of the Union Oyster House restaurant, to help the meditation
center look for a 10-acre parcel of land in order to built a large
temple. "Like those in Thailand," Anan added with a smile.
the monk, the final move to the new temple is expected to take place
after a two- to three-year interim period at the Watertown apartment.
For him, this will be the final step toward serving the spiritual
needs of the entire Buddhist population of Boston.
Milano, at first,
thought that procuring the land would be difficult and expensive.
But he has heard that an anonymous donor in Thailand has volunteered
to pay for the land and temple.
is a fertile area for Thai people. Thousands of Thai students come
here every year. The Thai king [Bhumibol Adulyadej] was born here,
in Cambridge," he said. "I think it's good to further
the culture of a country, and a temple would definitely unify a
large portion of the Asian Buddhist community."
a Thai worshipper and member of the board of directors of the temple,
acknowledged that finding the land won't be easy. "We are looking
for a lot of space, close to everybody and with parking," he
who is 64 and lives in Chelsea, attends the Brighton meditation
center between two and three times per week. Besides praying, he
also administers its budget. Setagahyuraksa helped the monks find
the Brighton apartment and his name appears on the lease.
I used to pray at a Buddhist temple in Bedford. Now I'm happy to
come here," he said. "It's closer. However, I really hope
we can find a new land and construct a bigger temple."
temple is also like the center of the Thai community
in the neighborhood. We get to know each other, we talk
about our problems. I think we needed a place like this."
Sripan, one of the worshippers of the temple.
as well as the rest of the practitioners, sometimes brings the monks
white buckets full of bulbs, pens, notebooks, food, toothpaste and
towels. Buddhists call these offerings "sangadana" and
they are a way of expressing gratitude to the monks.
a 23-year-old American student with Thai roots, also comes to the
temple to pray. She and her mother sometimes cook for the monks
in the kitchen of the apartment. "Sometimes we bring food,
sometimes we cook ourselves," she said.
heard about the temple through a friend, so we decided to come,"
Garienvar said. "I don't come as much as her, but I suppose
young people like me are not that religious. I guess we just come
from a different situation."
of Allston-Brighton's residents are age 65 or older. Of this group,
12 percent are Asians and Pacific Islanders. The monks say worshippers
at temple are of all ages, but that the majority are older than
also very diverse inside Allston-Brighton's Asian community. After
Chinese, Indians form the second largest group of Asians in the
community. According to the Allston-Brighton Needs and Assets report,
they comprise 12 percent of the neighborhood's Asian population,
followed by the Korean community, which is 9 percent.
The temple, open 24 hours a day, draws from the diversity of Asian
immigrants in Allston-Brighton. They don't only come to meditate
or pray; they can also have talk-therapy with one of the monks by
appointment. "We are like psychologists," Phramaha Samrong
temple was constructed to honor the king of Thailand,
Bhumibol Adulyadej, who curiously was born at the Mount
Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.
Monks at the
temple practice Theravada, or old school Buddhism, according to
Samrong. Theravada is the precursor of other popular Buddhist schools,
including Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. Practitioners of these other
schools are welcomed to the temple.
is about wisdom. Whoever likes it, is well received at the temple.
If there is a type of Buddhism that is good for you, you just follow
it," Samrong said. "We just heal people with our minds."
Sripan, a 30-year-old Thai waiter, meditation helps him to think
about himself. "People don't have time to think about their
problems, about their future," he said. "I like to come
here and breathe, relax and reconsider things."
Sripan has been
living in Boston for five years, but it was not until recently that
he felt he had a place to interact with the rest of the Asian population.
"The temple is also like the center of the Thai community.
We get to know each other, we talk about our problems," he
said. "I think we needed a place like this."
The Wat Nawamintararachutis
temple has no sign on the front wall of the apartment building.
At first, it is as invisible as the Asian population that lives
in the neighborhood. However, neither the temple nor the Asian community
is small anymore. All signs are both will continue to grow, quietly