I have been a Buddhist for over 15 years but never went into any of the Buddhist Temples that are dotted around the Midlands area.
I did make an effort now and then and had a quick search on the internet and found a few of the temples in the Birmingham area and I did pop into one or two.
In my search, I discovered that the temple catered are for their local communities, so some of the temples have Vietnamese monks, catering for the Vietnamese community, and some of the temples are Thai catering for the Thai community.
It a simple reasoning, the Monks are from that country and they speak in their language, not to mention that the community are all from that temples country. So, it is a meeting place as well as a religeous place.
So when I started a relationship with my Thai girlfriend, we started going to her Temple. Her Temple was the Wat Sanghathan Temple, which is in Handsworth Wood Road, Birmingham. I must admit when I first went there I was very curious, I found the people very friendly, open and welcoming.
Subsequently aI took a few of my Christian friends there, some came out of out of curiosity, most came for the free food and they all enjoyed the experience, not to mention the various Thai dishes.
I found that the Temples here are effectively split into two areas, there is the shrine room, where the prayers and ceremonies are held, and the other area is speckled with food stalls, where you can try all different types of food, from all different parts of Thailand. Depending on the temple you go to , most of these stalls are free, and all you have to do is go up and try out whatever they have cooked. At Wat Sanghathan Temple this is the case, there are also free drinks, tea, coffee water and pop.
It’s great, you can try one, two, or all of food provided, but come early as the food can go quick, not to mention get very crowded. The good thing is there is no waste, at the end if there are leftovers you can go up, collect whats left, put them in a p;arctic bag, sealed with an electric band ( The normal Thai way of packaging takeaways) and these leftovers are hurriedly snapped up by the congregation. You can see them, carrying small clear plastic bags with the precious contents and a tight elastic band on the top, keeping the food safe from spilling. My girlfriend will then feast off this for a day or so, depending on how much she has managed to get.
If you are curious, please do not be afraid to pop in and have a look, even if it’s for the food. There is no preaching, no attempt to convert you, (It’s against the Buddhist Monks rules to try to convert or preach anyway) You can pop in and out without being noticed.
You will see many a falang man, sitting around looking after the children, or talking amongst themselves, as there other half are in the shrine room, or doing what they love most, eating and catching up with what’s happening.
For most Thai’s are Buddhist and living in the UK they use the Temple as a meeting point and its the centre of their community, a chance to catch up with friends, chat, eat some free food and of course worship. As it’s a Thai Temple, the Monks will chant and speak in Thai, even though most of them can speak English, but with varying degrees of competence.
Unlike churches, the Temples do not meet regularly, say every Sunday, but at about once a month, depending on the Thai celebrations. Whoever you can pop in anytime you want, to meditate and you will not be stopped.
If you don’t want to be involved in the Religeous side of Buddhism, there are several Buddhist Centres, that practice Buddhism without Monks and the religious side. They practice Meditation and the rules of Buddha to help their life and life goals.