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The Watt Munisotaram & Campus
The Cambodia Buddhist temple in Farmington, Minnesota is the most beautiful temple on Earth.
—Dr. Chang Thach
Watt Munisotaram is located on a 40-acre plot of land in rural Hampton, Minnesota, a small town close to Farmington. The campus includes the old temple, a house-like structure which serves as the residence for the monks and priests who live year-round at the temple; an outdoor shrine; a stupa (a building where small relics of the Buddha and two of his disciples are housed); and the main temple: a large building with spaces for meditation and community gathering.
This main temple was built from 2002 to 2007 and cost 1.58 million dollars. It has two stories: the top story is for meditation, chanting and ceremonies and the bottom story is for celebrations. Lining the top of the walls in the top story are 26 colored panels depicting Buddha’s life. The bottom story is an open space with a thickly carpeted floor. Both stories have the walls painted with scenes from the Buddha's life and many statues of and altars to the Buddha. On Sundays this bottom story is often filled with music and children running around. The top story is often empty.
The Monk's Residence/Old Temple
Before reaching the parking lot adjacent to the main temple, the main road in the Watt campus takes you past a more typical American-style country house. The small house was one of the only buildings on the property when the Watt purchased the 40 acres (along with two barns, which by 2017 were torn down and replaced with new buidlings). In 1988, the same year as the property purchase, the Watt expanded the small house with the loan from the local bank. It was a made into proper house, with brick in the front and tan clapboard siding. This split-level house was initially used as both the temple and the monk residences. Today it is primarily used as the monk residences.
The first floor has a kitchen and is a gathering place for many people. Children used to use this space to practice dance on Sundays while it is filled with families, eating lunch together and talking. In 2017, the lower level of the main temple is used more for this purporse. The upstairs of the split-level house is where the monks reside and sometimes pray and meditate there. While the main temple is open to the general public, this building is more private and is usually only visited by members of the Watt community.
The Red Building
The Red Building was one of the first structures contructed on the property. It was used initially as the social hall but as the community grew, other facilities were built. There were efforts to convert the Red Building into a dance studio since there was nowhere particularly suitable for the dancers at the time (the main temple has too many fragile artifacts and its cold marble floors were unappealing and the old temple house had too little space). After much discussion, red building was converted into the community center which opened in 2017, and the space will be used for dances and pageants, among other activities (see the page Construction Projects).
The Outdoor Shrine
The outdoor shrine is for burning incense because incense indoors cannot escape and it permeates the entire indoor space. Sophia Sour explains, “it’s a place you can actually go and ask for wishes or where…good deeds come to you.”
Watt Munisotaram has been lucky to have its own architect, Yav Socchea, as a part of the community. Yav, who speaks little English, has been in the United since 2002, when the construction of the new temple began. He was trained in architecture in Cambodia and was sought out by the head monk of Watt Munisotaram to come build this temple. The temple’s architecture has earned it much acclaim by those who visit. As a result, Yav has been asked to build other temples, too, but has his hands full working in Minnesota at this temple. He says that there were few setbacks when building the temple, but building here requires more improvisation. “All [I] brought back from Cambodia was [my] knowledge and experience,” he says. “Everything that is here I am able to improvise with,” he continues. The climate of Minnesota was a major factor when planning, however, for in Cambodia the temperature doesn’t change much. Minnesota, on the other hand, requires buildings that survive all weather, including enough strength to withstand snow on the roof. “It’s a lot of creativity and improvising in that aspect,” Yav says. Overall, Yav feels “very happy and very satisfied” with what he has created here. And the rest of the community feels the same way. Dr. Chang Thach emphasizes Yav’s great job saying, “The Cambodia Buddhist temple in Farmington, Minnesota is the most beautiful temple on Earth.”