History of Wat Thaidc
The idea to establish a temple for the Buddhist residents in the local area began when several Thai communities in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and neighboring states recognized that although their material needs were being met in this country, there was a spiritual void that only a Buddhist temple could fill. A temple for the Thai people would provide a place for the people to come to cultivate themselves by listening to the teachings of Lord Buddha in a familiar spiritual environment and language. Early in 1971, this group of Thai people initially called themselves the Assembly of Buddhists. On several occasions, they invited Phra Maha Thirapanta Methaviharee, a monk from the Thai temple in Los Angeles to perform religious ceremonies, provide an opportunity for the people to make merit, and to offer advice on the establishment of a temple in Washington, D.C. In November1971, the Assembly of Buddhists unanimously agreed to change its name to The Buddhist Association in Washington, D.C.
The first president of the Association was Colonel Pramoch Thavonchanta, the Military Attache of the Royal Thai Embassy. The Ambassador, His Excellency Soon thorn Hongsladarom, served as the first advisor to the Association which consisted of fifteen members. Upon the Ambassador's return to Thailand, his successor, His Excellency Ananta Panyarachoon, assumed the role of advisor. Once the Association had been established, the task of raising funds was begun. Late in 1973,after Colonel Thavonchanta returned to Thailand, the Association invited Colonel VichianBuranasiri, the Education Counselor of the Royal Thai Embassy, to be the second president. Colonel Buranasiri reorganized the committee structure of the Association to facilitate its growth and progress. In order to raise funds, he initiated a variety of activities and festivities including the first Songkran festival which was held at the Ambassador's residence in April 1974. Monks from the Thai temple in Los Angeles were invited to perform the religious ceremony at this festival. After Songkran, the Association had a total of $3,744.33 in its treasury.
Establishing the Monks' Residence
Having sufficient funds, members of the Association conceived the idea of establishing a monks' residence and of inviting two monks to perform religious activities in order to increase the involvement and support of the Thai community in the area. On May 1, 1974, the Association had an open meeting inviting government officials, students, and Thais of different occupations in order to get their reactions to this idea. Based on the comments and suggestions from this meeting, the Association agreed to use the funds in the treasury to carry out the proposal.
Within months, on July 4, 1974, the first two monks arrived and moved into a rented house at 705 Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. The arrival of Phra Kru Phibulbodhabiratana and Phra Palad Vorasakdi Dipangkaro from Wat Mahadhatu in Bangkok signaled the official opening of the Wat Thai in Washington, D.C. On July 5th, 1974, the first ceremony, Asalha Puja, was performed in the temple. The goal to establish a Thai temple of worship in the metropolitan area had been achieved.
In late 1974, Phra Maha Kaliang Tejawaro was invited from the Thai temple in Los Angeles to assume the duties of Phra Palad Vorasakdi Dipangkaro who had returned to Thailand. In January1975, Phra Kru Phibulbodhabiratana also returned to Thailand. On February 11, 1975, PhraMaha Surasak Jivananta of Wat Vajiradhammasadhit in Bangkok arrived to assume the position of Abbot. He still holds this position today. On August 19, 1975, the Buddha statute arrived from Thailand. In July 1976, the Wayne Avenue temple was purchased for $52,500 but within a few years, the need for a larger building became apparent.
Another addition consisting of two restrooms and a foyer was built. Successfully changed the status from a place of worship to a legitimate temple recognized by the local government. Enlarged the parking area to bring the total number of parking spaces to 47 which was later increased to a total of 86 spaces. Built another addition consisting of a new dining room and a new larger kitchen for which a permit was issued upon completion on April 13, 1992.
Once the Temple received the permit to function as a legitimate Thai temple, the committee, the monks, and the Thai people in this area decided to build a multi-purpose building adjacent to the existing building. The architectural drawings, the environment study paper, and the application for construction permit were submitted to the local government on March 5, 1993. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on June 6, 1993.
On March 5, 1994, the construction permit was issued. The construction committee circulated the building plans and requests for bids. Finally, Warder & Associates, Inc., was selected as the primary construction company. On June 13, 1994, the construction began on this two-story building which was estimated to cost $1.2M.
The building is 40 x 100 feet in dimension. The upstairs houses a worship hall that is used for meditation and for religious ceremonies. The lower level as a large open multi-purpose room thatis used for social functions, meetings, and can also be partitioned into a number of classrooms.The building meets all ADA requirements. The entire building project from start to finish was done under the leadership of Dr. SahaschaiMusikabhumma, Chairman of the Association, and Mr. Preedee Sudrak, President of theAssociation.
The building was completed and the Grand Opening Ceremony was held on June 17 & 18, 1995.This ceremony, including the Blessing of the Cornerstones and Sema Limit [marking the boundary], was officiated by the Counsel of Thai Monks in the United States [Samacha] and byHer Serene Highness Princess Vudhichalerm Vudhijaya. The entire ceremony was presided overby the Patriarch of the Buddhist Monks Supreme Council of Thailand. Minister AkkrasitAmartyakul of the Royal Thai Embassy served as Chairman of the Ceremony.
Preceding the ceremony, the annual General Assembly of the Samacha was held on June 15 & 16,1995, and was the first event held in the new building. This was the 19th annual meeting held inthe United States.Governance
Wat Thai is administered by the Buddhist Association in Washington, D.C. through two committees that oversee and administer all its activities. These are the Board of Directors, known as the upper governing board, and the Executive Committee, referred to as the lower governing board. Both are composed of representatives from each department within the Royal Thai Embassy, Thai scholars, Thai professionals, and individuals elected from the general membership at the annual meeting. The Board of Directors selects three members to fill the positions of Chairperson of the Board, Vice-Chairperson of the Board, and President of the Buddhist Association. The President appoints the members of the Administrative Committee.
The overall administration of Wat Thai is under the direction of the Advisory Committee, a committee made up of the resident monks and headed by the Abbot.
Wat Thai was established to promote the teaching of Lord Buddha or the religion known as “Buddhism" primarily to the Thai people in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The Thai people come to Wat Thai for all religious ceremonies that follow the same traditions that have been followed in the past by their Thai ancestors in Thailand. At the temple, the people have the opportunity to receive instructions from the monks on the teachings of Lord Buddha.
The monks have done an excellent job in promoting the teachings of Lord Buddha both through practice and their instruction. All of these activities are under the guidance and leadership of PhraMaha Surasak Jivananta, the Abbot. Phra Maha Surasak is well-known for his teaching and is extremely knowledgeable of the Buddhist doctrine. His teachings include numerous lectures and meditations on the teachings of Lord Buddha (Dhamma), written articles in the Saeng Dhamma (amonthly publication of Wat Thai), and the publication of numerous books. He has also overseen the publication of a several special publications to mark events such as the New Year andSongkran, a traditional Thai holiday held in April. He has also done a special bilingual prayer book in Thai and English for use during morning and evening prayer sessions. His works cover a wide scope to promote the Buddhist philosophy. He has participated in lectures in Buddhist philosophy to students at numerous schools and universities throughout the United States. Hewas a delegate to the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions held in 1993 in Chicago. Phra Maha Surasak received an honorary Doctorate Degree in Education from Maha Chulalongkorn Ratchawittayalai Buddhist University in 1996.
The teachings and publications of Phra Maha Surasak Jivananta are made available free of charge. Many of his lectures are also available on audio cassettes. All of his teachings have been well received by the Thai people here in the US and in Thailand.
Wat Thai also has a sizable collection of audio cassettes on Buddhist teachings done by many well-known monks in Thailand. Videotapes of Buddhist teachings are also made available to the public.
Today's curriculum covers the Thai language, elementary level Buddhism, Thai custom, and Thai culture. Through Sunday schools classes, the temple helps the younger Thai generation to have a basic understanding of their Thai ethnic origin. Today, the Sunday school program is very successful.
The summer school program at Wat Thai, established in 1989, concentrates on teaching the Thai language, Thai custom, Thai culture, Thai music and dance, and basic Thai sports. The development of the curriculum has progressed and the number of the students has increased substantially since the origin of the program. The summer school program is conducted by teachers from the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, and in coordination with the Department for Independent Studies, WatThai administers the equivalency exams to students in the summer school program.
Outreach Education Programs
Meditation workshops have been offered through Wat Thai. The practicing of meditation and sessions in the study of Buddhist philosophy are conducted by Phra Maha Surasak Jivananta and other resident monks.
In conjunction with Thailand's Cultural Department and the Smithsonian Institution, the temple participated in an exhibition of Thai culture called 'Satid Chevit Thai' at the Smithsonian festival during July 1994. Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol officiated the opening of the exhibit in conjunction with Mr. Sumpun Tongsamuk, the Education Minister.
Wat Thai participates in local community events such as the annual Layhill Community Parade and Festival held each year to promote friendship with its neighbors and the local community.
The Temple Today
Wat Thai currently serves over 2200 families in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and neighboring states. The temple has continued to grow and has now become an integral part of the Thai and American communities.
Last Updated (Saturday, 19 June 2010 12:37)