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An Authentic Temple

Throughout history and across cultures, religion is one of the most important aspects in
the life of many people. In Vietnam, the cultural and traditional religion is Buddhism, which
focuses on the attainment of happiness through knowledge and elimination of desires. Among
various and distinctly different temples in Vietnam, Buu Long Temple is one of the largest and
most prominent temples of traditional Buddhism, situated in Seventh District, Ho Chi Minh City,
South of Vietnam. It is a special and sacred place that deserves thorough analysis and
appreciation because it provides an authentic insight into not only Buddhist traditions but also
the practical aspects of operating a large temple. In reality, Buu Long temple, as a major
religious center, serves a variety of people with distinct purposes, which sometimes lead to
conflicts. On the one hand, it is a functional place for local residents to worship Buddha, selfmeditate on Buddhist teachings, and ask for life advices from the monks. On the other hand, it
attracts a large amount of visitors who come to appreciate the landscape, enjoy the relaxing
atmosphere, and briefly experience Buddhism. Examining these two completely different
purposes points out the challenge faced by the temple to find a balance point between religious
practice and tourism.
Buu Long temple is outstanding and distinct from its atmosphere and appearance.
Situated far from the crowded, noisy, and polluted atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh City, Buu Long
is supplied with clean and refreshing air from the mighty Dong Nai River. Built on the riverbank,
the temples structural magnificence is an exceptional combination of Eastern palatial or imperial
architecture (with porcelain roof tiles and flaring eaves) and Western technology (with concrete
columns and steel frames). Having nine floors, spiraled upward with the Buddha statue at the

top, the temple signifies peoples respect for Buddha and his teachings. Next to the temple, the
house of monks and greeting areas for visitors add to the visual impact with their elegantly and
simply decorated walls and roofs. The roofs are two-tiered, with traditional flared eaves, and are
laid with a sea of golden porcelain tiles. Symmetry is an important element used throughout the
temple grounds, with the exception of the classical Vietnamese garden, which is intentionally
designed to mimic the spontaneous growth of nature.
In contrast to its outer appearance, the temples inner core could be analyzed from three
perspectives: the speakers, the audiences, and the messages. The speakers of Buu Long
temple are monks and staffs who work to take care of the temple and provide locals and visitors
with services. Living next to the temple, fifteen monks fulfill their main responsibility by
offering visitors life advices and guiding them to a correct understanding of Buddhist teachings.
Staffs are accountable for keeping the temple, yard and garden clean, accommodating visitors
with housing, and cooking them delicious meals. Monks and staffs are the speakers who
convey the spirit of Buddhism and the ideas of Buu Long temple through their actions. The
audiences also consist of two groups with distinct needs. The first group consists of local
residents who come to the temple to learn about Buddhism and obtain advices. The second group
is visitors from all over Vietnam and some foreign countries, whose main concerns are the
beautiful landscape, refreshing atmosphere and a glimpse of Buddhism.
To address their two different groups of audience, the monks and staffs need to
provide two sets of messages. To the inquiries of local residents, the monks send a warm
message of openness and thoughtful contemplation. By encouraging the locals to talk
about their hardships and struggles, the monks alleviate part of those troubles with attentive
listening and the rest with helpful advices (e.g. to resolve a family dispute or problems at work).

To the visitors, the staffs deliver a message of caring, relaxation, and joy. Coming
visitors are treated with the best hospitality and service by staffs. They are provided with all the
conveniences, a comfortable living space, and flavorful meals. The temple is built to be a solemn
place, but not uncomfortable for visitors. Its doors are always open for people to come in,
meditate, or visit. There are no rigorous rituals that coerce the Buddhists to follow within the
temple, which strengthens its clear message of freedom of consideration. Also, a subconscious
message of contemplation and enlightenment is conveyed to both groups of audience
through the solemn statues and worshipping places decorated with golden patterns. The polite
and respectful manners of individuals also add to the serious message of the temple.
Moreover, in order to increase the appeal of the messages, the temple displays
various paintings and symbols to impact the audience s Ethos, Logos, Pathos, and Mythos.
The writings of moral codes and ethical conducts guided by Buddha (such as honesty, respect,
and diligence) are displayed at the entrance to each building to appeal to the audience s Ethos
(sense of ethics and shared values). Visitors Logos (sense of logics) are affected through the
teachings of monks who point out the logical occurrence of causes and effects in every life event
to promote profound contemplation in the visitors. There are also enormous collections of
Buddhist fables and myths told or exhibited around the temple to appeal to Pathos and Mythos of
the audience. Through the moving story of a mothers love for a child or an enlightening fable,
the visitors will easily relate with emotions and stories to learn the messages faster and
remember them longer. All these resources are open to every person regardless of race, class,
gender, age, or education.
One of the conflicts I propose in my earlier analysis of Buu Long temple is the
challenge to balance between authentic religious practice and tourism. In his entry for Travel/

Tourism in Cultural Geography: A Critical Dictionary of Key Concepts, Mike Crang refers to
the difference between travel and tourism. Travel is seen as an attempt to engage with the
unknown and the different, to expose oneself to other ways of life and cultures, while tourism
tends to be defined in terms of visiting places that are made familiar and similar to the place from
whence you come (35). The idea of Mike is evident through the current situation at Buu Long
temple, as visitors come to tour the place instead of experiencing an authentic Buddhist life. The
Buddhist monks never consume animals and only eat vegetables. However, if visitors try but
cannot enjoy flavorful vegetarian meals, they can still eat meats. Visitors sleep in air-conditioned
rooms and take showers under heated water. On the contrary, the monks simply utilize the
resources that are available to them despite the comfort or discomfort they might feel. These
visitors not only lose their chance of encountering the real Buddhist life but also bring about
conflicts with local residents. Locals expect the temple to be a sacred place that they come to
worship and ask for advices. They are not fond of seeing foreign visitors staying in the temple
with conveniences like a resort. All these issues are dissected by Mike Crang, and he suggests
that visitors should attempt a quest for the authentic the real thing(36) instead of
reproducing the similar and well-worn trail of tourism (35). Buu Long temple could also use
this advice to devise new experience plan for visitors instead of pleasing them with conveniences
to the disadvantages of everyone.
All in all, Buu Long temple is significant for its services to both local residents and
outside visitors. Although the conflict is produced by the accommodations of the temple to
tourism, it also provides an opportunity for the temple and visitors to create future authentic
travelling experience that can benefit both sides. Anyhow, Buu Long temple will continue to
offer access and dedicated service to everyone visiting it.