If you drive just an hour up Highway 71 from Louisville, Kentucky, toward Cincinnati, Ohio, you’ll come upon 200 acres of gently rolling hills and pristine countryside—an area that’s emerging as an oasis of Buddhist spiritual life.
Appropriately dubbed “The BuddhaLand,” the Kentucky property has been turned into an offering to the Buddha and his teachings by its proprietor, Nam Do, a 70-year-old retired engineer and Louisville resident originally from Vietnam. Since buying the property in 2002, Do has been offering free land that Buddhist organizations and individuals can build upon with their own funds. His mission is to nurture the American Buddhist community by providing more dedicated spaces to practice in areas where they can connect with nature.
Do arrived in Kentucky as a young man in 1975 after fleeing Vietnam on a US Navy plane, just one day before communists took over the country. His family settled in Louisville, where he went on to study engineering, then work at Ford Motor Company for 30 years. From a deep sense of gratitude and indebtedness to the country that supported him and his family, Do dedicated his retirement to service, which he sees as part of his spiritual practice.
Do comes from a family of temple builders. In 1920, his grandfather built the 10,000-square-foot Buu Thanh Temple, which today continues to serve more than a thousand families in two villages in southern Vietnam. His uncle and great-uncle both constructed temples in a neighboring village, and two monks and one nun in his family serve as abbots in temples elsewhere in the country.
The BuddhaLand was created especially for groups associated with the lineage of Do’s lifelong teacher, the Vietnamese master Thich Nhat Hanh.
“Most of [their centers] in the US are in cities,” he said. “For the mind, we have to seek out mountains and forests.”
Six major projects are currently under way at the center, including the Deer Mountain Retreat Center, which can house up to 500 guests. (Do hopes it will become “a Plum Village for the United States.”) So far, three local sanghas— as well as France’s Plum Village—have pledged their support, and it is expected to be completed in three to four years.
Other projects in various stages of development include a chanting hall, scenic overlook and meditation deck, three villages (including a cave village for extended periods of solitary silent retreat), the Stupa of Enlightenment, and the Mindful Forest Monastery, all of which are associated with Thich Nhat Hanh’s sangha. The first monk to join the monastery, Louisville native Michael Kavish (Thich Tinh Tri), now serves as its abbot, and four other monks are slated to take up residence there by the year’s end.
The BuddhaLand is also open to other traditions, not just those that follow Thich Nhat Hanh. A small temple is being built to serve Vietnamese Buddhist families, and the monks at Mindfulness Forest Monastery host retreats and teachings for Vipassana and other local groups.
“It’s a very peaceful place to practice,” said Kavish. “There’s a lot of good energy here.”
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