Buddhist temple in University Park modifies practices during pandemic

words and photos by Zaïré Talon Daniels

When driving down Sherman Street near the University of Akron, one cannot help but notice the golden pillar towering out of the backyard of the Mon Buddhist Temple. 

The pagoda was constructed in 2018 and is a symbol of enlightenment.

Soengkha Mahn, an employee of ASIA Inc. and a Mon refugee from Myanmar, escorted me around the facilities and translated a conversation with the monk living there.

Mahn says, “The first [Mon] refugee arrived here in 1992. I arrived in 2001. The population grew and grew and we didn’t have a place to worship. Sometimes we had to rent a hall. So we decided to buy this property.” 

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The land that the Mon temple sits on now was bought in 2001 from the University Park Alliance. Over the last 10 years, the Mon community has converted the space into a Buddhist temple.

Mahn explains the Mon people originate in Southern Myanmar and have faced some of the same atrocities as the Karen people, including ethnic cleansing and forced removal from their homes.

The Buddhist temple in Akron helps refugees connect to their heritage and provides a place to worship. Practitioners typically visit the temple about four times a month. 

Mahn says when he visits the temple, “I reflect on five precepts: Do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery, and do not intoxicate.”

When entering the backyard of the temple, there are places to burn incense as offerings for good luck. There are seven incense-burning stations surrounding the outside of the pagoda. Each station represents a day of the week, and people burn incense at the station that correlates with the day they were born. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the closure of public spaces, including places of worship. Kasara Moli, the temples’ monk says, “We have had one or two people show up but we take direction from local leaders and the governor to allow people to come to visit.” 

Unfortunately, the Mon temple was unable to celebrate the Water Festival, which was scheduled for April 12. “The Water Festival is the new year for our people,” Mahn says. “We splash water to wish goodwill and wash away bad luck.” The Water Festival is celebrated globally. 

Another issue unique to Buddhism in the midst of the pandemic is the traditional practice of almsgiving, where practitioners prepare daily meals for the monks. These meals are usually delivered in person, symbolizing selflessness, but due to the pandemic, extra precautions are being used to ensure safety. 

The Mon Buddhist temple is located only a few blocks from the University of Akron and helps teach students and community members about mindfulness. Inside the house located on the temple’s property, students and other residents of the community come together to learn Buddhist teaching, meditation and more about Mon traditions. 

The positive benefits of meditation include handling stress, lower blood pressure, improved sleep and increased concentration and memory, which is a plus for all of us. 

Zaire Talon Daniels is a 2020 graduate of The University of Akron and a summer intern at The Devil Strip.