pplogo[1].gif (322 bytes)     Utah Buddhist Community  


Wat Buddhikaram
Cambodian Buddhist Temple
3325 West 3800 South
West Valley City UT 84119
(801) 968-9073

Venerable Ritthy Lek
Monk in Residence

Mr. Ramsey Kay
(801) 969-9303

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Standard Examiner Article
23 October 2002

Cambodian Buddhists find peace in suburban monastery

The Associated Press

WEST VALLEY CITY -- The temple looks like a garage, and the living room where three Buddhist monks are eating their second and final meal of the day is dimly lit and full of Cambodian-Americans. It is 11 a.m.

Dressed in their usual robes, the monks sit cross-legged on the floor at a table where the food is laid out before them. Two eat traditional Cambodian meals with plenty of cooked vegetables while one of the monks devours a hamburger from Burger King.

"Cambodians eat meat," says Hay Sok Hin, who chose chicken cooked by Cambodian women. He avoids fast food these days. "I don"t want it anymore. I want to eat different food."

Their home is in a West Valley City neighborhood, just a block away Harvey Street, once one of the most notorious streets for crime in this city. But it"s peaceful here.

The three monks live in a small white house next to Wat Buddhikiram, the Cambodian Buddhist Temple of Utah.

In a city where its leaders brag about diversity, this is a sampling.

Last year, Lynae Grant and her husband bought the house next door. They saw the temple"s sign out front and the men with shaved heads in orange robes.

"We didn"t think nothing of it," Grant says. "I try not to be judgmental. It"s different seeing them in the robes."

A few things, like the noisy celebrations, get on her nerves, but Grant appreciates the cultural variety and the monks" home. "It"s kind of pretty. I like how they decorate their house."

Of the three monks, Hay Sok Hin, 38, speaks the best English and acts as the unofficial spokesman. Later in the day, the Venerable Ritthy Lek, the head monk, will take English as a second language classes at Granger High School.

The temple was on another street until northern Utah"s Cambodian Buddhist community, made up of about 100 families, scraped enough money together for a move to West Valley City in 1996. The newer temple, sans the dragon art and ornate stenciling, could just as easily house automobiles as it does followers of Buddha.

"We don"t want anything fancy," says Yarng Son, a former monk and now a member of the congregation. A bigger place would be nice, but money is an obstacle.

Inside the temple, a large Buddha icon is backed by a round psychedelic light. Here the monks pray, meditate and chant. Or they may read from the 110-volume Pali Tripitaka, which spells out Buddhist philosophy.

Their brand of Buddhism stems from an ancient religion believed to have been founded in India between 563-483 B.C. during the life of Siddhartha Gautama. Most Buddhists believe that the way to escape suffering in its human form and break the "endless" cycles of rebirth (samsara) is through morality, wisdom and concentration. Buddhists look to the life of Buddha, the "Awakened One," as an example.

The monks of West Valley City pray three times a day. Meditation is a way of life. Deep breathing, clearing of thoughts and lots of concentration.

"We think about our life up to (death)," says Hay Sok Hin.

Anger goes away. Thoughts of money, people or problems vanish.

"The feeling"s good. I don"t ever take medicine," he says.

In many ways, life is better for Hay Sok Hin in the United States than in Cambodia. Before becoming a monk, he worked in North Carolina as an electrician. In Cambodia, he might have made less than $100 a month.

Some Cambodian Americans still fear for their safety in the homeland, though the Khmer Rouge no longer rules there. That leadership has been called the "killing fields" regime, blamed for 1.7 million deaths from 1975 to 1979.

For Cambodian American Loch Srey, 76, living in the United States is still a matter of life and death. Dozens in his extended family in Cambodia have been killed and he believes "they," though it"s not clear who, are still after him.

Hay Sok Hin is close to becoming a U.S. citizen. He doesn"t know whether he"ll remain a monk for the rest of his life.

For now, being a monk means he never gets mad at anyone. He doesn"t drive or hold a regular job outside of presiding over birthday celebrations, funerals and other events, like the Cambodian New Year on April 13. He laughs easily and his big brown eyes are clear and bright.

"I"m happy," he says. "I dont need nothing."


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