Thousands of people, many of them Buddhists who left Vietnam decades ago and came to the U.S. to live, have flocked to the Southern California neighborhood known as Little Saigon to welcome the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who is dedicating a new temple there.
At a religious teaching session Saturday that drew many visitors, the 80-year-old Dalai Lama said the world needs more compassion in a time of violence.
Canadian Lyane Pellerin, who has attended many talks by the Dalai Lama in the past, agreed, saying, "We certainly do need more peace talks and kindness, understanding and dialogue."
Thousands of people gathered outside the Dieu Ngu Temple early Saturday, waiting for the gates to open at 6 a.m. The Dalai Lama will dedicate the temple Sunday.
“Just to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama is a wonderful thing,” said Wanda Matjas, one of those who turned out at dawn.
'A wise, wise man'
Vietnamese-American Annie Hoang said she came to hear the revered Tibetan monk's spiritual message.
“I've loved the Dalai Lama,” she said. "I think that he's such a wise, wise man, and he represents such great knowledge, and everything that I've always wanted.”
The Dalai Lama's presence is an important boost for the Dieu Ngu Temple, a $6 million project that marks a milestone of growth for the Vietnamese Buddhist community. Vietnamese immigrants — Buddhists, Catholics and others — have built their community over the past four decades in Southern California, where they arrived in search of political and religious freedom.
The temple was founded in a Little Saigon home in 2008 and later moved to a warehouse as it grew. Monks and temple members spearheaded the drive to raise funds for the new structure, which features traditional architecture.
“I remember when we started building this,” said Jessica Ha, whose parents are longtime members. “Our monks' biggest dream was to have the Dalai Lama come and talk, and it's happening! Good things come to really good people, and this is it.”
Drawn to philosophy
The Dalai Lama always draws interest from non-Asians.
“I was raised by parents who traveled the world and a Vietnam vet father that didn't know where home was anymore,” said visitor Eve Moon. She said her family was drawn to “Buddhist philosophy and the Dalai Lama's message, and in general, humanitarianism and peace.”
Buddhists from many traditions — Chinese and Southeast Asian, among others — came to the temple. They included Czech visitor Martin Vitovic, who embraces the Dalai Lama's teachings. He said he'd been interested in the Tibetan's message for "about three years, and I want to see him.”
Vietnamese-American Buddhists said the Dalai Lama inspired listeners with his message, and they felt his visit also drew attention to California's Little Saigon and its imposing new temple.