Chùa Điều Ngự (Dieu Ngu Temple)

Last week­end, I had plans to go on an Atlas Obscu­ra tour, but then my par­ents decid­ed they would be com­ing down for a sur­prise vis­it. My mother’s local Bud­dhist tem­ple told her that the Dalai Lama was com­ing to West­min­ster to speak at the grand open­ing of a new Viet­name­se Bud­dhist tem­ple, Chùa Điều Ngự. I want­ed to play with wolves, but see­ing the Dalai Lama was an oppor­tu­ni­ty of a life­time! Plus, you know… spend­ing time with my par­ents over Father’s Day week­end.

Dalai Lama

Friday

My par­ents picked up Dong Ha and Gam­bit on Fri­day and drove down, meet­ing up with me as I got off work. We met up with my aunt’s fam­i­ly for din­ner at Mirada Restau­rant in Foun­tain Val­ley. My aunt told us that it is appar­ent­ly Thai-owned and His­pan­ic-staffed, but well known for their Viet­name­se food, par­tic­u­lar­ly the canh chua (sour soup) and cá kho (braised fish). My cous­in, though, told us the most impres­sive thing about this place was that the His­pan­ic waitstaff’s Viet­name­se was bet­ter than hers. Since we were already in the area, we swung by the tem­ple after din­ner to pick up our tick­ets. This is when I learned it was a two-day event, not just Sat­ur­day. I sat in the car since we parked in a tem­po­rary no-park­ing zone, but my par­ents got a brief tour of the tem­ple.

Saturday

The gates were sup­posed to open at 8 and ser­vices begin at 9. Since it was a bit of a dri­ve from my place to the tem­ple, we left at 6, parked at the near­by mall, and caught a shut­tle to the tem­ple. We got to the mall to find a huge line wait­ing for the shut­tle, and stood in that park­ing lot for almost an hour. Then the shut­tle took us with­in a block of the tem­ple (the roads imme­di­ate­ly sur­round­ing the tem­ple were closed for secu­ri­ty) and dropped us off into a new line to wait to be let into the gates. This line moved slow­ly at first, but sud­den­ly picked up a great deal of speed. Then peo­ple walked back and told us the grounds were com­plete­ly full and closed to addi­tion­al vis­i­tors. We went for­ward a lit­tle fur­ther until this was con­firmed by West­min­ster police offi­cers work­ing secu­ri­ty.

It turns out the West­min­ster fire depart­ment had set a lim­it of 1,500 atten­dees for safe­ty and secu­ri­ty rea­sons, and the City had required the tem­ple to print tick­ets accord­ing­ly. The tem­ple, though, worked like a club pro­moter and print­ed much more than 1,500 tick­ets. And the morn­ing of, they start­ed let­ting peo­ple in ear­ly (at 7:30 instead of 8) and not even check­ing for tick­ets, so any­one who showed up could get in. So frus­trat­ing!

It all worked out, though. We end­ed up spend­ing the day with extend­ed fam­i­ly that we do not get to see every often, includ­ing an aunt vis­it­ing from Viet Nam.

Sunday

We revised our game­plan for the sec­ond day of the Dalai Lama’s vis­it. First, we slept at my aunt’s house, which was slight­ly closer, to save a bit of time. Then, we dropped our par­ents and aunt as close as pos­si­ble to the tem­ple and Dong Ha and I parked as close as we could and walked back to join them in line. By start­ing ear­lier and skip­ping the shut­tle line, my fam­i­ly was able to make it into the tem­ple this time. As we went by the secu­ri­ty check­points, the police offi­cers on duty men­tioned that Sun­day was going much more smooth­ly than Sat­ur­day did.

Once we got in, the logis­tics were amaz­ing. There were jum­botrons to help the crowds see and hear what was going on. Vol­un­teers went through the crowds and up and down the bleach­ers giv­ing out free sand­wich­es and pas­tries, water bot­tles, desserts, fans, and even sun­screen! A lady next to us in the bleach­ers told us that they turned her away from the gate on Sat­ur­day morn­ing but she stuck around and was able to get into the after­noon ses­sion. I guess we could have seen the Dalai Lama on both days if we had stuck around, too.

The morn­ing start­ed off with a lot of pomp and cir­cum­stance. Announc­ers spoke in both Viet­name­se and Eng­lish, and they rat­tled off every local dig­ni­tary and named every monk and nun who appeared. Then the Dalai Lama came up to the stage and the local dig­ni­taries took turns offer­ing him praise and com­mem­o­ra­tive plaques.

After all that was out of the way, it was time for the Dalai Lama to give his keynote speech, which focused on increas­ing youth involve­ment. He start­ed by say­ing he has been to many new tem­ple open­ings, and he always tells them, this is a beau­ti­ful tem­ple that will last for 1,000 years. But if you do not involve the youth, it will be emp­ty long before then. His solu­tion was to focus on tem­ples as learn­ing cen­ters, both for younger and old­er gen­er­a­tions. He said he that he him­self is still learn­ing dai­ly, and no one can rest on their lau­rels. Active­ly learn­ing was the best way to get youths inter­est­ed in learn­ing as well.

After that was a short Q & A ses­sion for addi­tion­al dig­ni­taries and then a lunch break. All atten­dees were offered rice plates. The after­noon ses­sion was a big Q & A ses­sion for youth mem­bers of the audi­ence. We heard from a friend of my mother’s that after the after­noon ses­sion con­clud­ed, the Dalai Lama was doing a more inti­mate ses­sion at a near­by Tibetan tem­ple, but my par­ents want­ed to get ready to dri­ve back so they would not get home too late.

All in all, it was a great week­end. I got to see a bunch of fam­i­ly, ate some great Viet food, and I can now say that I saw the Dalai Lama speak in per­son! (One of the ques­tions asked was about the rumors that His Holi­ness the 14th Dalai Lama might choose not to rein­car­nate, mak­ing him the final Dalai Lama. He did not give a def­i­nite answer if he was going through with that or not, but he did say that he felt the Lama tra­di­tion is sim­i­lar to the feu­dal tra­di­tion and has per­haps become out­dat­ed. If you get a oppor­tu­ni­ty to see him speak, I high­ly rec­om­mend you take advan­tage, as there may not be many chances left!)

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