Lao Temple & Vipassana Center opened in Forest Lake last fall
Drums banged and costumed re-enactors danced around decorated statues of an elephant and horse. This was the scene over the weekend in a field in western Forest Lake, where several hundred people came Saturday and Sunday to witness and partake in a Buddhist festival.
The event took place at the Lao Temple & Vipassana Center, located at 4530 232nd St. N., behind Cub Foods. Several monks have been living in an inconspicuous house there since the temple opened in September. The monks, who formerly worshipped in Minneapolis, lead a service of meditation on Sundays.
This weekend, however, a peppier atmosphere prevailed for Boon Pha Vet, a Laotian and Thai celebration of the story of one of Buddha’s past lives. In the story, which monks recalled over the weekend, a compassionate prince who gives away all he owns is rewarded and he eventually is reborn into the final incarnation of Buddha.
Celebrated around the world by Laotian and Thai Buddhists, Boon Pha Vet took on a more modern twist in Forest Lake, as festival-goers enjoyed live music, visited vendors and played an Asian version of volleyball.
The festival is new to Forest Lake but has long been held in the Twin Cities area.
“It is huge,” said Christina Vilay, treasurer and a founding member of Lao Temple & Vipassana Center. “Next year, more than likely, it will be even bigger.”
Festival preparations have been a consuming task since the temple opened and have kept leaders from doing much else to this point, said Vilay, of Brooklyn Park.
Boon Pha Vet is also a key fundraiser for the temple and its monks, who rely on such outside giving. Among the guests was a monk of more than 40 years from Fresno, Calif., who helped incorporate the temple here.
The temple’s property, consisting of 21 acres, made an ideal site for the festival. A festival relating to another Buddhist holiday in the fall will likely be held on site, Vilay said, with both becoming annual events.
The temple and land will be developed as growth dictates, she said. Prayer buildings, separate from the house, may be added and part of the land may be turned into a soccer field. The monks appreciate the lot’s old oak trees for their timeless nature, Vilay said.
Such room for growth is what attracted the monks to Forest Lake from Minneapolis. Vilay’s husband, May, a Laotian, researched locations and found a good deal on the property. The temple’s neighbors and Forest Lake’s city staff, council and police have made for a welcoming environment.
“Forest Lake has been really great, they really have,” Vilay said. “We have had no issues. We know, you keep a close relationship and keep those open lines and everybody’s so much more willing to help.”
As in one of Forest Lake’s Christian churches, a crowd gathers for service on Sunday at the temple.
“Some Sundays can get quite busy,” Vilay said. “It really fills up around here.”
Temple leaders hope to house enough monks to allow the Buddhists to come for daily meditation.
Four monks currently live in the temple: Three are from Laos and one from Burma. They eat their only meal of the day before noon and sleep without beds. They leave mainly for religious purposes such as house blessings, funerals and hospital visits. Other monks have stayed only a few months for a “spiritual cleansing,” Vilay said.
The Lao Temple & Vipassana Center has big plans because there are few other Laotian Buddhist temples in the Twin Cities.
“Eventually there will be different buildings and more permanent structures in place,” Vilay said.
The temple has a Facebook page: Facebook.com/pages/Lao-Temple-Vipassana-Center.