Monks sit for a photo at the Vajiradhammapadip Temple in...

Monks sit for a photo at the Vajiradhammapadip Temple in Centereach on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

People from all corners of the country — and the world — descended upon Long Island’s oldest Buddhist temple on Saturday for a weekend of celebration, reflection and camaraderie over Thai food.

Dozens of monks and attendees from as far away as India and Thailand gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of the Vajiradhammapadip Temple.

Joe DiVirgilio, 23, of Port Jefferson, and Alexa Altolaguirre, 23, of Stony Brook, took in the traditional chanting amid chatting guests on the five-acre grounds of the Centereach temple shaded by trees. DiVirgilio said he was still in awe of the sights around him.

“On the Island, I’ve lived here my whole life, I don’t see monks just walking around. And it’s rare to have seen all this,” he said with a laugh.

The event featured a memorial service for Buddhist missionary monks who passed away in the United States, as well as a meeting between The Council of Thai Bhikkhus, which represents the Thai Buddhist clergy in the United States, and members of other religions.

Council leaders fielded questions from guests about their traditions, customs and life in the Centereach temple, which has 1,200 members from Long Island and around the tristate area. Six Buddhist monks live at the temple.

As he walked with fellow monks from Chicago and Tennessee, Phra Piya, 41, of California, said that he was looking forward to the chance to meet with others from different faiths and religious backgrounds.

Piya said the increasing popularity of meditation has helped more people learn about Buddhism.

“Right now, meditation is very popular,” Piya said. “Some people want to learn about the teaching of the Buddha, so they study the scriptures and meditation, too. We’re not trying to convert anyone, but we want them to take the good part of the teachings as a benefit for their life.”

Sky Hughes, the temple’s director and a native of Thailand, greeted an elderly couple arriving from Queens for the celebration. She said in recent years, she has seen word about the temple slowly begin to spread.

“Before, the temple was more private because it’s off the path, and people don’t even know what it is,” Hughes said. “Now, we get Chinese, we get people who practice Islam, it’s good to see that our temple encourages them to come.”

DiVirgilio, a mechanical engineering student at Stony Brook University, said one of his favorite parts of the day — aside from the ceremonial chants of monks at prayer — was helping to serve food to some of the monks.

“The point of serving them is really for your benefit,” he said. “You’re actually helping them to teach so many people this way of life and just bring happiness around the world. It’s wild.”

Altolaguirre said what attracted her most to Buddhism was the giving nature of the religion.

“Learning about being grateful, gratitude, giving to others, those are things that actually make sense,” she said. “And it actually makes you a better person. Giving to others has benefited my life so much.”

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