Pilgrimage Across the Cape Fear Region

My visit to the Chua Tung Lam Vietnamese Buddhist Temple in Wilmington was greeted with a warm smile from Thay, the monk who leads services and manages the temple.  The temple is located on Gordon Road and follows the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism.  Thay began our conversation with an introduction to the Quan Am statue on the grounds of the temple.

A beautiful, large white statue of Quan Am towers above the entrance to the temple.  Seated upon a huge, white lotus flower, the symbol of purity, she welcomes devotees. She holds a small vase tipped downward, releasing a stream of healing water that blesses all living things with physical and spiritual peace. It is the “water of life.”  Quan Am is the embodiment of compassion and loving kindness and she hears the cries of all beings.  She is considered a bodhisattva, someone that devotes their life to easing the suffering of others. She is called the “Goddess of Mercy” and “a Virgin Goddess.”  The courtyard surrounding Quan Am has small benches available for meditation and prayer. Before her lies an altar, adorned with offerings of flowers, fruit, incense, and small covered jars filled with clean water.

Quan Am is prayed to for guidance, fertility, and protection. Thay emphasized that before the devotees receive the blessings of Quan Am, they must first expel all inner pollution and replace it with kindness, generosity, and an ethical life.  This is the path to true happiness.

The large inner temple sanctuary is filled with many ornate golden statues that were brought to Wilmington from Vietnam. A huge, golden Buddha sitting on a bright pink lotus flower, dominates the center of the room. Outside is an extended patio with a beautiful garden and snarled bodhi trees. Here, another altar shines with the sacred symbols of Buddhism. The weekly services are held in Vietnamese, with two services in English led by Thay’s Master each year. Thay hopes that as the temple grows, they will be able to offer classes in Buddhism and more services in English.

“If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness follows them like a never-ending shadow”   – Gautama Buddha

In July, Buddhists celebrate Asalha Puja, also called Dhamma Day, on the full moon of the eighth lunar month.  Dhamma Day celebrates the beginning of Buddhism.  It commemorates the first sermon of Buddha after his enlightenment.  In Buddha’s first sermon, he discussed the four noble truths: Life means suffering, the origin of suffering is attachment or craving, cessation of suffering is attainable, and the way of cessation is via the eightfold path; right understanding, right view, right speech,right actions, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.  Buddhists around the world celebrate Dhamma Day with readings of Buddhist scriptures and gratitude for the Buddha’s teachings.

Written by Laura Frank | Photo by Phil Mancuso

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