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The lonely statues of Stockton's Buddhist Temple | Bartell's Backroads

How the pandemic is impacting the state's largest display of Buddha statues at the Wat Dhammararam Cambodian Buddhist Temple.

STOCKTON, Calif. — Ten years. That’s how long Cambodian Monk Tita Kong spent sculpting the Statues at Wat Dhammararam Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Stockton

The 100 cement statues depict the life story of Buddha, with some are as large as a school bus. Kong's statues tell the story of Buddha's life, a life of enlightenment. Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs, Kong said he built the statues for people to enjoy, even if it is just a few people at a time. 

“When everybody comes in, they feel good. And I do to," Kong said.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Tita Kong’s 10-year project used to attract many people the temple.

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However, for the past year, the statue-filled grounds have remained relatively empty. Since the start of the pandemic, the monastery doors have been closed. The meditation classes have been canceled and only the monks have lit the candles inside the “Wat,” better known as the temple.

In Cambodia, the new year’s celebration takes place in April and the three-day celebration is the by far the largest source of donations for the Stockton monks. The new year’s celebration didn’t happen in 2020 and it won’t happen again in 2021.

Only recently, small groups of people have been allowed to go through the Temple gates, however, the monastery, meditation room and the temple shrine are still off limits. Small groups can still visit and admire the statues from the outside.

“They read the book but don’t see pictures. They come here and see the religion of Buddha,” Kong said.

The Wat Dhammararam Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Stockton is open on select days. Click here for more information on days and hours of operation.