History of Wat Thai

Wat Thai of Los Angeles

Wat Thai of Los Angeles, as many people in the community have come to know it, is a Thai Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. Its official name remains Theravada Buddhist Center, Inc.

The history and establishment of the temple, is a long and complicated one.  In 1970 (B.E. 2513), a Thai Buddhist monk was invited to Los Angeles and stayed there for a while, making himself available to a large number of people. He returned to Thailand, with great enthusiasm to set up a Thai Buddhist temple in Los Angeles.  His motivation came from a number of devoted Thai Buddhists in LA.

In that same year, a Thai-American Buddhist Association was organized and the monk returned to Los Angeles.  This time, he was accompanied by two other Thai Buddhist monks. The three monks were invited by a devout group, who were dedicated to organizing efforts to create a Thai Buddhist temple. The three monks stayed in Los Angeles for three months at the Vassa-residence, and discussed the idea more fully with the lay community before returning to Thailand.

At a later date, a senior monk from Bangkok made another visit.  Unfortunately, during his stay, a Thai student passed away.  The student’s funeral services were held at a Japanese temple. Longing for a place where the Thai tradition and customs could be followed and shared, the Thai Community’s desire to have a Thai Temple became stronger.  In consultation with the senior monk, a group of Thais held a meeting which ultimately resulted in the creation of two important founding committees that would lead to the establishment of The Wat Thai.  One committee would organize themselves in Los Angeles, while the other committee based themselves in Bangkok – both working toward forming a Thai Buddhist temple in Los Angeles and to collect funds for this purpose.  

Shortly afterwards, on July 6, 1971 (2514 B.E.), a suburban house on Sepulveda Boulevard was converted into a residence for monks.  This date was regarded unofficially as the beginning of the first Thai Buddhist temple in the United States.  However, the state government would not grant permission to build or expand the premises to erect a temple, as the site was considered legally unsuitable for such a purpose. For this reason, the monks’ residence at Sepulveda became only a temporary unofficial temple.

On December 22, 1971 (B.E. 2514), the temporary temple was officially filed under the State of California as a non-profit organization under the name of The Theravada Buddhist Center, Inc.  This remains the legal and official name of the temple, according to the Certificate of Incorporation.  On this date, and under its official name, marked the founding of the Wat Thai.

In 1972 (B.E. 2515), the temple was moved to the present site on Cantara Street.  The 2.2 acre of land was purchased with funds donated by a wealthy man in Bangkok, the father of the current chairman of the Temple Founding Committee in Los Angeles. A group of four monks first took residence there on May 16, 1972 (B.E. 2515). Since then, efforts and energy have been concentrated mostly on the construction of the temple as well as raising funds. The founding committees had a vision and a plan. They wanted to erect a full-fledged monastery in the Thai traditional way, equipped with living quarters for monks, a temple court, and separate sacred buildings.  They felt it especially important to have the main consecrated hall done in traditional Thai style.

The new location, with two or three attached antiquated buildings, were large enough to accommodate a number of religious buildings and structures as required.  Most of the older buildings have been pulled down. Some newer buildings have been erected. However, the main hall, a two-storied Thai-style building, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1972 (B.E. 2515), remained under construction and continued for years to occupy the attention and energy of the temple group because of its unfinished work. A proposal was submitted to the Center’s Committee to have the name of the organization legally changed to the more popular “Wat Thai of Los Angeles” and to make other necessary changes regarding legal regulations to turn the organization into a full-fledged ecclesiastical establishment, according to the traditional standards of the Buddhist Order of Thailand.

The name Theravada Buddhist Center, Inc. was officially changed to Wat Thai of Los Angeles when the State of California granted the Certificate of Second Amendment of the Articles of Incorporation on June 11, 1979 (B.E. 2522).  Shortly afterwards, the construction of the Thai-style main hall was completed.  On October 21, 1979 (B.E. 2522), the grand ceremony to mount the gable spire (Yok Chaw Fah) was held, presided over by His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. This main hall is called the Uposatha-Sala – its space is multipurpose, functioning both as the consecrated assembly hall and as the merit-making hall.

In Bangkok, towards the end of the same year, on December 26, 1979 (B.E. 2522), His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand presided over the ceremony of casting the principal Buddha image for Wat Thai of Los Angeles.  It was held at Wat Po, (officially Wat Phra Jetupon, or the Monastery of the Reclining Buddha), as a gift and named the image Phra Buddhanorathepsartsada Dipyanagarasathit. In fact, the initiative to have this Buddha image cast for Wat Thai of Los Angeles must be credited by General Kriangsak Chamanan, the then Prime Minister of Thailand, who conceived the idea when he came to preside over the  roofing ceremony for the Main Hall of the Temple on February 13, 1979 (B.E. 2522).

The image was later transferred to Los Angeles and was installed in the Main Hall of Wat Thai of Los Angeles early in 1980 (B.E. 2523).  Also enshrined in the Main Hall is the Emerald Buddha, a replica of the original image in the Chapel Royal of Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, which is by far the most revered of all the countless Buddha images in the whole kingdom of Thailand.

Another grand celebration was held when His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand came again to preside over the ceremony of establishing the boundary-marking stones of the Assembly Hall.  His Eminence Somdech Phra Dhirayanamuni led the monks in the Sangha formal act of consecrating the Assembly Hall boundary on October 17, 1982 (B.E. 2525), rendering Wat Thai of Los Angeles a full-fledged monastery of the Sangha according to the Thai ecclesiastical legal tradition.

There were seven monks, all Thai, including a newly-ordained one, in residence at Wat Thai of Los Angeles during the Vassa (traditional continuous residence period) of the year 1977 (B.E.2520). The number of resident monks has not changed much throughout the period of many years. In the Vassa of 1983 (B.E.2526), five monks were in residence as incumbents, not including the four newly ordained and the seven visiting monks who stayed temporarily for three or four months.

Besides smaller merit-making ceremonies which are held frequently throughout the year o such as birthdays, weddings, memorial, and funeral occasions, a number of annual festivals and celebrations are regularly observed on a much larger scale on Buddhist holy days and other traditional holidays. Presently, according to the notification the Temple has made to the city government, Wat Thai of Los Angeles usually holds twelve festivals and celebrations every year:

  1. New Year Festival, on the first day of January. (There is an evening chanting ceremony on New Year’s Eve);
  2. Magha  Puja Day, on the full moon day of the third lunar month (usually in the middle of February) in commemoration of the Great Assembly of Disciples;
  3. Wan Waikhru, or the day on which students show reverence for their teachers, on any Thursday in January;
  4. Songkran, or Water Festival, on April 13; (Usually in the second weekend of April)
  5. Visakha Puja Day, on the full moon day of the sixth lunar month (usually in the middle or towards the end of May) in commemoration of the Birth, the Enlightenment and the Passing away of the Buddha;
  6. Lorthien or Candle-Casting Ceremony, on any day of July some weeks before the beginning of the Vassa residence;
  7. Asalha Puja Day, on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month (usually in the middle or towards the end of July) in commemoration of the Buddha’s First Sermon;
  8. H.M. the queen’s Birthday, on August 12;
  9. Salakapat Ceremony, near the end of August, to offer the utensils for the monks without specifying whomever;
  10. Ok Pansa, or the end of Vassa residence (period of retreat during the rains, or the Buddhist Lent), on the full moon day of the eleventh month (usually in the middle or towards the end of October);
  11. Tot Kathin, or the Post-Lenten Robe-Offering Ceremony, on any day during one month following Ok Pansa to present robes to the monks who have completed the Vassa residence, (usually in the second weekend of October or November some year);
  12. H.M. the 9th  king’s Birthday, on December 5.

Along with the large population of Thai people and Thai-Americans, refuges from Cambodia, Vietnam, and especially Laotians, are most of the participants in the religious activities of Wat Thai.

To promote the teaching of The Buddha, Buddhist beliefs and practices, Thai culture, and to publicize its activities, the Temple publishes Duang Pratip, a bilingual monthly magazine, with more articles in Thai than in English. To realize Buddhist educational objectives, it runs Buddhist Sunday School classes for children who learn Thai language and culture as well as Buddhist morality. The school offers regular meditation training to Thai, Americans, and other people who are interested in it. A vocational school for adults has also been opened to teach the art of preparing decorative food by fruit and vegetable carving. It is notable that, as a service to the local community, the temple grounds used for polling booths for political elections, as is similarly done in Thailand.

It is a great pleasure to the Thais that Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand has several times graced the Thai community of Southern California with her royal visits to Wat Thai of Los Angeles. With Her Majesty’s four donations to the temple, amounting to $5,000, a fund has been established to help Wat Thai of Los Angeles in the realization of its beneficial objectives.

In the latest development, Wat Thai of Los Angeles in cooperation with the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, has launched a Research Project for Curriculum and Instruction Development in “Thai Language and Culture”. Under this project, a number of professors and lecturers from the Faculty of Education of Chulalongkorn University will come to stay for some months in Los Angeles to conduct the summer culture to a class of 30-40 young Thai students who live in the United States. The summer project starts from June through September, and the yearly weekend school starts from September through June.

The Thai food court is opened on the weekend for gathering the local community.