On Sunday February 29, I attended a service at the Tam Bao Buddhist Temple in Baton Rouge. Through this temple, I was given the opportunity to attend a Buddhist wedding ceremony. This was a unique occasion not only for me, but also for Thay, a monk at the temple. This was to be the first wedding Thay would participate in since he moved to Baton Rouge about 10 months ago. This is also the same made who had so kindly invited me to attend the Sunday ceremony when I talked to him on the phone. He believed that attending the ceremony would be a great opportunity for me to see observe a less commonly seen ritual of Buddhism.
At about 11 oclock in the morning on Sunday, I arrived at the temple. It was a one story brick building with a red roof. One of the first things I noticed was a very large, white marble statue of Buddha. I later learned that this statue was hand carved from a hill of marble in India. It was beautiful. Around this statue, members of the temple hold services as well as mediation sessions. As I walked toward the back of the building, where the wedding was being held in an average sized room, I noticed a small shed-like building to the right of the temple. Inside this shed there were offerings, statues, and flowers. I was told that members of the temple go inside this room to receive a fortune giving them insight into their life. On and around the main building, I noted a theme of red and yellow all over the building, especially on the doors. The monk performing the ceremony was also dressed in a yellow robe, and there were golden lotus flowers on the doors. I learned that the red around the building is meant to chase away evil. The yellow represents holy vibrations, much like the yellow light that is typically seen coming from the halos of angels. There was also Vietnamese writing on the doors that a member of the temple translated as meaning The path that is darker erases sin and Within this door things remain peaceful. Placed just outside the doors, there were two small, evergreen-looking trees. These particular trees represent long life to Buddhists. Inside the doors I could see about twenty barefooted people with their hands folded and their heads bowed. At the front of the room, placed relatively high above the ground, there was a golden statue of Buddha. Around the statue were fruit and flowers which had been placed there as offerings to Buddha. There was another statue on the alter, which stood before the bride and groom. This white statue is a figure that represents compassion and love. I thought this was an incredibly appropriate statue to be placed in front of the bride and groom. As I learned more about the details of the temple, I was moved by the symbolism that is used in Buddhism. These were some of the things which made the largest impressions on me.
There were many aspects of the actual wedding ceremony which I found very interesting. The first thing I noticed was the dress of those involved. The bride was dressed in a modern, white wedding gown, complete with a veil. The groom was dressed in a white tuxedo. There were also two flower girls beside the bride and groom who also wore white gowns. Some of the guests were dressed in a more traditional, Asian style dress. However, most were wearing a more American style of clothing such as jeans, a medium length skirt, a blazer, or a suit and tie. The priest conducting the ceremony wore a yellow robe, while the other monks wore the more typically seen brown robe. I was surprised by the mix of traditional and modern dress in this formal ceremony. Throughout the wedding, there was a lot of standing and kneeling to pray. The priest spent most of the beginning of the ceremony singing hymns and chants that were all in Vietnamese. During certain hymns, the guests joined in with the priest. These hymns were translated for me as being mostly about the expectations for the couple to Buddha as well as each other. The priest also read many passages, also in Vietnamese, to the couple. One of the passages told the couple that they should learn to make each moment new, and learn to forgive each other for their faults. I found the most interesting part of the ceremony to be the participation of the mothers and fathers of the bride and groom. These four very important people were seated to the right of the couple. In the middle of the ceremony the bride and groom brought the members of their family a cup of tea. This time in the ceremony was compared, by a member of the church, to the part in a Christian wedding when the priest asks if anyone has an objection to the marriage. If any member of the family refuses the tea it is symbolic for their disproval of the wedding. I thought that this was a beautiful way to respect and honor the couples family. Although this wedding ceremony was very different from any that I had previously attended, it was very beautiful. It became increasingly exceptional as I learned about many of the underlying meanings within the religion.
After the ceremony, I sat down with two American monks who I had been introduced to. These two men offered to speak with me in order to answer any questions that I may have had about the ceremony which I had just observed. As we were discussing the meanings behind some of the methods of Buddhists, another man approached our table. He invited all of us to join the members of the temple for a lunch inside which is held for members of the temple after every Sunday service. I thought this was an incredibly kind gesture. As a complete stranger to these people, I had been openly invited to share in their customs. I joined several monks, as well as normal people, at a table. Once I sat down women began rushing to me with soup, salads, greens and cakes. I learned as I ate that everything being served was vegetarian because Buddhists do not believe in taking any life. Over lunch, I conversed with the monks about their background, as well as my own. At the end of lunch I chatted a little more with Thay, the monk who had invited me to attend this special ceremony, about a few more questions that I had. I left the Tam Bao Temple with a great impression of the kind and generous people who I had met there.
I found the similarities and differences between a Buddhist wedding and Christian wedding very interesting. One of the biggest differences was the building in which the ceremonies were held. A Christian wedding would typically be held in a large church with large stain glass windows, and lots of pews filled with many people. The Buddhist ceremony however was in a much smaller and more simple building. However, like any other church, it was rich in culture, tradition and symbolism unique to their faith. There were very few people at the Buddhist wedding and none wore shoes. Another difference I observed was their method of prayer. In a Christian church, members typically sit and stand for only certain occasions and kneel only when in prayer. The Buddhist ceremony also seemed less organized than most weddings that I had been to. There were constantly people walking in and out of the doors, children from Sunday school running around and shouting, as well as some confusion for the bride and groom during the ceremony. I do not know if this is typical of a Buddhist wedding ceremony; however, it seemed to coordinate with the more relaxed temperament exhibited by the people at the temple. Despite many differences, I also noticed several similarities. Already I mentioned the similarity between the opportunities for objections of the family and the similar dress of the bride and groom; however, the most important similarity between the two ceremonies is their meaning and importance. Both ceremonies, despite the specific religious orientation, are about the union of two people as well as honoring their families and the beings which they honor. My visit to the Tam Bao temple gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the Buddhist religion as well as its people.