Learning fromSouth Phoenix


A meditative moment can be found at the Chu A Thon Yen (Calm Village) Buddhist Temple on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Baseline Road in South Phoenix.  This was my first visit to a Buddhist Temple and the experience was interesting.  Our ‘freeze frame’ began as I was standing beside the temple’s reflecting pool that is filled with lilly pads and other aquatic plants.  Water rushes and splashes into the pool from a hose positioned so that the sound of the water will drown out the noisy traffic beyond.  A short wooden oriental style fence surrounds the pool.  As I stand on one of the brickwork paths that lead to and from the pool, I notice to my right a great stone fireplace, its façade blackened and charred.  It’s evident that it has been used a lot this winter.  On the ground to my left sit two statues of Buddha.  The white stature on the left side towers over the much smaller golden one as they smile back at me.  Another taller oriental fence surrounds the entire reflecting pool area.  

Beyond the pool's fence lies the rest of the temple grounds dominated by the main building  (We knocked but there was no response).  In the June 3, 2001 Arizona Republic, A. Pancrazalo presents the interesting fact that, before the temple was opened, this building had been a drug house.  There is also a stage nearby for addressing a large congregation plus a huge table with dozens of unlit ceremonial candles arranged on it.  Hanging beneath a string of red lanterns in a miniature temple of its own guarded by red wooden lions is the “Great Awakening Bell”, said to produce the “voice of the Buddha” when struck.  Overall, this is a very tranquil and calming place!



Beyond the property fence, just outside of the temple grounds sits a Circle K with the usual traffic flowing in and out.  Across the street is an electrical switching yard and as you proceed west on Baseline there is a Japanese Garden, a Catholic Church, and then a typical “strip-mall” shopping center that could be found in any part of Phoenix.  The neighborhood to the south of the electric station is a mix of both run down and well-maintained older homes and newer mansion-like ones. Just a mile or so east of the temple is a McDonalds decorated in a Latino theme, complete with a shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe.




The built environment is not the only sign of the great diversity in this area.  As our group ate lunch and watched the people going from place to place, I noticed members of many different cultures passing by, a testament to South Phoenix’s place as a refuge from the homogenized whiteness of the typical Phoenix neighborhood.  (Overall, Phoenix is over 71% Anglo – South Phoenix only 32.8% Anglo)(Morrison Institute, 22 & Burns/Gober, 16).  The presence of the temple, along with all of the other evidence of non-Anglo culture seems to bear out the Morrison Institute for Public Policy’s assertion in Hits and Misses: Fast Growth in Metropolitan Phoenix that “unlike their European predecessors, [who] felt acculturation was necessary in order to succeed…today’s ethnic minority immigrants are attempting to maintain their cultural identities”.

Turning away from the reflecting pool, I look over my shoulder to the North and notice the clear, postcard-like view of downtown Phoenix from the rarely seen (for most Phoenicians) southern perspective. The uniqueness of this place ought to be included in the overall picture of the city.




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email: James.Czarnik@asu.edu