Chants, bells, and offerings can all be heard in the floors above the meditation hall. Passing through the gates and well manicured gardens on Park Street, it’s hard to tell that the Chua Luc Buddhist Center was once the site a burnt three-decker. “At first no one wanted to look at that building or live in it in either” said Giac Long, the center’s spiritual leader. “We came together and fixed it” he added. Long, who has been residing at the center for eight years, graciously greets visitors, proudly showing off the center’s meditation hall, pavilion, and statues.
Being the second generation to tend to Chua Luc, Long says the temple serves Buddhists living around Dorchester. “Many passing by give the center second glances while cars at times turn around to [take] pictures”, recalls Long smiling. When explaining the center’s current location he says, “We are the immigrant. We go where we have to go and gather together.”
Long left his native Vietnam in 1979, “because of my age in wartime, most of us had to be in the army or navy”. After the Fall of Saigon, Long stated that the new Communist regime, “didn’t let me do what I wanted to do, they didn’t let anyone do anything, I had to escape.” Long, who was detained in a Communist-run “re-education” camp, fled to Malaysia and eventually immigrated to the United States. “There are not many Vietnamese in the community and there are not all of them are Buddhist”, he adds.
While many have stories similar to Long’s, the center is not a place of refuge, but of worship and is, “open for everyone to come in.” What started as “place to go” for a cluster of minorities with religious commonalities, has become a spiritual and cultural hub. The rhythmic routine within Chua Luc can be felt and heard when walking in the early evening. The gentle dongs of bells glisten throughout the halls as daily rice offerings are delivered to ancestors. “Day by day we do the course, the religion course” he states.
Flirting with those on the streets, bright yellow arches bend over the sidewalks, a statue of Kuan Yin towers over gardens, and window coverings shade ornate decorations inside. While the décor is prominent, so are the many stories within the center. The altar room, above the meditation hall, houses tables full of pictures of the deceased. Long described that prayers are said in the picture room so their souls, “come to the temple.”
While sitting shoeless and on the floor in the meditation hall, one can feel the fabric of tales come together, past and present, the hardships and the triumphs. After showing off the meditation hall and a layout of the center’s outdoor pavilion expansion, Long proudly displays a photograph of a relic. He claims that the relic has grown over the past three years from a mere black bead to an intricate blood-red flower design, complete with white triangles resembling the Buddha, Amitabha. Long says that the center is very proud of the relic and that its growth means, “We are doing the right thing,” he says, beaming with joy.