Abbott Phra Debkititsophon at the Vajira Temple in Centereach is...

Abbott Phra Debkititsophon at the Vajira Temple in Centereach is a leader in the Thai community. The community marks its New Year this weekend, April 10 and 11. Credit: Kirsten Luce

Just south of Route 25 in Centereach is Wat Vajiradhammapadip, the spiritual center for the Thai community of the metropolitan area. This weekend the center is marking Songkran, the Thai New Year.

Wat Vajiradhammapadip, which has been in Centereach since 1992, is part temple and part monastery and, as such, is home to between four and 10 monks from Thailand at any given time.

The center, on Rustic Road, is open to anyone interested in Buddhism or in expanding his or her understanding of the Buddha's teachings. It has 300 active local members and attracts visitors from throughout the area.

For the monks, a typical day starts before sunrise, with prayers and chanting. Around 6 a.m. they break for a small breakfast of fruits and nuts, then tend to the daily housekeeping of the center and engage in the study of Buddhism and Pali, the language of Buddhist texts that predates the first century.

Around 11 a.m. they take their second and last meal of the day. The rest of the day is often filled with more study and prayer. They pray for the community, the spirit, for life, and for goodness, kindness and forgiveness. They also may be called to bless a new home or business or conduct funeral rites. After prayers, chanting and meditation at 7, the monks may spend time reading or studying or attending classes at Stony Brook University before retiring to their small rooms in the back of the temple.

The practice of being a monk is strict, with 227 rules, or "vinai," to observe. One calls for refraining from making requests and instead permitting all things to be offered. Accordingly, Wat

Vajiradhammapadip members offer meals, rotating food preparation during the week. While the monks eat, the members pray.

Despite the rigor, it is common for Thai men to be monks at some time in their lives, for periods ranging from three months to three years. A man might consider being a monk for even a few weeks to expand his practice and understanding of Buddhism, and to reside at the temple.

The temple, which has occupied a former church building, will move in June to a new, larger space on the property -- a temple and meditation center built entirely with donations from the community. The monks themselves depend on donations from members, who earmark their contributions for such items as toiletries or electricity, or for "anything."

The oldest monk at the temple is Abbot Phra Debkititsophon.  Now in his 70s, he became a novice when at age 13 and was ordained at 20.

After obtaining university degrees in Bangkok, he was sent to New York to start the temple here. As president of the Association of Thai Monks in the United States, he approves the applications of any monk desiring to serve in the United States.

The temple also serves as a cultural center, and volunteers from Thailand teach Thai language, classical music and dance. In addition, classes are offered in sewing, cooking and baking.

This weekend's holiday calls for paying respect to the elderly and to the monks, as well as for asking for forgiveness and for rain during the dry spring months in Thailand.

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