Chinese Buddhism in the Modern World: Fo Guang Shan Temple

Statue of a little monk, cute isn't he?

During my trip to Taiwan, I was invited to visit the Fo Guang Shan Temple in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and had the honor to meet many venerables and take a tour of the massive site. During the old days, when one would see a young monastic, they would normally heave a big sigh and say “What a pity! To have renounced the world at such a young age” or “They probably became a monastic because of despair in love or life!”

Some parents are said to still insist that their newly tonsured sons or daughters return home with them. But these days, however, students of the Buddhist College arrive with their parents’ blessings and even take tonsure in their presence. Becoming a monastic according to the Chinese culture, is usually frowned upon because many assume that people become monastics because they have failed at love or don’t feel a need for life anymore. Parents think that they have lost their child and that they are no longer theirs. Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan Temple and Humanistic Buddhism ensures that not only are they not lost but every follower is ensured to live a great life devoted to helping other people and learning to be the best. Becoming a monastic is anything but pitiable.

I have to admit, I once thought the same way as those parents did. Perhaps not as extreme as them believing they have lost their child but to the extent that the only reason they became a monastic was because they have lost all hope. But in recent years and especially after the visit to the Temple, I no longer feel the same way. I felt…..a glint of hope and that perhaps there is still good left in this world and that we can make a change.

Fo Guang Temple; behind the main entrance

Whilst there, I was very nervous! I wasn’t sure what to expect and how to react to my surroundings. I’m really glad that Venerable Miao Rang was there to guide me and teach me everything. If it were not for her, I’d make a complete fool out of myself and wouldn’t even know it!

During my visit there, I had the honor to join the entire temple of monastics for a lunch. Now this wasn’t any typical lunch I’ve ever experienced! The bell would strike at exactly 12pm and the monastics will follow in order and take their seat in the HUGE dining hall and we, the visitors, will make our way in after everyone else was in. After everyone is seated, the head director, from 2005, Venerable Master Xin Pei will chant a mantra before we begin to eat. After we finish chanting, the food was brought to us, similar to that of a boarding house, and we are to not speak at all whatsoever during the entire recession of lunch. If we wish to have more of a certain dish, we would take that empty dish in place it in front of us for a refill. It was one of the most interesting thing I have ever experienced!

The Main Shrine

I also had the opportunity to join in a mass chanting service during the evening and it was breath taking. Hundreds and hundreds of people were in the main hall preparing for the service and never having experienced this before, I was nervous! I had no idea what to do and my Mandarin isn’t exactly as fluent as I wished it to be! But the fellow laypeople were so kind as to show me every step of the way, what we needed to do and so on. So I’m really glad they were there!

There were many foreigners there visiting the Temple while I was there so it was kind of nice to know I wasn’t alone in feeling like an alien there! Haha. A bunch of us stayed in the same residence and I have to say, it was quite comfy! I’d love to go back there someday to visit again. And perhaps the next time I go, I won’t make a fool out of myself!!!

Ksitigarbha Boddhisattvas

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Kris says:

    This was an interesting post to read. I hadn’t know the point you discuss in the beginning of this about the older generation’s perspective on young people joining a monastery. Thank you for sharing.

    I am a regular attendee at Hsi Lai temple here in California. I’ve not had the fortune of visiting the main temple, Fo Guang Shan, but hope to some day.

    take care

    1. Explorer MF says:

      Thanks Kris! If you ever do get the chance, definitely take a trip there. It was one of most interesting experiences of my life. Have you heard of the new pagoda and memorial hall being built there? I think it’s almost finished, so I think it’s a great time to visit!

      Cheers!

      1. Kris says:

        Yes: http://www.bltv.tv/events/heart/eg/index.html

        I was fortunate enough to be one of the people to transcribe a Heart Sutra to be housed inside of the shrine during its creation. They may still be allowing one to take part in the project; if you are interested, try talking with a local Venerable to see if you can as well.

        I really do hope to visit there someday.

      2. Explorer MF says:

        That’s awesome Kris! I didn’t know we could take part in that! I will definitely check it out, thanks!
        If you do go to FGS in Taiwan anytime soon, you can ask for Ven. Miao Rang, she is a relative of mine.

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