Our boy got several firsts last weekend. His first road trip. His first sight of snow. His first visit to a Burmese Buddhist temple in New Jersey. Okay, on that last one, it was a first for his mom and his dad as well.
We’d been wanting to visit this temple for a while now. It was founded by some Burmese immigrants, and features a stupa that’s modeled after the Shwedagon Pagoda in Burma. That one is several hundred feet tall, and is said to house, somewhere in its base, six hairs plucked from the head of the original Buddha himself. The one in Jersey doesn’t quite have that. It’s only, perhaps, 50 feet tall, if that, and it’s surrounded by McMansions and New Jersey. But it’s a beautiful structure, and the attached temple serves a noble purpose. It was a great place for a quick road trip.
Last Saturday, New York and much of the East Coast got blasted by a rather nasty, wet, slushy, icy, snowy – and early! – storm. In Brooklyn, we got a full day’s worth of cold rain, sleet and really heavy snow that snapped some tree branches, caused plenty of localized flooding on the roads, and generally made for a wet mucky day. (Really looking forward to winter!) Sunday, though, came bright and clear, although cold, and by midday most of the snow and slush had melted away. So we picked up a rental car, strapped Nyan into his car seat and his car seat into the backseat, and headed south – down the BQE, across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, through Staten Island, and into the quasi-rural setting of Central New Jersey.
It was actually only about an hour’s drive, and that included the slow bits through Brooklyn before we got on the expressway. Definitely a world away; lots of freeways and tollways, strip malls, McMansions, even open farmland. Felt like we were in the opening credits of The Sopranos. We found the temple pretty easily, and pulled in to a muddy parking lot.
We weren’t entirely sure what to expect, and it took us a few minutes to figure out the lay of the land. The stupa itself was obvious. And there was a long, narrow two-story building under construction and a small wood-frame two-story house. Nothing that said ‘temple’ to us… but we walked around to the back of the house, slopped through the muddy back yard, and walked in. Sure enough, this was the temple – at least until the under-construction temple/community center is done – and it’s a working temple, with Burmese Buddhist monks and an abbot overseeing them. It’s also a community center, and we had to pass through a small kitchen packed full of Burmese women cooking Burmese food. They of course offered us some; we declined, out of politeness mostly, I’d say.
It wasn’t hard, in this small house, to find the front room, which serves as the main room of the temple. We hung out here for a bit, bowing before the small statue of Buddha, reading about the history of the temple, making a donation to help with the construction. The temple’s monks, it turned out, where in prayer downstairs, and would be for a while, which put a crimp in our plans to have Nyan blessed by the abbot. But that’s alright. We did have a brief conversation with one monk who passed though, and who took the boy into his arms. Nyan, being Nyan, pretty much charmed him. And then, as soon as the monk handed Nyan back to us, he started fussing. Nyan, that is, not the monk. (Nyan had been so good on the drive over, napping or just sitting there quietly.) We’ve learned that sometimes when he’s fussing for no good reason, a change of scenery, or just some movement, will do the trick. So we gave some cash as a donation to help the construction of the community center outside, slipped back into our coast and shoes and headed out to the stupa.
It’s an impressive structure, a tall column of white concrete, I guess, partially covered this day in snow, and glistening in the bright late October sunlight. Atop the column were many small bells which tinkled softly in the breeze. We found the corners of the stupa that correspond to the day of the week we were born – Saturday for Beatrice, Tuesday for Nyan and I – and said our prayers.
A few photos and soaking in the quiet atmosphere and it was time to go. We strapped Nyan back in and headed up the highway, stopping for an early dinner at a random Italian restaurant along US 9. The food was good enough; Nyan sat quietly next to us in his car seat, and we marveled at how the stereotype of the New Jersey native is, in fact, not far from the truth, based on our fellow diners. ‘Nuff said.
We got home after dark. It was a long day, and a lot of driving for a relatively brief stop at the temple. But well worth it. We may go back to get Nyan a more formal blessing from the monks, and may make further donations to help the cause. Not bad for his first road trip.