Friday, February 25, 2011

The Wat Dhammabucha

Down a narrow road that winds behind suburban San Antonio, past old houses and the last remains of land once called "the boondocks," lay one of San Antonio's more hidden gems of cultural diversity: the Wat Dhammabucha Buddhist mission. The bright-red and golden sign hangs amidst a hill-country style neighborhood of mostly Thai immigrants, a hill-top view of the Leon Valley water tower as traffic moves along Bandera Road.

I had only a faint idea of golden Buddha statues and ornate temples that could form a backdrop to my portrait-feature assignment of a student who chose life as a monk over a career in music after coming to the United States from Thailand in 2004.

Accounting sophomore Surasit Mankongsakulkit sits in the temple Sunday before a statue of Buddha, who isn't worshiped but simply followed for his philosophy of attaining self-enlightenment.

A Buddhist monk enters the meal hall Sunday at the Wat Dhammabucha Buddhist mission. Shoes are removed before entering buildings as a Buddhist practice of “keeping what is unclean outside,” Mankongsakulkit said.

Wan Wallace prays Sunday in the meal hall before the monks begin eating. The mission began more than 20 years ago based on Theravada Buddhism, strongest in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Theravada means “the doctrine of the elders” and emphasizes attaining self-liberation through meditation and concentration.

Mankongsakulkit passes food down the line Sunday in the meal hall. Buddhist practice holds that the monks eat only one meal daily, which is provided by local restaurants and other Buddhists.

Mankongsakulkit talks with fellow monk, Phra Pong. “We work a few hours a day,” he said, noting that 10 monks help keep up the 15-acre mission grounds.

Mankongsakulkit talks with Elby Flinn Sunday with his dog, Sassy. "You guys have been great to the neighborhood," Flinn said of the Buddhists. For over 20 years, the mission has strived to protect the wildlife and natural landscape amidst an increasingly urban San Antonio.

Surasit Mankongsakulkit uses a leaf blower near the temple while working Sunday. Mankongsakulkit wakes up at 6 a.m. to chant with the other monks before his 9 a.m. class here.

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