American Wisdom Association (般若寺)

This data was last updated on 5 May 2022.

Religious Affiliation: Mahayana Buddhism
Address: 7 Marshall St, Billerica, MA 01821
Phone: (978) 663-6014
Website: https://www.wisdom-temple.org/en
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/americanwisdomassociation/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKMCvZkqePF_817ck3SVd5Q

Mission: The American Wisdom Association uses prajna (般若) as a guide to relieving sentient beings of their sufferings so that they may live at ease and in peace. The temple was created in the Massachusetts area to educate Chinese adults and Chinese-speaking youth on Buddhist values and the practice of applying them in everyday life. Ven. Manzhong expressed that one of the ultimate goals for the temple is to develop independent and wise youth who can serve to better societies, the country, and the world as a whole.

Date Founded: The temple was founded on September 10th, 2013. 

History: Prior to the construction and opening of The American Wisdom Association, the property was occupied by a martial arts center, then a kindergarten, then a church. The funding of the American Wisdom Association is entirely based on donations. The founders of the temple have faced challenges with paying rent and maintaining the temple. Ven. Manzhong, in particular, explained that she has devoted her life savings and sold properties back in China to maintain the temple. Ven. Manzhong expressed that the day-to-day activities were easy to manage in the temple, although they mainly struggled with funding in establishing the temple.

Description of Center’s Physical Space: There are three tall Buddha figures at the altar. On the left, there is a Western Buddha holding a lotus, which symbolizes purity and enlightenment. In the middle, is Shakyamuni Buddha holding a jewel with his right hand. The figure on the right is the Medicine Buddha holding a pagoda, or a Buddhist temple, on the right. On each side of the altar, the walls are covered by a display of golden Buddha statues, each of which is dedicated to those who made contributions to the temple. On the back wall are two separate altars, one lined with glass Buddhas devoted to those asking for health, and the other decorated with wooden Buddhas to honor those who have passed. 

Community: The primary language used and spoken at the temple is Chinese, as the primary ethnic group is Chinese. In cases where non-Chinese speaking guests are present, a translator sometimes is able to facilitate communications. The temple are primarily known through word-of-mouth amongst the surrounding Chinese/Chinese-American community.

Temple Leadership:

  • Bhikkhuni Shi ManZhong: After coming to the United States in 2000, she co-founded the American Wisdom Association in 2013 along with Ven. QiYuan. Currently, she acts as the housekeeper of the temple.
  • Bhikkhu Shi QiYuan (Secular last name: Jin): In 2013, he founded the American Wisdom Temple, Billerica, MA. 
  • Bhikkhuni Shi DeXiu:  She handles the general and kitchen affairs in the temple.
  • Ven. Dr. Dhammadipa Sak (Fa Yao): Ven. Dr. Dhammadipa Sak (Fa Yao) is the Abbot of Wisdom Temple. 
  • Bhikkhuni Shi HongChen (Secular last name: Yan): She is the receptionist of the American Wisdom Association (AWA) in Billerica, MA.
  • Ven. Sagarananda Tien: Ven. Sagarananda is Vice President of Buddha’s Wisdom Association.
  • More information on American Wisdom Association's leaders can be found through this link: https://www.wisdom-temple.org/en/staffs-of-temple/

Current Activities: The American Wisdom Association is open 8am to 7pm daily, during which anyone can come to pray, speak with monastics, and attend services. Every Saturday and Sunday, they offer sutra reading sessions. There are also counseling services for Chinese-speaking community members throughout the week. During these counseling sessions, Ven. Manzhong offers life advice through the lens of Buddhist teachings. Chinese classes have been offered in the past but are currently on hold due to Covid.

Special Programs: Ven. Manzhong offers weekly sutra explanations & life advice in the “Wisdom lecture halls” Wechat group, which is a group chat that consists of 170 members of mainly Chinese youth. She translates complex, traditional language in sutras into simplified Chinese to make Buddhist teachings more accessible to youth.

Affiliations & Partnerships: The American Wisdom Association participates in the annual Buddhist Council of New York, with the goal of expanding Buddhist networks, engaging with City Government, and further providing support systems for Buddhist community members. (https://buddhistcouncilny.org/). They also host an annual celebration of the Buddha’s birthday, Vesak Day, which marks his enlightenment. Although there is a language barrier because monastics primarily speak Chinese, they are open to speaking with anyone through a translator.

Future: Although the American Wisdom Association does not have any plans for expansion as of now, it has intentions for conducting renovations, as the conditions of the facilities have been deteriorating. Ven. Manzhong expressed particular interest in expanding youth group engagement. She invites more Chinese-speaking high school students to join the lecture-hall Wechat group and hosts bi-weekly meetings for sutra readings/explanations.

Notes for Visitors: For visits, Ven. Manzhong suggests the afternoons of weekdays to come to the temple. Since the temple primarily fundraises through donations, it is recommended to give a financial donation through inserting cash into the slit of the wooden box placed in the front center of the room. Another great way to show generosity and respect is through bringing offerings, such as fruits and snacks to place on platters on the bottom of the altar.

 

Contact Information:

 

Researcher Name & Date Submitted: Lesley Tan and Haruka So, Phillips Academy Class of 2022, April 29, 2022