The crowd abandoned all traces of Zen and grace at the door.
Buddhists and Christians screamed at and shoved one another Wednesday at the entrance to the building where the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission was about to hold a hearing on a proposed Buddhist temple and retreat center in Rowland Heights.
"All religions should have compassion. Unfortunately, some people had a misunderstanding today," said Buddhist nun Shih Di Guan, shaking her head.
The pushing escalated as proponents and opponents of the temple tried to squeeze through a narrow two-door entrance on the ground floor of the County Hall of Records downtown. Dozens were not allowed in when the room reached its maximum occupancy of about 120 people.
"They wouldn't even let us make a line" outside the door, said Stephanie Tye of the Buddhists. "I didn't see any friendliness."
The two sides were then prevented from being in the room at the same time and were let out through side doors to avoid further confrontation.
The sides have been fighting for six years over the 7.8-acre project, which would be on a busy thoroughfare and next to Christian Zion Church.
The Yuan Yung Buddhists have said Christians are discriminating against them because of their beliefs. Project foes say it's about increased traffic, pollution and noise.
Both sides have support from residents who are neither church congregants nor Buddhists.
The Fullerton Road development would sit a stone's throw from the church, which has a mainly Chinese American congregation that has resisted the project since it was announced in 1998. Some of the foes who attended Wednesday morning's hearing said they belonged to the church, though many downplayed their religious affiliation.
"They're going to change the environment," said Ocean Tang, Christian Zion Church's youth minister. "I don't think they're honestly telling us everything" about the impact the project would have.
Tang said that the church was not taking an official stance on the facility and that it was mainly residents who opposed the temple. When pressed, he acknowledged that a woman from the church had organized a petition drive, but it was unclear what percentage of the 840 letters of opposition filed with the county she was responsible for.
Francis Lai, a nearby resident who supports the Buddhists, said he attended a service Sunday at Christian Zion Church at which the pastor encouraged the congregation of about 200 to pray for the project's failure.
"They think the temple ... is some kind of devil worship," Lai said.
Tang, who has been the church's spokesman on the issue, said he did not attend the Sunday service.
The county has received about 4,000 letters expressing support for the temple. Some opposition letters described concern that the burning of incense and fake money would pollute the air. The Buddhists said that they would not use incense and that the burning of money was a Taoist, not Buddhist, tradition.
"There's no chanting, spells or hocus-pocus, as one letter suggested," said Michael Lewis, one of the project leaders.
The Yuan Yung Buddhists have a temple on Olympic Boulevard in East L.A. Members said the Rowland Heights facility would be larger and closer to much of the county's Chinese community. They also want to house several nuns there.
"We open our arms to anyone who is willing to participate in our Buddhist retreats and seminars in this open, natural and peaceful environment," said Shih, a dharma master.
The Yuan Yung group is run by nuns and was founded by Grand Master Tien Chi in 1988, when she visited L.A. from Taiwan. She wanted to create an organization that would help Chinese abroad, especially youngsters caught in a culture clash, the group said.
At Wednesday's hearing, staff from the county Department of Regional Planning presented their findings to the five-member commission and recommended approval of the conditional use permit for the project.
Rowland Heights, an unincorporated community near the eastern edge of the county, is home to some of the region's most congested intersections. The county would require the temple's developers to pay for traffic mitigation if the commission approved the project. The panel will meet again on the issue Sept. 29.