Ordination hall displayed before consecration
By jason brown
July 10, 2012
COTEAU — The Lao Buddhist community in rural Iberia Parish celebrated the completion and dedication of its new sima, or ordination hall, where Buddhist monks are ordained.
The hall sits on the grounds with the Buddhist temple — which is the heart of Lanexang Village, a Laotian community of about 400 people in Iberia Parish located off of U.S. 90.
As is customary in Laotian communities, the Buddhist temple serves as the social, cultural and religious center of Lanexang Village.
The temple usually houses about 13 monks, who come to Iberia Parish from around the world, said Phanat Xanamane, a first-generation Laotian immigrant who guided a group of visitors around the temple grounds Thursday.
Construction of the ordination hall took three years and involved help from resident monks and the community, which donated both time and money toward its completion, Xanamane said.
The ordination hall is considered the “most important structure” on the temple grounds since it provides Buddhists a way to build good karma for themselves, Xanamane said.
“If you contribute to the construction of this ordination hall, you earn merit for your next life,” he said. “It’s a direct link to your next life; to earn fortune for your next life.”
The shimmering hall stands high above all of the surrounding structures and is the focal point of the temple grounds.
The building’s façade is decorated with blue glass and hand-carved wood, both of which were constructed by resident monks and members of the surrounding community, Xanamane said.
On Thursday, about 200 beds dotted the landscape — both inside and outside buildings on the temple grounds. Xanamane said the beds were part of the dedication ceremony and are tied to a belief that Buddhists go through a cycle of rebirth, earning merit in this life that can be carried into the next life.
Monks and community members built the beds and then stocked them with some basic essentials, including pots, pans and towels, “as a way of symbolically sending these things into your next life,” Xanamane said.
At the entrance to the hall, two Nagas, or mythological serpents, sit on either side of the steps that lead into the temple. Xanamane said the symbolic serpents protect the structure.
Inside, a large mural wraps around the walls of the hall. The lower half of the mural features gruesome scenes that depict the five states of the Buddhist equivalent of hell, Xanamane said.
Community resident Chantha Phroma, who was inside the temple, likened these states to “passions.” Xanamane served as a translator for Phroma, who said there is a belief that in life there is suffering and that people carry these passions with them.
“Freeing oneself from these passions is part of what the practice is about,” Xanamane said as he translated for Phroma. “The teachings of Buddha are about moving beyond these passions.”
Above those painted scenes, the mural depicts Buddha’s life, from his early upbringing as a prince to his later years of enlightenment.
In the center of the room, a large sphere hung over a well within the floor.
Leading up to Saturday’s celebration, residents placed offerings inside the well, another method of earning oneself good fortune in a new life, Xanamane said.
On Saturday, the main sphere and eight smaller spheres that surround the hall outside were scheduled to be lowered into the ground and covered, Xanamane said.
Once the spheres are buried, the grounds are considered consecrated.
To the back of the hall sits the centerpiece of the structure, a large Buddha statue made of jade. Xanamane said the statue was recently delivered and cost $35,000 to import from Thailand.
After Saturday’s ceremony, the hall will be closed to the public, accessible only to monks and temple grounds keepers, Xanamane said, adding that the glass doors at its entrance still will allow visitors to look within the structure.
Laotian immigrants first settled in Iberia Parish in the late ’70s and early ’80s after refugees left Laos when communists gained control there. Federally supported training for oil-field work led many of the refugees to the parish.
Xanamane said the land for what would become Lanexang Village was purchased in 1985 and divided among the families within the community.
Today, the community is home to 65 households — with a total population of 400 — and is one of three residential clusters of Laotian immigrants within Iberia Parish.
The village is best known for its celebration of the Laotian New Year, which typically falls during the Easter holiday, Xanamane said.