Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Happy Buddhist of Baton Rouge

Thich Dao Quang [Thay] is a busy, happy Buddhist.
He gets up at five o’clock every morning to start his day with sitting medita-tion — except on the days when his duties as the abbot of Tam Bao Buddhist Temple, classes [in clinical psychology] at Southeas-tern Louisiana University, homework, and a family counseling practicum prove too much for him, and he has to sleep in.

Until 5:30 a.m. “That’s very bad for a Buddhist monk,” he says with a smile.

Quang is, by all estimations, the first Buddhist monk in Baton Rouge. Ever. Baton Rouge’s Buddhist Temple has existed, in one location or another, since about 1985. It remained monk-less until 2003, when Quang visited to give a lecture and conduct services.

“And they say, ‘Stay for a few more weeks, and then a few more months.’ They were very serious, and they asked me to stay here. And I accepted their invitation.” Finally, last year, the members of the temple asked him to be their abbot.

Quang is a slight monk with frameless glasses. If he likes a question, he’ll reward it with a smile and a “Wow, good question,” in a soft Vietnamese accent. While he talks, his eyes drift out the window to the lawn of the temple where he lives and works. Many things, he says, contributed to his decision to become a monk.

For one, the lifestyle has always come naturally to him. “Even as a little boy, I did not look for a material life, clothing or whatever. Rather I [liked to] read the book, philosophy, literature.”

The hardship of living in a divided, post-war Vietnam also played a role. His father spent six years in a government run re-education camp for his ties to the United States. “So many things happen without an answer [that’s] reasonable, so many questions in my life.”

...Quang speaks authoritatively about the relationship between the Eastern philosophy of Buddhism and the very Western science of psychology:

“They go hand in hand,” he says. Both are about understanding patterns of behavior, why we do the things we do, and how we can improve our lives through this understand-ing. “The only thing different is in Western psychology, the emphasis is on medication...In Buddhism, we...focus on meditation...” More>>

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