Tam Bao Temple dedicates ‘Appreciation Tower’

As Tuyet Nguyen stood in line Sunday to remove her father’s ashes from a makeshift storage shed and walk them to the new Appreciation Tower at the Buddhist Tam Bao Temple in Baton Rouge, her emotions overcame her.

“When I carried him, it felt like he just passed away,” Nguyen, 60, said afterward as tears slipped down her face. “It feels like the second time I brought him to the graveyard.”

Nguyen and 34 other families carried the urns of loved ones from the storage shed down a winding stone-and-gravel path to the new Appreciation Tower, which sits adjacent to the main temple, in a ceremony Sunday morning commemorating the tower’s opening.

The ceremony was the culmination of the two-year project to give members of the temple a one-of-a-kind tower in Louisiana where people can visit the urns holding their departed loved ones any time they wish, even though Buddhists believe a person is reincarnated into another form when they die, said Scott Hau, vice president of the Tam Bao Temple on Monterrey Boulevard in north Baton Rouge.

The eight-sided, three-tiered tower stands about 32 feet high and features eight stucco columns with metal lotus carvings stretching from column to column. More than 1,300 small glass windows cover the walls, allowing natural light to shine on the urns inside. A sparkling 16-armed chandelier hangs inside from the tip of the tower.

Contractor Ken Jones said the original plan called for brick walls similar to those used to build the temple, but he and Phong Le, the architect, replaced the brick with stucco and windows to make it stand out.

Nguyen and others lined up in two rows at 10:30 a.m. to retrieve the urns from inside the shed, where some had been stored for several years, and one by one, they took the urns and followed Abbot Monk Quang Dao Thich down the walkway to the yellow ribbon.

Some people following Thich and others in the crowd lining the pathway chanted with the monks, while others wept.

Once Thich reached the yellow ribbon, he said a short prayer before he and a few others reached out with scissors and cut the ribbon. Then the procession followed him into the tower where a monk took each urn, one at a time, and gently placed them on the glass shelves inside.

Thich led the people in prayer once more before closing the ceremony and allowing the rest of the congregation to see the inside of the tower.

The ceremony coincided with Saturday’s celebration of Buddha’s birthday.

After Sunday’s ceremony, Thich, who is a therapist in Denham Springs while working on his doctorate in psychology, said the prayers were traditional Buddhist prayers imploring people to live by the Buddhist teachings of love, compassion and understanding.

The prayers also remind everyone that life is unpredictable and they should remember the journey their loved one is on will continue after they die, Thich said.

Thich and Le traveled to other Buddhist temples in Houston and other cities to get ideas for their tower. Thich said he also researched towers in Vietnam on the Internet.

Many Appreciation Towers strictly adhere to Eastern philosophies, Thich said, but he decided to try to blend Eastern and Western philosophies into the tower.

For example, Thich said, most towers have statues of Buddha and altars made of wood shipped from Vietnam.

In the Tam Bao Temple’s tower, they eschewed the statue in favor of more open space and used a large stone about the size of a small night stand for the altar, which held incense Sunday, instead of paying to have wood shipped overseas.

They also used earth tone colors in addition to the traditional red and yellow that most towers feature.

Le and Jones also designed the main brick temple.

The tower is just the latest of the projects undertaken for the people of the Tam Bao Temple. The temple itself was finished in 2010, and plans are in place to expand the complex after the temple purchased 4 acres south of the complex on Monterrey to build a 10,000-square-foot Hall of Harmony, where members can eat and hold meetings, Hau said.

They hope to begin construction on the next phase in late 2015, Hau said.