The Wat Lao Buddhist temple serves as a place of refuge for the migrants of Southeast Asia, especially Laos. The community begin migrating in 1975 at the end of “Secret War” in Laos (was America fought alongside the Vietnam War), bringing with them their culture, language, history, and religious practices and beliefs. Two decades later, in 1997, they established a place of worship on SE Park Drive: Wat Lao, which just means “Lao Temple.” Since then, the Temple has served as a place of belonging in the face of the uncertainties of the world.
The temple is intricate and finely detailed. Painted with bright reds, greens, and golds, the building is modeled after native Lao architecture. The space itself consists of four buildings. The most vital of these is the central temple, where there is a beautiful altar filled with flowers and other religious paraphernalia. Right next to the temple is the home of the Temple’s monks, which is known as the “monks’ sanctuary.” Standing at the front of the property, along Park Drive, are two guest houses, both of which serve as housing for out of town visitors.
Religious practices often revolve around celebratory occasions in the Buddhist traditions of Southeast Asia. Traditionally, services are held on Sundays. The temple doors open around nine in the morning so that the matriarch line of the Temple (mothers and wives) can begin to prepare a pot luck that is served after services. Services feature a good deal of chanting, some prayers, and also a “dharma talk” in which a monk expounds Buddhist teachings to the laity. With the exception of traditional Buddhist chants that are uttered in the ancient Indian language of Pali, the service is conducted entirely in Laotian.
But the key practices of Lao Buddhism happen outside the Temple, not inside it. One of the chief teachings of Buddhism is simply always do good. By helping others and aspiring to be the best person you can be, you are fulfilling the will and mission of the Buddha. Over time, good deeds lead to better rebirths and ultimately to nirvana, release from the cycle of rebirth and achievement of a state of permanent rest and harmony.
One important holiday at Wat Lao is Ancestor’s Day, where the living take time to celebrate the lives of the dead. This celebration serves as a medium of communication between the deceased and their loved ones; it is therefore a powerful reminder that the dead are always with us. The holiday also helps effect a peaceful transition to the next life for the dead and brings comfort to the living.
At bottom, Buddhism is the simple reminder to do good and be good. These values are too often lost in today’s world. But at Wat Lao these values are not only remembered; they are also daily practiced.
By Alexa Patti
- 1804 E. Park Ave, Des Moines
- Donechanh Southammavong: email@example.com
- Remove shoes
- Don’t point outstretched legs toward the altar or the monks
- Dress modestly