1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Lao Buddhists of Olathe, Kansas, Still Hope to Build

By February 26, 2011

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The Lao Buddhist Association of Olathe, Kansas, is still trying to get a conditional use permit for building a new temple. But the Olathe Buddhists are still running into resistance.

As I wrote last week, the original request was denied by county officials after neighbors expressed concerns about everything from loud gongs to animal sacrifice. The LBA scaled back their plans and resubmitted them. Thursday night the new plans were the subject of a public meeting of the county commission, and the Kansas City Star reports that an overflow crowd attended.

Reporter Alexia Lang reports that the attendees filled two meeting rooms and lined the hallways. More than 25 people spoke out at the meeting in opposition to the building of the temple; a handful spoke in favor.

The Lao Buddhist Association wants to purchase 14 acres in a rural location west of Olathe. Their original application for a building permit was denied, so the Lao Buddhists deleted a 9,600-square-foot worship space, a separate Buddha temple, a ceremonial gate, and other elements from their plans and resubmitted them for approval. The county commissioners voted 6-1 to send the plans on to the county zoning board for approval. So we'll see.

In the last post on Olathe, some commenters lamented America's increasing xenophobia. There is xenophobia, yes, but I don't see "increasing." I've been around a few years, and I assure you, it was just as bad if not worse way back when. However, I do wonder if a plan to build a convent on the same 14 acres would have drawn so many people to a county commissioners meeting.

Update: If the address given in the Kansas City Star is correct, then this is a satellite image of the site of the proposed temple. Note that there is an ammunition plant about two miles west of this site.

February 27, 2011 at 9:59 am
(1) David says:

Barbara, your point about xenophobia having a long history in America and having been worse in the past is certainly valid. In my own family, my mother recalled back in the thirties being called a “white Jew” with the expectation that she would feel complimented (i.e. she wasn’t too Jewish a Jew), or my sister in college in the early sixties being asked by someone from a rural New York State town where her horns grew because, of course, Jews have horns. However, nowadays we have a mass media that broadcasts “opinions” about politics and religion that were once confined to obscure short wave channels. The paranoid target du jour is the Muslims–witness Glenn Beck calling the current uprisings in Arab countries a conspiracy to establish a pan-Arab “caliphate”. Such paranoia transfers easily to Buddhists or other groups ignorant people do not understand. And it sounds like the groups in question are ethnic Buddhist groups such as the Laos, so of course that is a more vivid target–we can’t have those weird Asians running around ringing gongs and wearing funny outfits. However, once people get to know actual Buddhists, Lao or otherwise, such paranoia often fades. I hope these communities have spokespeople with a good command of American English who can introduce people to what really goes on in the temples and dharma centers. I have to admit my first Zen service weirded me out a little with all its chanting and gonging, and bowing toward the Buddha image felt like idolatry, but then I studied and learned. Now, Zen feels, well, as American as Sezhuan food :-) .

February 27, 2011 at 8:26 pm
(2) Prentiss says:

Opposition to this is, in my opinion, 100% xenophobic. Animal sacrifice? Seriously? And the noise issue is a facade. I know for a fact that one of the opposing neighbors has a huge backyard party area where they blast country music in the evenings in the summer. That’s less annoying than a gong? I’m rooting for the LBA!

February 28, 2011 at 4:02 am
(3) Reona Noyori says:

Temple construction should never be taken in an already existing residential area. It should be done in a isolated areas to make room for all festivities and noise ceremonies and basic concept that god should be in isolated peaceful and not easily accessible areas and later development happens around the temple. The Buddhist concept for old temples is drawn from Karshanadi Pratisthantam in Hinduism.

Which describes temple and temple township according vastu Shasta.
The science of vastu spread to other parts of Asia, including Japan where it became the basis for the development of Feng Shui.

Ancient Buddhist texts also mention vastu. In fact, Lord Buddha talks about how overseeing the work on the construction of a building is one of the duties of a monk. Monasteries, multi storey buildings, workplaces and residences were built using vastu principles.

Duties of temple administration are also specified in the Agamas – organizing festivals, encourage art forms and conduct shows to encourage artists, create accommodation for pilgrims from other towns, run hospitals, regularly conducting religious discourses etc.
(Buddhist temples in China and Japan are commonly built in the emperor’s palace style.
Most pagodas are from the Ming or Tang dynasty).

In any residential areas mostly children are always seen round playing and adult confined to homes or work place. They should not be exposed to any thing that the community is not approving or is wary of as noise and crowds and strangers will be inevitable part of these temples later on.

Yes Buddhist temples are noisy especially during festivities.

February 28, 2011 at 7:47 am
(4) Barbara O'Brien says:

Reona –

Temple construction should never be taken in an already existing residential area. It should be done in a isolated areas to make room for all festivities and noise ceremonies and basic concept that god should be in isolated peaceful and not easily accessible areas and later development happens around the temple.

First, if you look at the satellite image (linked in post), you’d see that the proposed site hardly qualifies as a “residential area.” I see trees and meadows and what looks like a plowed field, and very few structures, some of which may be barns or silos.

Second, temples should be where people are. In Buddhism (this is a Buddhism site, notice, not a Hinduism site), the purpose of temples is to enable the Buddhist practice of people, not to serve the needs of gods. “Gods” are just projections of ourselves, after all. Some monastic orders like to be isolated from large populations, but since the monastic orders often depend on alms or other support from a community, generally monasteries are not that isolated, either.

Your concern about the noisy festivals is silly. It’s a bleeping 14-acre site surrounded by fields and trees. It’s likely if the Lao Buddhists started banging on 20 gongs at once, the nearest residents would barely hear it, if they hear it at all. And maybe they’d like to attend the festivals.

Get a grip. If this spot isn’t suitable for a temple, what is? Somewhere in the middle of the Mohave Desert? Please.

March 1, 2011 at 1:21 am
(5) Reona Noyori says:

I am a born Buddhist living in a predominantly Buddhist country Japan.
As mentioned this is a proposed temple not monastery and meditation center.
A Buddhist temple is not primarily a place of worship. Its a most important buildings are used for the safekeeping of sacred objects. They are specialized buildings for certain rites. But in places where temples are few if many people are involved in a ceremony, it will assume a festive character and will be held outdoors.

The Buddhist newcomers though, having learned the original Buddhist teachings, expect Buddhist temples to be very quiet places, but reality is often otherwise.

During the services reciting and chant important sutras from the Buddhist literature incorporating the use of traditional Japanese or others percussion instruments, and in some cases flutes, to begin, accompaniment of the bells and gongs, and end ceremonies.
This resonates and echoes especially when they start early morning daybreak and continue till late night. Being Buddhists it is a part of our lives but this is defiantly disturbing and annoying to the others. All this is accompanied by overcrowding of the area and parking and in most occasions activities exceeding the area concerned.

In Japan where aging population is more there have been instances where they have complained. And once permitted if any subsequent objections are raised these monks can very nasty and abusive.

Outsiders who do not stay there should not justify it if locals are objecting.
And please do not criticize other religions/ others just make your point it is against the

Noble Eight-fold Path
Right Speech
o Don’t criticize others unjustly
o Don’t use harsh language/ or make fun

March 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm
(6) Barbara O'Brien says:

Reona — The way Buddhism is observed varies widely from one country to another and one school to another. What you’ve observed in Japan is not universal, and we’re talking about a Laotian group here, so what you’ve seen in Japan may have little resemblance to this particular group. I assume these are Theravadins, and I doubt you’ve seen any Theravada Buddhism in Japan.

Also, we’re using the word “temple” mostly because that’s what’s being used in news articles. Obviously, in context it is being used to mean something like “church,” which is a building or building complex meant for human religious activity.

In Japan, a building used mostly to house sacred objects is a pagoda (or whatever they call the Japanese version of a stupa), not a temple. The English word “temple” usually would refer to an entire complex of buildings, including monks’ quarters, meditation halls, gardens, and pagodas. I do understand there are instances of buildings that are called “temples” (with the suffix “ji”) used to hold sacred objects — Kinkakuji is an example — but that’s an exception, I believe.

The Lao Buddhist Association already has a facility — I’ll avoid use of the word “temple” if it’s throwing you off — in the community, and it’s been there for 16 years. I will pause and let you soak that in.

Ready? You’re very clear now that there’s already a building in the community where the Lao Buddhist Association has been holding services and whatever else they do, in Olathe? Some of the current neighbors testified to the commission that the LBA didn’t cause any problems. Good, we’ll continue.

I repeat, some of the current neighbors testified to the commission that the LBA temple in their neighborhood didn’t cause any problems. Got that?

HOWEVER, their congregation has grown and now they need a bigger facility. This suggests to me that they need a facility that will be used by people. And they’re going to move the facility further away from town and out in an area that appears to be mostly small farms and fewer than a dozen scattered houses in several square miles, and if you find the larger map you see there’s an ammunition factory or some kind of armory about two miles west.

You continue to ignore the actual facts of this situation, so I’m repeating them. It’s a small Laotian community wishing to use an entire 14 acre plot in a very rural setting, surrounded by trees and fields. The idea that they would somehow disturb the neighbors is nuts. I doubt they’d so much as scare the chickens.

I repeat, fourteen acres. Do you know how big fourteen acres is? [Update: 0.05665599 square kilometers, or roughly the same area as seven professional baseball fields put together] Do you know what trees and fields are? This is not Japan, but Kansas. You could put a hundred monks in the middle of fourteen acres, banging gongs and chanting their lungs out all day long, and I doubt anyone off the property would hear them.

That said, instead of meekly giving up, what the Lao Buddhist Association should be doing (and I suspect it’s what they are doing) is educating the new neighbors (all three of them, judging the photograph) about what they do and why they shouldn’t be concerned about gongs and animal sacrifice or whatever else they are worried about.

Now, I apologize for being snarky, but your comments are grossly ill-informed and do not apply to what we’re talking about here. “Right speech” includes attempting to get your facts straight and not making judgments about situations you do not understand.

March 1, 2011 at 10:28 am
(7) Yeshe says:

Is America a part of the world, or some independent “shining city on a hill” who is to inspire, ignore, or perhaps master the rest of the world? I learn something from every culture I’m exposed to, some positive, and some negative. But I don’t just ignore them, or paint an entire group with one stiff brush.

March 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm
(8) Will Morrill says:

Barbara O’Brien, Your tone towards Reona Noyori is rather abusive and extremely condescending. Each of you make valid arguments for your own side. It would easily be possible for you to explain yourself clearly without resorting to verbal abuse(“Your concern about the noisy festivals is silly. It’s a bleeping…”,”Get a grip. If this spot isn’t suitable for a temple, what is? Somewhere in the middle of the Mohave Desert? Please.”,” I will pause and let you soak that in.”,ect.)

“Now, I apologize for being snarky, but your comments are grossly ill-informed and do not apply to what we’re talking about here. “Right speech” includes attempting to get your facts straight and not making judgments about situations you do not understand.”

Her comments are not grossly ill-informed, but some are inapplicable in this situation. Also, if you apologise for being snarky while being ‘snarky’, it is apparent that you do not understand the concept of being well-spoken.
That aside, your article is well written. thanks!

March 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

Barbara O’Brien, Your tone towards Reona Noyori is rather abusive and extremely condescending.

Condescending yes, but not abusive. However, when comments reveal that someone hasn’t read the post carefully and is making judgments based on false assumptions, a correction is required. And if a Theravada temple is too “disruptive” in rural Kansas, where wouldn’t it be disruptive? Prejudice is prejudice, and I don’t like it.

it is apparent that you do not understand the concept of being well-spoken.

You write this blog for a few weeks, then get back to me about being well-spoken.

March 4, 2011 at 9:06 pm
(10) RICHARD says:


March 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

Richard, FYI — a little googling located seven synagogues within a ten-mile radius of Olathe. There’s also an Islamic Center within Olathe. Prejudice is not appeased by prejudice. And I am from rural Missouri, so take care who you callin’ a “redneck.” ;-) That said, I think if the temple is built it’ll be just another “church” after awhile.

March 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm
(12) Bruce says:

Richard, Amen

March 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm
(13) josh says:

will morrill,

i also think you should be very careful on how you comment on the guide to this buddhism site. m’am barbara meant well. for the past few months i have been reading commemtators posting things without even thinking and without any respect. and really – as patient as i am i am really getting annoyed with it in what you call FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. this entails utter responsibility as well.

believe me if this gets out of hand the day will come when m’am barbara may decide to disable all direct comments on this site and forward and reactions on the forums instead where it is safer and healthier for newbie buddhists to read and appreciate and learn.

March 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm
(14) S Hargrove says:

Do any of you that are leaving comments even live out here. Take a good look at the 14 acres. It has two houses on it (one in violation of the county’s rules) and it is considered a piano key 14 acres. That means people ARE close by and if you put 100 monks banging gongs in the middle I can assure you it would be heard for miles around. And also if it were a convent it wouldn’t be appropriate for this area. Doesn’t matter if it is a temple, convent, Jewish Center or whatever. This proposed site is not on a through street and how would you like it if you saved your hard earned money to build your dream house only to have any kind of commercial building going in right next to you. No one ever said there would be animal sacrifices. We just want to keep it as rural as possible. We don’t want tons of traffic. It is bad enough you hear guns going off all of the time but now along with guns we will have gongs…….bring on the country music – that sounds more fun to me!

March 19, 2011 at 10:15 am
(15) Barbara O'Brien says:

Do any of you that are leaving comments even live out here.

No, but I grew up in rural Missouri in a place much less populated, and more distant from a metropolitan area, than Olathe. Now I live just outside New York city. So while I have an appreciation of rural communities, I also think that if such a sparsely populated place as seen in the satellite image can’t tolerate a convent or temple, we’ll have to start locating all of our houses of worship out in the middle of the Mohave Desert somewhere.

And consider that allowing those fourteen acres to be populated by a Buddhist temple would save you from seeing it turn into a subdivision or a shopping mall sometime in the future. This is a gift, dude; you should grab it while you’ve got the chance.

And I also have experience with Buddhist temples, which are not “commercial buildings” or the noise factories you think they are. Laotian Buddhism is mostly Theravada, which means there’s a lot of silent meditating, and while there may be an occasional gong banging, it would be no more disturbing than a distant church bell. You can expect the Lao Buddhists to landscape the property around the temples very beautifully and maintain at least part of it as a place for quiet contemplation. This would likely enhance the value of your property, not detract from it.

June 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm
(16) Brandon says:

So I’m writing a paper for a communications class and I decided to write about the myths of Buddhism. I came across this article and was amazed to find out that the Buddhist monks in Olathe were trying to upgrade where they practice and live. My first thought was that’s fantastic and I would love to see a more traditional place of practice.

Then I started reading the comments and news articles about the monks being denied. I’m not much of a religious person and I have very few beliefs, but I know the Buddhist don’t worship deities or gods and that the whole practice is a belief and teaching system. Not a faith system like Christianity. And I’m fairly certain that there are no animal sacrifices going on. I live down the street from them and go by all the time. Plus one of Buddahs beliefs was that no living creature should be harmed or killed.

Any how I find it very sad that in a place like Johnson County where I see huge monstrosity’s called churches on nearly every corner we can’t allow some monks the opportunity to expand. There is an enormous church off of
Strang Line by AMC 30 that is just uncalled for in size. I believe it may have been in financial trouble because it couldn’t pay for costs because it’s so big.

Any how it’s a shame that people are so prejudice in 2011. I really hope the human race can change one day. I think we have a lot to learn from the Buddhist community.

June 27, 2011 at 8:53 pm
(17) Barbara O'Brien says:

Brandon, thank you for your comment.

December 26, 2011 at 10:26 am
(18) Angel says:

I live in Olathe and would so welcome a buddhist church. I drive by the one that’s here now, and if I weren’t so painfully shy, I’d go in a heartbeat. I was raised in one of those bible thumpin’, hellfire and damnation churches, and the only thing it taught me was how horrible a person I am and that God is some guy with a rolled up newspaper looking for me to swat at all day because I’m such a sinner. Even after I was “saved”, you can bet your sweet bottom it was out of fear.

I don’t know much about buddhists, but I’d take a gong over the yeehah country music loving, lynch mobbin’, uneducated idiots that occupy this town any day of the week. Buddhism is one of the most peaceful practices I’ve ever read about. Johnson County Gestapo is sorely missing their frontal lobes and bereft of a heart. I’m surprised I don’t see more drool buckets attached to some of these bible thumpin’ jerks. Gunshots and country music…..that is EXACTLY what attracts world peace…..NOT.

March 24, 2012 at 11:07 pm
(19) kc1964 says:

S Hargrove – reminds me of the urban definition of IGNORANT:
close-minded AND asshole.

banging gongs and chanting on a typical kansas day – wind speed + your head being firmly in posterior = .01% likelihood of you hearing ANYTHING…unless u really wanted to.

of course country music sounds like mor phun-tomorrow i join the buddhist and i will be se to keep this thread active so that “traffic” here and there gets bad – i have attended their church before it is very reverent and quiet. there’s maybe 15 cars which have more than one occupant each (rule of thumb)-you, sir make more traffic than that in each week.

go pick on someone your own size, like (i’m guessing) your gay bashing pastor. sorry, it that offends.

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