Monk building meditation center in California desert

Buddhist monk THich Dang "Tom" Phap is building a beautiful Buddhist Meditation Center in a very unusual and unlikely location: the barren high desert of Adelanto, California. The centerpiece is a 60-ton marble statue of the saint Quan yin, donated by a Malaysian businessman. Phap bought 15 acres in Adelanto four years ago as a home for the statue and the center that he hopes he can complete if enough donations come in. Right now, the place has no power or water. The Los Angeles Times created a lovely short video visit with Phap to accompany an article on his project. Link to video, Link to article (Thanks, Paul Saffo!)


  1. “Soon we will have grass and flowers and air conditioning.”

    As a semi-buddhist and a semi-monk, I’m sorry to see such wanton disregard for the natural environment. That glaring white statue is an insult to the serenity of the quiet desert.

  2. There’s nothing quiet about that desert town. I lived there — there are many incongruities (a prison comes to mind) that are far more insulting than a statue.

  3. #1 – Dude, the serenity of the quiet desert? What part of the Mojave do you think Adelanto is in anyway? The Victoville airport runway is practically on top of the town. On the serenity scale, I’d say it’s about as serene as Palmdale was twenty years ago, before the commuters and gangbangers moved in. Adelanto is just a place you have to drive through to get to the playa at El Mirage.

    That “glaring white statue” is the only interesting thing in Adelanto.

    BTW, what exactly is a semi-buddhist and semi-monk? You either are or you aren’t.

  4. i concur with antinous.the only part(s) of that picture that are not “lovely” and “beautiful” are the over-obvious human additions to the landscape.

  5. What part of the Mojave do you think Adelanto is in anyway?

    Since there’s no power or water and there’s nothing in the photo but nature and those statues, I assumed that it was a rural area.

  6. Semi-monk is like “kinda pregnant.”

    You’re either a holder of Vinaya vows or you aren’t… If you aren’t, you aren’t a Buddhist monastic.

  7. You’re either a holder of Vinaya vows or you aren’t.

    What are you – the monk certification board? Monasticism can have many forms. Some monks live in a monastery, some are peripatetic or simply live alone. Some are celibate, others are married and have children. I spend a chunk of my day and a bigger chunk of my consciousness in prayer, meditation and chanting. I make my living teaching yoga. That makes me a semi-monk as far as I’m concerned. Frankly, way too many people define their commitment to spirituality by what they remove from their lives rather than what they add to their lives.

    As to Buddhism, I’m a yogi, which is the esoteric branch of both Buddhism and Hinduism and, at heart, barely distinguishable from Qabala and Sufism. Semi-Buddhist.

  8. Me: Is “Thich Dang Phap” a Vietnamese name?
    Boyfriend: Yeah, why, did he shoot somebody?

    Ah, internalized racism.

  9. In such a hostile environment this site will be abandoned eventually.
    It will make a interesting ruin in the blast-scape. Blessing the minds of jack rabbits..

  10. @ 11: Bingo.

    Buddhist Art/Style whatever is soooo tacky. Gag me with a spoon.

    But then again…it is in the middle of the desert where I don’t have to see it. Very thoughtful of him.

  11. I just woke up, so pardon my lack of eloquence and hopefully I can make some semblance of sense here.

    One of my old teachers, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, teaches out of a monastery in the California desert. It’s in an avocado orchard in Valley Center, outside of San Diego. I used to go there nearly every summer. It was intense and wonderful, meditating for long periods in the desert heat. Anyhow, my point is that this sort of thing can thrive if it’s done properly.

  12. interesting he mentions the snakes. One of my favoured parables. ” Soho and Musashi sat together zazen in the courtyard. A serpent came from beneath the tea-house. Before Musashi, it reared, showed fangs and retreated, repulsed by the sheer dynamic power of will, radiating like the fire of a forge.
    Turning path towards where Soho sat, it flowed over his legs as if a stone and disappeared into the tall grass. Musashi bowed then in regret to Soho.

  13. You’re either a holder of Vinaya vows or you aren’t

    A beautiful example of Black or White authoritarian thinking or what is known in the recovery community is “stinkin’ thinkin'”. For good reason.

  14. Moniker,

    Nice sobriquet. I wish that link had more pictures of the place. I like the idea that a spiritual retreat (or any building for that matter) fits itself into the landscape instead of dominating it. To me, one of the basic tenets of small ‘b’ buddhism is that you adapt yourself to the universe rather than trying to make the universe conform to your expectations.

  15. I have been impressed by human feats of engineering and architecture done in the names of various gods and ideas. I would be more impressed by any country that had no poor at all.

  16. The Mojave Desert offers low rent spiritual isolation for many immigrants who originally came to Los Angeles. There is already a 30-year-old Vietnamese Buddhism monastery in Lucerne Valley, about 20 miles from Adelanto, called the Chua Thien An Desert Zen Center.

    @ 16: And speaking of Hindu temples, less than 10 miles from Adelanto, in Apple Valley, a Hindu temple is being built right across the street from a Bible-thumping church that tried unsuccessfully to block the temple’s construction. A planning commissioner who tried to score points with the fundies was fired over it.

    Hot on the heels of the original announcement of the temple, another Hindu group in Apple Valley announced plans for a much more grandiose temple and religious center, however they haven’t been heard from again.

    (You have no idea how depressing it is that the only time I have something original to add to a BoingBoing discussion, it’s about Adelanto.)

  17. #18: “I would be more impressed by any country that had no poor at all.”

    The parable of The Three Temples?

  18. You have no idea how depressing it is that the only time I have something original to add to a BoingBoing discussion, it’s about Adelanto.

    I live in a town that venerates Sonny Bono. I’m sympathetic.

  19. A young monk vows to build a temple to Buddha. He collects money for ten years, but when he’s almost got enough a hurricane destroys the province, leaving terrible human suffering in its wake; so he gives the money to the poor. He continues his fund-raising, traveling the country, and almost ten years later he’s again ready to build, but a terrible earthquake ravages the countryside; the money again goes to the poor. Finally, years and years later, an old man, he completes the temple he vowed so long ago to build. The prince, having heard of its beauty, visits the site. He praises the old monk, telling him he’s never seen a more beautiful temple.

    “Ah,” says the monk, “this is nothing. You should have seen the first two.”

  20. Buddy66, there’s a muslim tale that’s similar: the caliph of Baghdad returned from making the hajj to Mecca when, in a dream, he was allowed to ask a question. Wanting to know what would happen when he died, but not wanting to be rude, he asked which of the people who had made the hajj that year would enter paradise. The voice said, “Only one. Kasim of Ismail Street.”

    So the caliph goes to Ismail Street, where he finds a poor shoemaker who could not possibly have afforded to travel to Mecca.

    The shoemaker says he is Kasim of Ismail Street, but he did not make the hajj that year. He had saved his coins for many years, and was about to make the hajj. But then his pregnant wife smelled camel stew coming from a neighbor’s home. They had only eaten rice for weeks, and she begged Kasim to go ask for a bowl of stew. But when he went, his neighbor apologized. He had no stew to share–his children were starving, so he had made a broth of water with a bit of camel hide, and that was what Kasim’s wife smelled. So Kasim went home, dug up his coins, and gave them to his neighbor.

    Telling this to the caliph, Kasim shrugs and says, “God willing, someday I might make the Hajj.” The caliph answers, “God willing, someday I might make the Hajj also.”

  21. If you’re all alone
    And you need someone
    Call me up
    And I’ll come running
    Reconsider me
    Reconsider me

    If it’s still the past
    That makes you doubt
    Darlin’, that was then
    And this is now
    Reconsider me
    Reconsider me

    And I’ll never make you sad again
    ‘Cause I swear that I’ve changed since then
    And I promise that I’ll never make you cry

    Let’s let bygones
    Be forgotten
    Reconsider me
    Reconsider me

    You can go and be
    What you want to be
    And it’ll be alright
    If we disagree
    I’m the ones who cares
    And I hope you’ll see
    That I’m the one who loves you
    Reconsider me

    Let’s let bygones
    Be forgotten
    Reconsider me
    Reconsider me

    And I’ll never make you sad again
    ‘Cause I swear that I’ve changed since then
    And I’ll never make you sorry if you’ll try
    And I’ll never make you sad again
    ‘Cause I swear that I’ve changed since then
    And I promise that I’ll never make you cry

  22. “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”

    “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”

    “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

    Quote guessing game!

  23. Uh, #32 was for Takuan, not Tenn. Sorry ’bout that.

    Tenn, for the quote game, sometimes I think it’s all implied here: “All men are created equal.” But, oh, some people are slow to work out the implications.

  24. Tenn, one more: “They feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan, and the prisoner, for love of Him, saying, ‘We wish for no reward nor thanks from you.'”

  25. Apashiol, excellent question! My current theory is the neighbor made camel stew to nurse his kids back to health, so Kasim’s wife did get a bowl, and somebody got a pony, though I’m still working on that part.

    But part of what I like about the version of the story I found is Kasim isn’t made a vizier or rewarded by the caliph in any way, because Kasim’s doing okay. It’s the caliph who has to think about his priorities now.

  26. I’m glad the wife got some stew. However, I find myself anxious for the pony in such a poor neighbourhood. If I came back to find he’s ended up as kebabs I’d be devastated.

  27. The caliph turned his palace into a fun park for the kids, and everyone gets to ride the ponies for free!


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