A Buddhist Shrine Grows off Highway 395

May 25, 2008

Source: The Buddhist Channel/The Los Angeles Times


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It doesn't take long to get acquainted with the rhythm of things at a new Buddhist shrine in this high desert community presided over by a monk nicknamed "Tom" and a 24-foot-tall statue of a saint said to have miraculous powers.

Thich Dang "Tom" Phap's routine starts with early morning meditation and yard work. When 11 a.m. rolls around, the monk - sandal-shod and in orange robes, a gold shoulder clasp gleaming in the desert sun - stands in prayer before the 60-ton white marble statue of Quan yin.

After lunch, he whacks weeds, washes the statue and naps. In the late afternoon, he has a dinner of soup and rice followed by meditation and prayer. At 9 p.m., Phap calls it a day.

"I pray for Quan yin to help everyone else in the world," said the 67-year-old monk who resides in a modest trailer beside the statue. "Then I pray she helps me."

Reverently admiring the statue - serene of face, with half-closed eyes and flowing robes - he added in broken English, "Soon we will have grass and flowers and air conditioning. This I believe. Yes!"

In his faith's pantheon of "bodhisattvas" - not gods and goddesses, but enlightened persons a step below buddhahood in perfection - Quan yin is among the most popular and powerful.

Over the centuries, Quan yin has become many things to many people. The saint has lost masculine attributes and gained feminine ones. In some woodblock prints and statues, she appears with many eyes and arms.

"She has a thousand eyes with which to see those who suffer," Phap said, "and a thousand arms to reach out and help them."

In Japan, she is known as Kannon. Elsewhere, the devout know her as Avalokitesvara. In China, she is Quan yin. In Vietnam, where Phap grew up, she is Quan The Am, the personification of compassion and the inner transformation necessary for redemption.

Phap refers to her by her most common name, Quan yin.

Searching far and wide for a suitable site on which to place the statue donated by a wealthy businessman in Malaysia, Phap bought the 15-acre lot in Adelanto about four years ago.

"It was suitably tranquil," he said of the barren spot east of California Highway 395 and about 10 miles northwest of Victorville.