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BUDDHISTS GATHER IN UTAH FOR SACRED RITES

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Theravada Buddhist tradition requires monks to eat only food offered by lay devotees; without a daily offering, the monks go hungry.

Physical and spiritual sustenance were both in abundance in Layton Thursday during the opening day of the National General Assembly of the Thai Bikkhus. Ninety Buddhist monks, donned in orange saffron robes and sandals, are participating in the four-day conference.The monks, hailing from Thailand and the United States, are scheduled to spend the first three days in meetings discussing trends, sharing insights and resolving concerns of the country's Buddhist community.

The conference assumes a spiritual tone Sunday when the monks formally dedicate the Layton Buddhist Temple and ordain new monks in a sacred head-shaving ceremony.

All activities are being hosted at the temple, 644 E. 1000 North.

Venerable Thawatchai Puakta, abbot at the Layton sanctuary, said this week's conference places the Wasatch Front at the focus of the country's Theravada Buddhism community.

"It's a real honor to have the assembly in Layton. It sends a message that everyone, regardless of their religion, is welcome to come and enjoy the spirituality of the temple," he said.

The monks began their meetings Thursday after being welcomed by Layton's Chamber of Commerce. In a memorable East-meets-West exchange, greetings from community business leaders were returned by a harmonious two-minute chant from the 90 monks. A Thai dinner followed the formalities.

City officials hope Layton residents will take advantage of this unique cultural and spiritual experience.

"We're delighted to be able to host the assembly," said Layton Mayor Jerry Stevenson. "Layton is already a diverse city, and the conference only adds to our community."

The monks call Sunday's consecration ceremony the highlight of the annual event.

"The temple is the center of the Buddhist community - we have over 100 Utah families who use this temple. It's a sacred place where people can come together and find unity, purity and peace of mind," said Venerable Phramaha Somjit Jotimanto. "The temple is also important because it's the only place where new monks can be ordained."

According to 3,000-year-old tradition, holy Theravada Buddhist ceremonies - or Sangghakamma - must be performed within a sacred, dedicated area called the Sima. Rivers, trees and boulders were used in the religion's early days to represent sanctuary boundaries.

Today, a temple is consecrated by monks performing the Sacred Stone Ceremony. Eight giant, gold-laced stones inscribed with Buddhist symbols are placed around the outside of the temple walls.

A ninth stone is buried within the sanctuary.

Following the dedication, 20 Buddhist laymen are expected to have their heads shorn before being ordained novice monks. The new monks will then be required to abide by 227 strict rules, including an astute vow of poverty.

"Life for a Buddhist minister is not easy; he is required to give up everything but three robes, a pair of sandals and an umbrella," said Karen Mallick, a Buddhist from California. "But a monk's responsibilities are so valuable to a community because he serves as a counselor, a religious adviser and a meditation teacher."

Although many remain ministers until death, Theravada Buddhist monks are not required to take life-long vows, Mallick added.

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Additional Information

Public invited for ceremony

The public is invited to attend the consecration ceremony of the Layton Buddhist Temple on Sunday, June 19.

At 9:30 a.m., Suvisa Kirtiputra, Thailand, will welcome visiting monks and guests and explain the purpose of the Sacred Stone dedication ceremony.

Theravada Buddhist monks from the United States and Thailand will then consecrate the temple.

At 2 p.m., 20 lay Buddhists are expected to participate in a sacred head-shaving ceremony and be ordained novice monks.

Asian singing, dancing and music has been scheduled after the dedication. Ethnic food will also be sold Sunday to support the building fund.

The temple is located at 644 E. 1000 North, Layton.

Free meditation classes are offered daily at the temple. Call 544-7616 for information.