Thich Dao Quang
Monday, July 31, 2006 Courtesy of 225 Magazine
Thich Dao Quang gets up at five o'clock every morning to start his day with a sitting meditation except on the days when his duties as the abbot of Tam Bao Buddhist Temple, his classes at Southeastern, his homework and his family counseling practicum prove too much for him, and he has to sleep in until 5:30 a.m.
"That is a very bad for a Buddhist monk." he says with a smile.
Quang is, by all estimations, the first Buddhist monk in Baton Rouge. Ever. Baton Rouge's Buddhist Temple has existed, in one location or another, since about 1985. It remained monk-less until 2003, when Quang visited to give a lecture and conduct services. "And they said, stay for a few more weeks, and then a few more months. They were very serious, and they asked me to stay here. And I accepted their invitation." Finally, last year, the members of the temple asked him to be their abbot.
Quang is a slight man with frameless glasses. If he likes your question, he will reward you with a smile and a "Wow, good question", in a soft Vietnamese accent. While he talks, his eyes drift out the window to the lawn of the temple where he lives and works. Many things, he says, contributed to his decision to become a monk.
For one, the lifestyle has always come naturally to him. "Even as a little boy, I did not look for a material life, clothing or whatever. Rather I [liked to] read the book, philosophy, literature."
The hardship of living in a divided, post-war Vietnam also played a role. His father spent six years in a government run re-education camp for his ties to the United States. "So many things happen without an answer [thats] reasonable, so many questions in my life." He entered a Zen Buddhist temple to challenge himself to learn and discovered he wanted to be a monk.
"I immigrated to this country on July 13, 1994, at 8 p.m. Central Time." he recalls. He enrolled in college to improve his English, and it was there he began to pursue another passion: psychology, eventually earning a bachelor of arts in the subject. (Thay now has a Masters degree in Counseling and his MSW. He is a licensed Therapist and works with a variety of patients and groups teaching mindfulness as a part of healing.)
Quang speaks authoritatively about the relationship between the Eastern philosophy of Buddhism and the very Western science of psychology. They go hand in hand, he says. Both are about understanding patterns of behavior, why we do the things we do and how we can improve our lives through this understanding. "The only thing difference is in Western psychology, the emphasis is on medication and the diagnosis. In Buddhism, we don't focus on medication, we focus on meditation and change your heart and change your behavior."
Quang has a commitment to a belief in the benefits of meditation and dreams one day of opening a therapy clinic where it is practiced. But first he needs to finish his education. His pursuit of a Ph.D. in clinical psychology is temporarily derailed by a lack of funds, but one of the requirements of his agreement to be the abbot of the Tam Bao Temple is the continuation of his education. He currently attends Southeastern Louisiana University in family counseling. Normally, he says, monks don't get multiple degrees, because the additional burden of schoolwork can make a monk's already busy schedule exhausting. But he enjoys his work.
His busy schedule is evident when you try to track him down: He is in Houston, he is in Nashville, he is preparing for a wedding, he is meeting with a client as part of his family counseling practicum. He conducts services in English and in Vietnamese at the temple and also speaks at different churches and schools around the city.
But even without school, Quang's life is different than the life of a Buddhist monk in Vietnam, or even Houston. In those places, there is a large Buddhist community. "If a monk lives in Vietnam, definitely all people know what the monk does. All the people know the cultural expectations, if they see someone disrespect the monk, they look bad on this person."
However, he says the response he has gotten in Baton Rouge has been good. Attendance at the temple is rising, and he gets a lot of speaking invitations from around the city. Quang makes it very clear, though, he just wants to have a conversation and spread his knowledge. "Buddhism is about study, not conversion. I really hate to see anyone convert anyone to believe what he or she believes. Its just open for discussion. The people ask me any question, and I will ask them to give me the right to ask them any question and lets see what we can do together."