Chua Phat To

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 26 January 2005.

Phone: 562-599-5100
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Activities and Schedule

Daily religious activities at Chua Phat To center around chanting and meditation. The day begins at 5 a.m. when the monk and nuns meditate for at least an hour before breakfast. The rest of the day's schedule varies: there are often meetings and classes to attend, homes to visit, guests to receive. In the afternoon, lay people will often come by on their way home from work for chanting services at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Weekend schedules are full. Services for the dead are usually held on weekends. Funerals and memorial services (gio)) are among the temple's most prominent functions. Tho Bat Quan Trai, Taking the Eight Precepts, is a retreat offered every two weeks on Saturdays. Members of the community, most of them in their fifties and older and most of them female, come and live at the temple for one night while formally taking eight precepts instead of the usual five. They wear gray robes and eat vegetarian food, meditate, chant, listen to tapes of prominent Dharma teachers, and listen to teachings by the resident nuns or the abbot. Tai Chi is a regular Saturday morning event at 10 a.m. In Vietnam, Tai Chi is generally practiced by older folks early in the morning. Seniors make up the majority of the participants at Chua Phat To also, though a few younger Americans are involved as well. Vovinam (Vietnamese martial arts) classes are offered at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Most of the participants are young people. The Long Beach community has hosted martial arts training since 1985. Finally, the temple has come to be an important venue for public talks especially on Buddhist subjects. Talks are often held on Sunday afternoons and are generally in Vietnamese.
The temple's website is only in Vietnamese, though it is interesting and full of information and usually updated regarding major upcoming events.


In 1967, Huynh Ngoc Diep, a young educated woman from the southern coast of Vietnam with a law degree from Saigon University, arrived in the United States to attend a leadership program at Cal State Long Beach on a USAID scholarship. Returning to Saigon in 1970, she took up employment with a large U.S. corporation and married. Just before Saigon fell in 1975 she and her family fled the country and she soon found herself back in Long Beach. "I wanted to come back to a place I knew," she said. Calling herself Denise Truong (after adopting the English name she had taken on her first trip to America, and, in the American fashion, her husband's surname) she also found a job at her former alma mater as a budget analyst. Long Beach has been her home ever since. But home means many things and a home without a place to worship, without monks and a temple, is not quite home. For several years after her arrival in southern California, she and her family, like so many other refugees, would attend Chua Vietnam in Los Angeles. But Chua Vietnam is a small space and far from where most of the refugees settled in those early years. They went to Chua Vietnam LA for the big celebrations (Tet, the new year; Le Vu Lan, the ghost festival; and Le Phat Dan, the Buddha's birthday), but, again like many other Vietnamese in southern California, they would more often attend regular services at the Long Beach Japanese temple on Santa Fe Ave. They needed their own place.
In the late 1970s, Mrs. Truong helped to organize local Vietnamese to found a temple. In 1981, Dr. Thien Thanh, a monk who had been living at Chua Vietnam, became the first abbot. Dr. Thien Thanh had been a monk since the age of 8 and had been raised and trained at Chua Kim Hue, a prominent monastery not far from Saigon. He had been in India studying in 1975 when Saigon fell and Chua Vietnam had sponsored him to come to the U.S. to teach. In Los Angeles he was a professor at the College of Oriental Studies, a Buddhist center that was instrumental in shaping Buddhism in L.A.--both ethnic and convert--in the 1970s. He was particularly good, says Mrs. Truong, at giang Phap, expounding the Dharma.
Once Thay Thien Thanh had accepted the offer of the Long Beach Buddhists, the members began to buy property for a temple. They had not done so before, because it is important for many Buddhists that a monk be the founder of the temple, not lay people. In this way, the temple is authentic, a home for the monk. It also minimizes conflicts between laity and sangha. In 1981, 37 original founders chipped in to buy land and an apartment building in central Long Beach to make their temple and a home for their monk. Over the years, as adjacent properties came available, they were able to buy what they needed to assemble sufficient land for a chua. Thay Thien Thanh named the temple. He wanted a Buddhist name but not one too closely identified with Vietnam. He wanted to be able to attract Buddhists of any ethnicity, but particularly because he hoped to one day be able to serve members of the large Long Beach Cambodian community, many of whom live in the temple's neighborhood, the many local Thai population, and English speakers as well. Beyond buying land, the temple building efforts were guided by the members' desire to conform closely to American models of non-profit and religious organization. Control of the temple had, in most ways, been turned over to Thay Thien Thanh, but all agreed that the temple should have a proper board of directors and be legally incorporated. Many immigrant temples are not and more than a few are actually privately owned, either by lay people or by members of the sangha. But the lay founders of Chua Phat To were firmly committed to ensuring that their temple conform to American practices, both financially and legally.
The temple began planning its expansion with the city in 1991. They raised money, hired architects, and began to clear the hurdles necessary to build a proper temple. The city was reluctant to let them proceed at first. There were parking issues--never to be underestimated in Southern California. There were too many members wanting too few spaces in a crowded neighborhood. The city council would not authorize the building of a temple until parking could be expanded. A Baptist church owned a rental property adjacent to the temple's lots that was taking potentially useful real estate, but the minister would not sell to Buddhists. Eventually, after lengthy negotiations, the sale was made and the house, a Craftsman bungalow, was donated to local historic preservationists thus earning some local acclaim. The historic old homes in the neighborhood remain an issue in planning any expansion.
Thay Thien Thanh died in 1995, when building a new temple was still years away. For the next five years, plans for the temple's development went ahead, but at a slow pace. The members were intent on preserving their abbot's legacy by preserving what they saw as the appropriate relationship between laity and sangha by building from his monastic lineage. So, it was important that they have a monk to consecrate the new temple and that the new abbot be from the same temple as the old one. The lay leaders requested that Chua Kim Hue in Vietnam send them another monk, one who was also adept at preaching the Dharma and would be able to work in the U.S. for some years. Finding such a monk and getting him permission to leave Vietnam would take five years. In the meantime, several nuns had joined the temple over the years and had many active lay people, so Chua Phat To continued to have a strong presence in the local community. Their new abbot arrived in 2000, ready to begin construction as well as English lessons.


In 2002, with sufficient land, resources, the backing of the city and the community, the temple broke ground on a new chanting hall. Construction of the building took about a year with much of the labor being donated. The front room of the hall is the main worship space, used for chanting and meditation and also for teachings and lectures. The room is dominated by a large altar with two Buddhas. The smaller one in front is from Thailand and forged in the Thai style. The larger Buddha in back is in an east Asian style. Collages constructed by temple young people and hung on the walls describe Buddhist figures and points in Buddhist cosmology and philosophy. Behind the the main hall is a smaller room containing an altar with a picture of the temple's founding monk, Thich Thien Thanh with pictures of monks from his lineage above on the wall. Above this room are two apartments to be used as a monastic dormitory. The rest of the temple site holds parking space and several of the old original apartments, low, narrow buildings used for office space, nuns dormitories, and kitchen and dining areas. One of the old apartment buildings was once used as a the main worship hall and still contains a small altar also dedicated to the monastic lineage of the abbot.