In a quest for a temple, Cambodian Buddhists in Maine hope they can meet in a building they own in a wooded, residential neighborhood in Buxton.

The rural atmosphere seems to be a good setting with the Cambodian community for a temple. Pirun Sen, chairman of the board of Watt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple, said recently temples are always in the forests in Cambodia.

“People like to meditate in forests,” said Sen, who was born in rural Cambodia. “It’s a place to focus. It lifts their spirits up.”

The Watt Samaki Cambodian Temple, 128 Back Nippen Road, is asking the Buxton Planning Board for a permit to meet at the property it owns. At 7 p.m. on Monday, in town hall, the board will continue a public hearing that began last month.

At that meeting, several residents aired concerns that the temple would bring increased traffic and parking problems to the rural road. Opposition thwarted an attempt 20 years ago to locate the temple in Buxton.

A conditional use permit for the temple apparently is covered by the spirit of a Buxton ordinance that would allow a church. But, the board could take more time to deliberate on conditions under which approval could be given.

“I don’t think any decision will be rendered,” Buxton Code Enforcement Officer said Tuesday about Monday’s meeting.

With the exception of signs over two entryways, the temple’s property has little resemblance to what might imagine would be a Buddhist temple. The gambrel-roof home with dormers and shutters on windows appears typical New England. The attached building, which houses the temple, previously was a printing shop.

Back Nippen Road is paved and 1.5 miles in length. The road loops through a countryside with a variety of hardwood and evergreen trees. Horses romp in fenced paddocks outside stables, one directly across the road from the temple. The road with both ends intersecting with Route 112 is off the beaten path.

A mix of homes, which include modern, mobile and traditional Cape Cod style, are largely on about five acres apiece. Some homes are secluded, shielded from the road by trees.

Larry Miller, an abutter to the temple property, said Tuesday deer run through the area and a large flock of wild turkeys are often seen. Miller said residents like the solitude the area affords and being away from the “hustle and bustle.”

Stan and Shirl Densmore live on Back Nippen Road a short distance from the temple. The Densmores own horses and believe the bucolic setting attracted the temple.

“It makes sense that they would want a temple in a rural area, for as far as we know of Buddhists, they would want the quietness of the country,” Shirl Densmore said, answering an e-mail.

The location was a factor that attracted the temple. The temple began in 1985 in Portland and bought a small property there as a first step but sought a larger site. Davan Leng, Westbrook, president of the temple, said the price of the Buxton property was affordable and a nice location.

Farnham described the temple’s property as rectangular containing eight acres. He said it has 350 feet of frontage on the road, runs 1,000 feet deep, and is mostly covered with trees.

“They’re going to keep it wooded,’ Farnham said Tuesday. “They have an affinity with nature.”

That’s good news for Miller, whose home sits on nine acres. He said his worst fear had been that a private party would buy the site and clear the trees.

“The Buddhists are the least likely to do something like that,” said Miller, believing they would leave it pastoral, while another buyer might be inclined to race ATVs or snowmobiles on the property.

Farnham said the temple has landscaped to make the property “aesthetically pleasing” with its natural trails. Another neighbor, Al Laughlin, who owns the horse farm across the road, has lent a hand with his tractor to help the temple monks move large rocks.

Two monks, Bak Him and Chantrea Mean, live in the house and both dress in traditional robes. They have worked to improve the appearance of the property and neighbors say they’re industrious.

Him, 72, was born in Cambodia and has been a monk for two years. Him, who speaks a little English, came to Maine in 1986 from Cambodia.

Mean, 60, came to the United States in 1997 and doesn’t speak English. Mean has been a monk for 40 years and was ordained in Cambodia.

“To become a monk, one must participate in a ceremony during which the head is shaved and he receives his robes. He is usually compelled to recite passages from Buddhist scripture in Pali, the Buddhist holy language in response to prompting by senior monks.

In general, many community members attend these ceremonies; especially the parents, who receive a great deal of merit and honor from having a son ordain. Most young men will ordain as monks for at least a few months as a sort of rite of passage and then disrobe; some will continue to be monks for years or until death,” said Harry Schnur, a Bowdoin College senior studying the temple.

Schnur said Bak Him told the story of his becoming a monk. “He had a dream during which he grabbed someone’s hand and flew over a mountain; he interpreted this to mean that he had the power to help people and decided to become a monk afterwards,” said Schnur.

In the temple, the monks sit on cushions on a raised platform while temple members sit on the floor. “We can’t sit higher than the monks,” Leng said. “And the monks can’t sit higher than the Buddhas.”

Images of Buddha are displayed in the temple decked out with Cambodian decor. Three of those Buddhas were shipped from Cambodia at a cost to temple members of $7,000. There are no chairs in the temple, which is colorfully carpeted. Shoes are reverently removed before entering the temple.

Faithful members of the temple take food daily to the monks. The monks arn’t allowed to eat after noon and live by a set of rules.

Leng said the temple meets each full moon and Sunny Brown Mao, temple treasurer, said they have four celebrations each year. The Cambodian New Year is April 13.

Miller favors the planning board limiting the number of large gatherings the temple could hold each year. “I was OK with 7,” said Miller, who added that the temple people have indicated no more than three. “That would be fine.”

The temple will also need permission from the state’s fire marshal office for its members to meet in the temple. Planners last month said only 200 people at one time, based on square footage inside the building, would be allowed in the temple. The board requested the temple submit plans for a 67-car parking lot on the property. Parking along the road would be prohibited for safety reasons.

Most members of the temple live in Portland, Westbrook, Saco, Biddeford and Brunswick. But Mao travels to the temple from Augusta.

Leng escaped Cambodia, seeking peace and freedom in the United States. The temple helps bring peace to the community, Leng said.


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