The Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Louisville

This profile was last updated in 2006

The Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Louisville is located in the southern part of Jefferson County. Located in a blue-collar neighborhood, the Association is a few blocks away from a middle school and across the street from a fire station, a pharmacy, and a PresbyterianPresbyterian is the general name for churches governed by elected presbyters or elders and refers especially to Reformed churches in Scotland and England that shaped Presbyterian churches worldwide. The church is distinguished both from those in which aut... churchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church .... The church boasts services in both English and Spanish, attesting to the multi-cultural nature of the neighborhood. The large stature of the bodhisattvaA bodhisattva is one who has dedicated his or her life to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva vows to postpone enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings realize liberation. In some cases, the bo... Kuan Yin and a sign in Vietnamese announce the temple’sA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... location.


The Vietnamese Buddhist Association opened at its present location on May 1, 1996. The group was initially formed when Vietnamese immigrants began to talk about forming a templeA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref.... They went asking other Vietnamese in the area for support, and were eventually able to buy the building and rework it into a temple. All ages were involved in the preparation of the temple. According to DanaDana is a religious gift as well as the quality of liberality or generosity. In the Buddhist tradition, generosity is one of the six paramitas (“perfections”) that one cultivates on the bodhisattva path. The other perfections are. discipline, forbeara... Ho, a 21 year old University of Louisville student and temple member, the elders of the community wanted the temple to remind them of Vietnam. Indeed a small altarAn altar is a raised platform or stand which bears the central symbols of a religious tradition—whether in a temple, church, shrine, or home—and at which offerings are made, worship is offered, or prayers are said. in the back of the temple holds pictures of those deceased loved ones, reminding members of the country they have left behind. The temple is housed in a small yellow building, in which there are three major rooms: a temple proper, a community room, and an office area.


A typical Sunday will start early in the morning for the young people (this will be discussed more later), and at noon for the rest of the community. The group will gather around 12:00 for a service that usually involves a lay member reading a sutraA sutra is a text containing religious teachings. In the Buddhist tradition, sutras constitute one of the three canonical categories of teachings: vinaya (code of discipline), abhidharma (metaphysics), and sutra (discourses). This last category covers tho... in Vietnamese and then leading the prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not.. The community also shares a communal meal. Once a month or so, a monkA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... from Indiana will come down and lead a service and then teach. This is when many of the Anglo-American practitioners will attend a service.

Activities and Programs

Keeping in line with their work to preserve Vietnamese culture in the United States, Dana spoke very excitedly about a group at the temple known as Young Buddhist Families. Children may begin the program at the age of seven, and the program continues beyond age nineteen (no specific age for finishing the program was given). The point of the program, according to Dana, is to learn both BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... and Vietnamese culture. The group will meet around 8:00 am to get the rice and water ready for the community service later in the day. Around 10:30 they will read a sutra, usually an easier one so that all present will be able to understand. The young people read and study during the noontime prayers of the elders. Sometimes there is a five minute meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... session to get the kids calmed down. The group will also play or do skits to get everyone involved. Every year the group goes on a camping trip where they take “exams” that note their achievement during the previous year, and after passing a certain level the young person is able to become a teacher.

There are Young Buddhist Families groups based in other cities that the Louisville group is connected with. While there are groups in Cincinnati and Memphis, the Louisville community is most closely connected with the group in Nashville. When the Nashville chapter was just starting, members from Louisville traveled south to help with any kind of problems the new group was experiencing.


The Vietnamese Buddhist Association is the religious home of between 75 and 100 Vietnamese Buddhists in the south end of Louisville. They practice Pure LandPure Land is a term used in the Mahayana Buddhist traditions to denote the realm under the auspices of a particular Buddha, most often referring to Sukhavati, the Land of Ultimate Bliss presided over by Amitabha Buddha. A Pure Land is an ideal place of cu... Buddhism; AmidaAmitabha Buddha, called Emituofo in China and Amida in Japan, is the Buddha of “Infinite Light.” This Buddha is the main focus of devotion in the Pure Land school of Chinese Buddhism, and the Pure Land (Shin) and True Pure Land (Jodo Shinshu) schools ... BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther... and Kuan Yin are two of the most revered bodhisattvasA bodhisattva is one who has dedicated his or her life to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva vows to postpone enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings realize liberation. In some cases, the bo... within the community (statues of Amida can be found inside, and the statue outside is of Kuan Yin, the female bodhisattva of compassion). All ages attend the services, with holidays drawing crowds of more than 100 participants. Most of the temple’s members live in Louisville, although a few do travel from Lexington and southern Indiana on Sunday mornings for the service. Several Americans will come and pray with the Vietnamese congregation, however unless the monk is visiting, the services are all in Vietnamese. Thus, the presence of non-Vietnamese participants is limited to the Sundays when the monk is present.

Neighborhood Outreach

The temple is located in a neighborhood of Louisville called Beechmont. Located in the south end of the city, it is not far from Churchill Downs and is home to a large portion of Louisville’s immigrant population. Given the media’s emphasis on displaying the negative experiences of non-Christian traditions in the United States, one might expect to hear stories of violence and vandalism when speaking to a non-Christian, especially in the BibleThe Greek term biblia means the “books.” Bible is used in both the Jewish and Christian traditions to refer to the book which gathers together their sacred writings. The Hebrew Bible includes the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings—a collection re... Belt. This turned out to be far from the experience of the Vietnamese temple. Dana noted that there has been no vandalism that she could remember and that the surrounding neighborhood has been nothing less than supportive. Every year in late January and early February, the temple hosts the annual Chinese new year celebrations. They send out letters to the local community and inform the police about the event, and this has worked in averting any problems with noise or traffic.

In terms of interfaith work in the Louisville community, the association is not a member of the Center for Interfaith Relations, formaly the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, the major interfaith organization in Louisville. Dana said that the temple does participate in the University of Louisville’s cultural fair every year. Most of the temple’s work with the surrounding community is with other Vietnamese in the area. An interesting example is that of the local Roman Catholic Vietnamese community. When the church was going to bless its statue of MaryMary was the mother of Jesus and, as such, has a special place in the affection and devotion of Christians. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew speak of her as a Virgin who conceived Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Devotion to the Virgin Mary, also cal..., they invited the Buddhist community to come over and celebrate with them. The celebration consisted of cultural food, dress, dance, and other activities. The major emphasis in their work with the community seems to be focused on preserving their Vietnamese heritage.