This profile was last updated in 2013
Under the sponsorship of the highly revered Venerable Maha Ghosanada, Trairatanaram Temple was founded in 1985 by the center’s abbot, Venerable Sao Khon Dhamathero. Trairatanaram Temple is one of two major Khmer temples which serve the nearly 30,000 Cambodians in Lowell, Massachusetts. The temple’s name refers to the “three jewels” of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings), and the Sangha (community of monks). From its founding until the late 1990s, Triratanaram temple was active in the Cambodian community of Lowell. Under the guidance of Venerable Dhamathero, the temple developed youth programs, including those meant to prevent Khmer youth from joining gangs, and was involved in cultural activities in the Lowell area. However, the temple’s association with the The Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks, Inc., of which Venerable Dhamathero is president, led to disagreements between the temple’s board of directors, the monks, and the lay community. These tensions subsequently ended most of the temple’s outreach programs. While services are still held at the center, the resident monks and the lay members have divided themselves into the “upstairs” and “downstairs” communities. Venerable Dhamathero is recognized as the leader of the “upstairs” temple and Venerable Sarain is the head monk of the “downstairs” community. For a related article on the disagreement, click here.
In 1948, Venerable Dhamathero was ordained as a novice monk in Cambodia at the age of 14. Six years later he was ordained as a bikkhu (Buddhist monk). In 1985, he founded and became the chief abbot of Trairatanaram Temple in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts. In 1986, he joined the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, a group “dedicated to improving the quality of life for the Cambodian-American community of Greater Lowell and other ethnic minorities through education, cultural, social, community and economic development efforts.” Venerable Dhamathero also helped to co-found the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks, Inc. in 1993, which is involved in trying to bring all Cambodian temples in the United States and the world under one umbrella organization in an attempt to unify the institutions and provide contact and support for one another. Venerable Dhamathero was president of this organization from its founding until 2004. In the spring of 2007, Trairatanaram Temple had the honor of hosting the funerary services for Venerable Maha Ghosananda, a highly respected Cambodian monk who helped to found the temple. Over 3,000 people from all over New England attended the ceremony. Known as “Cambodia’s Ghandi,” Venerable Ghosananda was world renowned for his efforts in reviving Cambodian Buddhism after the reign of the Khmer Rouge. At the collapse of the Pol Pot regime in 1979, only 3,000 of the more than 60,000 Cambodian Buddhist monks had survived the violence. In post-communist Cambodia, Venerable Ghosananda ordained new monks and rebuilt temples, so many of which had been targets of destruction by the Khmer Rouge. Venerable Ghosananda also worked to establish temples around the world, to serve the thousands of Cambodian refugees abroad. He also led nationwide Dhamma Yatra, or peace marches, across Cambodia in an attempt to restore hope to the Cambodian people. Venerable Ghosananda has held such esteemed positions as representative of the Cambodian nation-in-exile to the United Nations in 1980 and the position of Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Cambodia in 1988. Venerable Ghosananda was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, 1996, and 1997 for his work in bringing peace to Cambodia. He passed away on March 12, 2007 at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The Trairatanaram Temple is housed in a former Knights of Columbus Hall, a large nondescript building with white aluminum siding. Due to the disputes of recent years, the temple has divided into two main worship areas. The “downstairs” community’s worship space can be accessed through the back door and down a flight of stairs. These facilities are modest; the large main hall is decorated with colorful murals of the Buddha’s life and the small altar at the front corner of the room is overflowing with dozens of Buddhas. The “upstairs” community’s worship space is more elaborate, having been the original hall for the temple. The main area for worship is a large open room; the walls are decorated with colorful hangings capturing the story of the Buddha’s life, images of famous Khmer monks, and posters of Buddhist sayings in Khmer, Pali, and English. Large photos of the late Maha Ghosanada are placed in prominent places around the room and in front of the ornate altars. The main altar is set back from the room by two lower altars. All three altars are multi-tiered and house dozens of Buddha statues of different shapes and sizes. The facilities also include a kitchen, dining room, library, and monks’ residence. Just outside the temple is an outdoor altar and small stage for larger gatherings and celebrations.
Activities and Schedule
Every day before lunch, around 11 A.M., there is chanting, prayer and the offering of food to the monks, who are supported by the laity. There is also a daily session of chanting alternating with meditation that begins at 7 P.M. Special services, such as the Buddha’s Birthday and the Cambodian New Year, are held four to five times throughout the year, and draw as many as 600 people. Smaller ceremonies, like funerary services and weddings, are also held at the temple. Monks often make personal visits to worshippers’ homes for small private ceremonies. The Temple is open daily from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. Daily food offering and service takes place at 11 A.M. and daily chanting and meditation at 7 P.M. Unique to the Trairatanaram Temple is the use of a weekly television program by both the temple’s communities. Both use the local Lowell cable network for broadcasts in Khmer about Buddhism and temple and community events.