In Vietnam, pagodas stand in every neighborhood, and people can stop by throughout any day of the week. Monks run the pagodas, holding prayer sessions three times a day, leading repentance liturgies on the evenings of the full and new moons, and performing rituals to commemorate the twenty-four vía-days – or birthdays and awakening days of the numerous Buddhas and bodhisattvas, enlightened beings.1
Diasporic Vietnamese Buddhist communities have necessarily adapted the roles and operations of their temples within the American landscape. Due to limited resources and limited attendance, most temples in the United States do not stay open everyday; rather, they hold designated prayer and meditation sessions throughout the week.2 In addition, most conduct one main prayer session and Dharma talk on Sunday morning, to better accommodate those who are working.3 Finally, most temples only commemorate the major vía-days, such as Buddha’s Birthday.4
Quy explained that Phat-An has likewise developed in response to its Western environment. “We decide on Sunday [for the Dharma sessions] because we need people to attend and people are working here [in the US].” In addition, she said that most major holidays, besides Tết, are celebrated on the nearest Sunday to better accommodate the thousands of people who attend. Yet Phat-An Temple does maintain a lunar calendar observance for repentance liturgies, or Karma purification sessions; it holds them on evenings of the full and new moons, regardless of where these days fall within the Roman calendar week.
As a result of these adaptations, temples in the United States also serve functions that those in Vietnam generally do not. Phat-An, for example, serves vegetarian meals after the Sunday service, a practice usually reserved for special holidays in Vietnam.5 In addition, it provides Vietnamese language classes for those who have grown up without a steady soundtrack of Vietnamese. In this way, Phat-An, like many temples in the United States, provides social service and community-building events that either aren’t necessary in Vietnam, or that other institutions offer instead.