12/12/2012 05:23 pm ET

Live And Let Dine

Sitting in the basement of his temple--a makeshift cafeteria lit by soft fluorescent tubes and populated by plastic furniture--Thich Thien Chi struggles to explain the meaning of "Chieu Kien," the temple's name. After 38 years of practice as a Buddhist monk, half of them spent here in the Bronx, he doesn't make a particularly forceful evangelist.

The monk, whose spoken English is halting at best, has been answering my questions--all five pages of them--in writing. After several pauses and a minute of fumbled speech about the importance of "see[ing] clearly" and "wisdom," he grabs another sheet of paper and writes out the words "practice" and "meditation."

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