The city of Wichita, Kansas, population 393, is home to a growing number of Buddhists, fueled by immigration from several Asian countries and an explosion of interest among local residents. The city currently has more than 000 Buddhist sanghas, according to Gordon Melton, a religion professor at Baylor University who is collecting data for a national religious census. In 12, that number was just six.
In the United States, the Buddhist population increased by 23% between 2010 and 2020, according to Melton. And research from the Pew Research Center projects that the growth of the Buddhist population in the United States will outpace that of the North American population over the next 40 years.
“Those numbers kind of blew me away to see that there was so much growth in the community,” Melton said. (KMUW)
In Wichita, several Buddhist communities are built around immigrants from particular countries. The Pháp Hoa Buddhist temple is one of them. First established by Vietnamese immigrants in the 1980s, today it is home to several generations of Vietnamese Americans celebrating cultural festivities and Buddhist holidays.
Temple president Thanh Le talks about his parents, who fled Vietnam during and after the U.S.-led war and helped form the first community.
“They wanted some sort of place of worship,” Le said. “So that people come and talk together. » (KMUW)
The first community was eventually able to purchase a small church on the outskirts of town, which provided a peaceful atmosphere. But by the 1990s, the community had grown to some 700 members and needed a new home. Through fundraising in the early 2000s, the community was able to open Pháp Hoa, a specially built Buddhist temple in the Vietnamese style.
“This place was kind of like a second home to me growing up,” said Sandra Le, an 18-year-old temple member. “People from all areas come here for this: the east side, the south side, the north side. . . . And it's a bit like a big family. (KMUW)
In 2022, the temple added a Buddhist youth activity center.
“We saw a lot of buildings being built,” said Keira Le, 17, who grew up attending the temple. “For example, the very large, huge activity center. This didn't exist when we were still there during the youth group. And it's just really cool to see, to come back and see it all finished. (KMUW)
Across town, the Laotian temple is also expanding: a new meditation hall opened this month.
The Laotian community began experiencing notable growth about 10 years ago, when several monks came to Wichita to lead it.
“The monk leaders here have a huge following outside the state of Kansas,” said Phet Namphengsone, a member of the Laotian Buddhist temple. “So if (members) can’t be there, they donate money. . . . So the congregation grew, both here in Wichita and outside of Wichita. (KMUW)
Elsewhere in Wichita is the Kansas Meditation Center, established in 2012 by Sri Lankan monk Bhante Ratana. In addition to his work with Sri Lankans in the city, Ratana sees potential for reaching non-Buddhists.
“I think I can provide more services here. It is more than a Buddhist temple. I invite all practitioners and we use this place as a Sri Lankan community center,” he said. Speaking of non-Buddhists in the American Midwest, he noted, “Here I especially see that people are very hungry and thirsty for the original teachings of Buddhism, such as philosophy. So people are more interested in profound teachings. I like this. » (KMUW)
There are also Zen and Tibetan sanghas, a community of followers of the late Thich Nhat Hanh, and others.
According to Ratana, they all have the same goal: “We have so many different types of sugar: Truvia, brown sugar, white sugar, cane sugar. But what does it taste like? The taste is sweet. Same with (Buddhism). We come from different cultures, but our goal is the same. Our goal is the same. Our goal is to achieve ultimate happiness. End of our suffering. (KMUW)