Have you ever lived in an area where your neighbor just was not the type of person that would make anyone happy to live next too? What about an area where you found that it was always noisy and uncomfortable to live there for some reason or another. I bet you never thought that there are others that are even less fortunate or more fortunate than you because at that moment in your life your situation was the worse. This is normal but what would you feel if you lived next to a Buddhist Temple where there was always traffic on your little usually quiet street and from the neighbor you always smelled strange incense like spells and the sound of chanting in an unfamiliar language was heard all the time?
Well this is actually the case with one residential community in Westminster, California where one of the residents in one community have converted their two car garage and home into a Buddhist Temple. The Sangha of this temple is so large now that they spill out of the garage and into the driveway. The little street where the residential temple is located has been turned into grand central station and now the neighbors of the residential temple are complaining, as well as the city. In fact the temple has been cited many times for code violations that the city says they just don't learn from. Many Asian communities in the US are seeing this type of conversion in fact. As Buddhism and Hinduism and other far eastern ways of life are beginning to grow in the US so does the complaints of those not associated with the growth.
For some of us living next to a Buddhist temple where soothing chanting can be heard at many times of the day would be nice, relaxing in fact. But the residents say they are fed up with the sounds, the smells and all the traffic. Of course the complaints are coming from those that are not associated with the temple and from those that are not Buddhist. But what do you do when you are a budding spiritual community in the US where we have the right to practice any religion we want but the country does not actually support this? It is very hard to get a Buddhist temple, a new one, up and running in the US. Most of the time there are citations after citations written to what seems like they are trying to shut the religious place down. This was reported on in fact just a year ago here on the Zen Buddhism column where one new sangha was trying to get approved to build their temple and the city just kept giving them the run around.
Although the amount of traffic that is now seen on the little street in Westminster can be a problem for those that live in the neighborhood, there are ways in which the temple has tried to remedy the problem. The head teacher there has asked the temple goers if they would not park on the street. Instead to park around the area in different locations spacing it all out and walking over to the converted temple. The temple is actually converted out of two car garage, this is very cool in the sense that Buddhism stresses the importance of a simple way of life in order to find true peace of mind and inner peace. You can see a picture of the temple as well as read the entire news article on the situation at the la times here. Even though the residents in the area complain to the temple goers there have been measures taken in order to preserve peace in the neighborhood.
The temple leader has said that he welcomes all who want to come and talk to him concerning any complaints on the temple and he will try and accommodate the request. So although the temple stands for peace there is not always a peaceful resolution to the problems that one such as this can bring as some of the people in the area have claimed that there have been confrontations with the temple goers that sometimes almost went physical, hardly a Buddhist action. When it comes to the complaints of the chanting, the temple leader says that the chanting is soothing even when you do not know the language, as their language is Vietnamese. As a Buddhist priest myself and avid Kirtan practitioner I can agree with this. See the video included with this article for an explanation of Kirtan chanting and how soothing and relaxing the sound of chanting can be.