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Wichita, Kansas Sees Extraordinary Growth in Buddhist Population

Pháp Hoa Buddhist temple. From

The city of Wichita, Kansas, population 393,000, is home to a growing number of Buddhists, fed by immigration from several Asian countries and an explosion of interest among local residents. The city currently has more than 12 Buddhist sanghas according to Gordon Melton, a Baylor University religion professor who collects data for a national religious census. In 2000, that number stood at just six.

Across the United States, the Buddhist population grew by 23 per cent from 2010–20, according to Melton. And research by the Pew Research Center projects growth in the US Buddhist population to outpace growth in the North American population for the next 40 years.

“Those figures kind of blew me away to see there was that much growth in the community,” Melton said. (KMUW)

In Wichita, several of the Buddhist communities are built around immigrants from particular countries. Pháp Hoa Buddhist temple is one of these. First established by Vietnamese immigrants in the 1980s, today it can be found packed with several generations of Vietnamese-Americans celebrating cultural festivities and Buddhist holidays.

The temple’s president, Thanh Le, speaks of his parents, who fled Vietnam during and after the US-led war there and helped to form the early community.

“They wanted kind of a place to worship,” Le said. “For the people to come to talk together.” (KMUW)

The early community was eventually able to purchase a small church on the outskirts of the city, which offered a peaceful atmosphere. But by the 1990s, the community had some 700 members and needed a new home. Thanks to a fundraising effort in the early 2000s, the community was able to open Pháp Hoa, a purpose-built Buddhist temple in the style found in Vietnam.


“This place was kind of like a second home to me, growing up,” said 18-year-old temple member Sandra Le. “People from all different areas come here for it—from the east side, the south side, the north side. . . . And it’s kind of like a big family.” (KMUW)

In 2022, the temple added an activity center for Buddhist youth.

“We saw a lot of buildings being built,” said Keira Le, 17, who grew up attending the temple. “For example, the really big, huge activity center. That wasn’t there when we were still here during the youth group. And it’s just really cool to see—coming back and seeing everything just complete.” (KMUW)

Across town, the Laotian temple is also growing: a new meditation hall opened just this month.

The Laotian community began to see noticeable growth around 10 years ago, when several monks came to Wichita to lead them.

“The monk leadership here has a huge following outside of the state of Kansas,” said Phet Namphengsone, a member of the Lao Buddhist temple. “So if [members] can’t be here, they donate money. . . . So the congregation has grown, as well here in Wichita and outside of Wichita.” (KMUW)

Elsewhere in Wichita is the Kansas Meditation Center, established in 2012 by the Sri Lankan monk Bhante Ratana. In addition to his work with Sri Lankans in the city, Ratana sees potential for reaching non-Buddhists.

Bhante Ratana. From

“I think I can provide more services here. It’s more than a Buddhist temple. I invite all the practitioners, and we use this place as a Sri Lankan community center,” He said. Speaking of non-Buddhists in America’s Midwest, he noted: “Over here, mainly I see people are very hungry and thirsty about the original teachings of Buddhism, like philosophy. So people are more interested in deep teachings. I like it.” (KMUW)

There are also Zen and Tibetan sanghas, a community of followers of the late Thich Nhat Hanh, and others.

According to Ratana, they all have the same goal: “We have so many different types of sugar—Truvia, brown sugar, white sugar, cane sugar. But what is the taste? The taste is sweet. Same with [Buddhism]. We are coming from different cultures, but our goal is same. Our aim is same. Our aim is getting ultimate happiness. End of our suffering.” (KMUW)

See more

‘A second home’: For some Wichita immigrants and their families, Buddhist temples are a cultural hub (KMUW)

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