Entering the God De Buddhist temple on Nine Mile Road is truly a feast for the senses.
The scent of thick and sweet incense fills the air. Monks dressed in yellow robes strike gongs and whisper eerily into Buddhist singing bowls, while singing in a haunting, almost hypnotic tone. A cornucopia of food fills the temple – plates of spring rolls, rice and sweet potatoes and much more.
This is the type of service that has taken place in Buddhist communities for centuries. And it’s a traditional ritual that Pensacola Buddhists have observed off Nine Mile Road for a quarter of a century.
Members of God Of Temple are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the temple this weekend with visitations and prayers from visiting monks and nuns. On Sunday, temple members will celebrate the ribbon cutting of the Spiritual Pagoda, where the ashes of past members and deceased relatives are stored in ornate boxes on shelves for worship.
“All songs and prayers are for the deceased,” said Thuy Nguyen, 42, who arrived in the United States from Vietnam at the age of 12 and has been a member of the temple since its inception. “We call upon the spirits to come out. The souls.”
Even the food, beautifully served and surrounding various depictions of the Buddha that are found throughout the temple, is intended for deceased ancestors.
“Family is very important in our culture,” said Nguyen. “So we offer prayers for them.”
The prayers and chanting continued for hours. At regular intervals, the only monk dressed in red, Thich Hai Nghiem, went to various altars to offer blessings with slowly simmering incense sticks that sent snakes of smoke into the air.
Myhanh Smiley came to the United States from South Vietnam with her four children.
“We lost our country, but we have a new country, and we still have our ancestors to guide us,” said Smiley, 80. “This (temple) is a place where we can come to carry on our traditions and faith of our homeland. It is very important to us. Being able to practice our religion has made the trials that we had to go through to be here easier.”
In the early 1990s, Vietnamese Buddhists began to come together to worship. But there was no real temple structure. An old two-story house served as a place of worship until construction began in the early 2000s on a spacious brick temple.
Although the majority of the members are of Vietnamese descent, the temple also has people of different races in its congregation and even offers services in English on Fridays.
Sunday activities started around 10 a.m. and the public is invited. Make sure you don’t have holes in your socks because you can’t wear shoes at the temple.
Dieu De Temple is located at 9602 Nims Lane next to Nine Mile Road.
Troy Moon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-435-8541.