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HUNTINGTON BEACH : Thousands Observe Buddha’s Birthday

A dozen Buddhist monks in gold robes filed onto a stage at Golden West College and stood before a makeshift altar, while one voice wailed a hypnotic incantation and a single drum sounded a slow, mesmerizing beat.

Thousands of Vietnamese-Americans gathered Sunday on a grassy area to watch and pray, celebrating Ngay Hoy Phat Dan , or Buddha’s Birthday Festival.

Sponsored by 27 Southland Buddhist temples and organizations, the festival was the first of its kind in the United States, said Le Khac Ly of Huntington Beach, who coordinated the event with Huu Dinh Vo, a physician from Pomona.

Festival organizers estimated that 6,000 to 10,000 Vietnamese-Americans from throughout Southern California attended the event in recognition of Buddha’s 2,534th birthday. Le and Huu said they hope that Sunday’s event--with religious rites, educational exposition, a food fair and celebration in the park--will become an annual event.

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“We’ve had this dream for a long, long time,” Le said. “We’ve been waiting for this opportunity to . . . unify all kinds of communities, for doctors, workers and people of all professions and political parties to meet in celebration.”

On stage, each monk lighted a candle and knelt. The ceremony symbolized the sharing of Buddha’s light and energy.

Elsewhere, others bought platefuls of Vietnamese food or browsed through display booths featuring books, statues and plaques devoted to Buddha, while children played on an air mattress in the likeness of Humpty Dumpty.

Since the Vietnamese began immigrating here en masse, each Buddhist temple has held individual birthday ceremonies each year. But they have never joined in a celebration, Le said.

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Underlying the event, Le said, is a political agenda. By staging such gatherings of Vietnamese-Americans, Huu and Le said they hope to demonstrate solidarity for the anti-communism movement in their native country.

“Our big dream is for this to get bigger every year, and one day, we hope to return to our homeland in Vietnam and celebrate Buddha’s birthday in our country,” Huu said. “And this is the first step.”


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