Center Profile

The Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Louisville (2006)

(Buddhism)


Description

The Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Louisville is located in the southern part of Jefferson County. Located in a blue-collar neighborhood, the Association is a few blocks away from a middle school and across the street from a fire station, a pharmacy, and a Presbyterian church. The church boasts services in both English and Spanish, attesting to the multi-cultural nature of the neighborhood. The large stature of the bodhisattva Kuan Yin and a sign in Vietnamese announce the temple’s location.

History

The Vietnamese Buddhist Association opened at its present location on May 1, 1996. The group was initially formed when Vietnamese immigrants began to talk about forming a temple. They went asking other Vietnamese in the area for support, and were eventually able to buy the building and rework it into a temple. All ages were involved in the preparation of the temple. According to Dana Ho, a 21 year old University of Louisville student and temple member, the elders of the community wanted the temple to remind them of Vietnam. Indeed a small altar in the back of the temple holds pictures of those deceased loved ones, reminding members of the country they have left behind. The temple is housed in a small yellow building, in which there are three major rooms: a temple proper, a community room, and an office area.

Description

A typical Sunday will start early in the morning for the young people (this will be discussed more later), and at noon for the rest of the community. The group will gather around 12:00 for a service that usually involves a lay member reading a sutra in Vietnamese and then leading the prayers. The community also shares a communal meal. Once a month or so, a monk from Indiana will come down and lead a service and then teach. This is when many of the Anglo-American practitioners will attend a service.

Activities and Programs

Keeping in line with their work to preserve Vietnamese culture in the United States, Dana spoke very excitedly about a group at the temple known as Young Buddhist Families. Children may begin the program at the age of seven, and the program continues beyond age nineteen (no specific age for finishing the program was given). The point of the program, according to Dana, is to learn both Buddhism and Vietnamese culture. The group will meet around 8:00 am to get the rice and water ready for the community service later in the day. Around 10:30 they will read a sutra, usually an easier one so that all present will be able to understand. The young people read and study during the noontime prayers of the elders. Sometimes there is a five minute meditation session to get the kids calmed down. The group will also play or do skits to get everyone involved. Every year the group goes on a camping trip where they take “exams” that note their achievement during the previous year, and after passing a certain level the young person is able to become a teacher.
There are Young Buddhist Families groups based in other cities that the Louisville group is connected with. While there are groups in Cincinnati and Memphis, the Louisville community is most closely connected with the group in Nashville. When the Nashville chapter was just starting, members from Louisville traveled south to help with any kind of problems the new group was experiencing.

Demographics

The Vietnamese Buddhist Association is the religious home of between 75 and 100 Vietnamese Buddhists in the south end of Louisville. They practice Pure Land Buddhism; Amida Buddha and Kuan Yin are two of the most revered bodhisattvas within the community (statues of Amida can be found inside, and the statue outside is of Kuan Yin, the female bodhisattva of compassion). All ages attend the services, with holidays drawing crowds of more than 100 participants. Most of the temple’s members live in Louisville, although a few do travel from Lexington and southern Indiana on Sunday mornings for the service. Several Americans will come and pray with the Vietnamese congregation, however unless the monk is visiting, the services are all in Vietnamese. Thus, the presence of non-Vietnamese participants is limited to the Sundays when the monk is present.

Neighborhood Outreach

The temple is located in a neighborhood of Louisville called Beechmont. Located in the south end of the city, it is not far from Churchill Downs and is home to a large portion of Louisville’s immigrant population. Given the media’s emphasis on displaying the negative experiences of non-Christian traditions in the United States, one might expect to hear stories of violence and vandalism when speaking to a non-Christian, especially in the Bible Belt. This turned out to be far from the experience of the Vietnamese temple. Dana noted that there has been no vandalism that she could remember and that the surrounding neighborhood has been nothing less than supportive. Every year in late January and early February, the temple hosts the annual Chinese new year celebrations. They send out letters to the local community and inform the police about the event, and this has worked in averting any problems with noise or traffic.
In terms of interfaith work in the Louisville community, the association is not a member of the Center for Interfaith Relations, formaly the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, the major interfaith organization in Louisville. Dana said that the temple does participate in the University of Louisville’s cultural fair every year. Most of the temple’s work with the surrounding community is with other Vietnamese in the area. An interesting example is that of the local Roman Catholic Vietnamese community. When the church was going to bless its statue of Mary, they invited the Buddhist community to come over and celebrate with them. The celebration consisted of cultural food, dress, dance, and other activities. The major emphasis in their work with the community seems to be focused on preserving their Vietnamese heritage.