The gong sounds. The crash of a drum shakes the incense-scented pagoda. A few dozen worshipers dressed in orange or blue-grey togas gather under the upturned cornices. Some of them have shaved heads. We recite mantras: “Nam-mo na ra can tri…” We are not in Asia, but in the depths of the Laurentians. Welcome to Tam Bao Son Temple, the largest Buddhist shrine in the country.
Nhuan Tu welcomes us with a smile worthy of the Buddha himself. She will be ordained a Buddhist monk in a few minutes. The event is rare. They are barely twenty to have been trained in Buddhism on Quebec soil since 1999, in this small valley of the county of Harrington, on the border between the Laurentians and the Outaouais.
Nhuan Tu’s enlightenment appeared during the pandemic, says the young Quebecer of Vietnamese origin. “Since I was little, I have been going to the Buddhist temple. And in Buddhism, we talk a lot about impermanence, but I didn’t understand. By practicing the profession of nurse, I faced a lot of impermanence, suffering. It hit me when I realized that suddenly my patients were disappearing. […] And when, with my colleagues, we got caught up in COVID-19, we saw that a small virus can shut down the entire planet. It brought us back to the basics of being human, helping each other, sharing and all that. It pushed me to follow the path of Buddha and his teachings. »
With freshly shaved hair (to fight against vanity), the young woman begins a life of rigor and discipline. No work other than studying the Buddha’s teachings and living in the temple. No husband. No alcohol. Vegetarian diet. The list is long. Between five and ten years will pass before she can complete her training. She will live mainly with the other monks, in the temple, and can then be called upon to preach in one of the ten minor temples distributed in the big cities of Canada.
“We dedicate our lives to helping the world. It is our vocation. All that is around are attachments that create suffering,” she says. And then, “I don’t know if in another life, I will encounter Buddhism,” adds the novice.
Originally a vision
Thich Thien Nghi and his disciple, Reverend Thich Phô Tinh, laid the first stones of Vietnamese Buddhism in Quebec when they arrived at the turn of the 1980s as “ boat people fleeing communism.
Nothing less than a divine revelation led to the erection of this temple, assures the great mistress of the place, Thich Phô Tinh, who herself began her training as a monk at the age of 7. After four nights at sea without food or water, she received the mystical conviction that if she made it out alive, she had to build a temple in the peaceful land where she would end up.
“My master, when he was a refugee in Canada, he had a dream where you could see a mountain, a river, very far from the city. We visited a first site, but we were unable to buy it. It was in Ontario,” she says. The current terrain then imposed itself. “Everything here corresponds to the principles of feng shui. The mountains on either side of the valley undulate like the silhouette of a dragon,” explains the venerable lady with the help of a translator.
Today, this sacred place covers more than 330 acres, or nearly 1.3 square kilometers. A large pond filled with lotus flowers calls for meditation, as do the dozens of Buddha replicas of all sizes scattered throughout the Laurentian forest.
Above all, the highlight of this blessed valley, a statue of Buddha riding a dragon sits on top of a mountain.
The 28-metre colossus is the largest of its kind in Canada. Heavy with 360 tons of granite from China, it took 28 containers to transport it from Asia in separate parts. “One day, I came here and I saw the Buddha already in place, recalls the reverend. He wasn’t there for real, but I saw him there. I was looking on Google Maps, and even though he wasn’t there yet, I knew he was going there. And when I was able to order this Buddha from China, I knew that this place was really important. This land is holy land. »
This “Buddha of compassion” inaugurated in 2015 in front of nearly 10,000 people curiously resembles the Virgin Marys who dot the territory of Quebec, observes one of the devotees, Tien Nguyen. “We have three loyalties. Our parents, our masters and our country. We want to give back to the country that welcomed us,” he said.
The founder of the temple, Thich Thien Nghi, took on this vast project with his disciples. Large machinery parked in the background testifies to the enthusiasm of devotees to rebuild the sacred places of Buddhism in America. And the sanctuary is called to grow. “From here to the Great Buddha of Compassion, we’ll have a whole row of statues,” promises the hostess. This alley stretches for almost a kilometer.
” It feels good “
The donations of the thousands of faithful, pilgrims or curious people who gravitate around the Tam Bao Son temple ensure the financial independence of the place of worship. People come from Montreal, Quebec, but also from Ontario and the United States to find these oriental traditions. The majority of visitors are of Vietnamese origin, but there are several from China and other Asian origins.
“We are believers, but not superstitious”, confides a lady, Mme Nguyen, who wishes to conceal his first name out of modesty. “I am a Buddhist because my parents, my grandparents transmitted these traditions to me. But religion is “one”. It gives strength to fight. Why do people have the strength to build this temple? It is belief. »
Volunteers and monks religiously ensure that everything is well maintained. One of them, who is busy cleaning the tables where a few visitors have just dined, introduces himself as the head of a large construction company. “Once a month, I come here because it feels good. That’s all. »
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Buddha’s lotus blooms deep in the Laurentians
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