Sapa market is called Prague’s Little Hanoi. In its far corner, the Vinh Nghiem pagoda sits quietly. “There’s a great hunger for Buddhism among Vietnamese in the Czech Republic because it provides a link to their mother country,” said Marcel Winter, the Head of the Czech-Vietnamese Society to Pravo newspaper. More than 90 percent of Vietnamese in the Czech Republic are Buddhists and about 50,000 Buddhist monks reside in the Czech Republic. Buddhism is one of the three primary religions in Vietnam. Buddhist temples there are called pagodas, meaning “a place for worship.”
The gate unlocks, and everyone can go inside. Stuffed with plastic dragon fruits and carton boxes full of CDs, the central room barely fits a single person. More fruit lies scattered around gold-and-red shrine in the centre. Buddha statues wave their tiny hands at Vietnamese inscriptions on the walls; monotone chanting gives the illusion of someone singing upstairs. However, only photos of smiling monks and bright orange robes drying in the hallway indicate life inside the temple. With everything written in Vietnamese, Vinh Nghiem is its own world.
Beside temples, Prague has 70 other Buddhist places. International center Diamond Way is one of them. Sine opening in 2013, it follows the Vajrayana branch of Buddhism. The grey building looks unassuming and the inside barely shows religious decorations. Several spacious rooms and a tea bar are bright with large windows and massive tables. “Our doors are open to everyone,” says Honza Matuska, one of the Diamond Way coordinators. He became a Buddhist almost twenty years ago after meeting Ole Nydahl, Diamond Way’s founder: “I was impressed [with meeting Nydahl]; I still am.”
Matuska says they try to apply Buddhism to everyday problems. Apart from occasional art exhibitions, religious inaugurations and other events, the center hosts meditation sessions and lectures in English and Czech, focusing on “enlightenment” every day.
Diamond Way has been criticized for its hedonistic approach to Buddhism, combined with a suspicion to the center’s “public” events, free of charge. The community didn’t care when the Dalai Lama visited Prague in October 2016. He belongs to Mahayana, and Matuska emphasizes that Buddhists do not have “the Pope” and “[they] do not mix with other schools.”
When asked about the first Buddhist temple in Czech Republic, built by the Vietnamese monk family in Varnsdorf in 2008, he didn’t know it existed.
Nevertheless, Matuska shares an important teaching: “Money can’t be happy, cars can’t be happy, only the mind can.”