A visit at Fo Guang Shan

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Saturday, January 12, 2013


GETTING ready for what we thought to be a short visit to one of the Buddha temples in Kaohsiung County in southern Taiwan was not at all we believed it should be. We never thought that a trip to Fo Guang Shan Monastery in the township of Dashu would take more than half a day.

Fo Guang Shan, which literally means "Buddha's Light Mountain", is one of the largest international Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monastic orders based in Taiwan. The order also calls itself the International Buddhist Progress Society.

Founded in 1967 by the Venerable Master Hsing Yun, Fo Guang Shan promotes Humanistic Buddhism, a modern thought developed through the 20th Century which aims to make Buddhism relevant in the world and in people's lives and hearts.

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In 1967, more than 30 hectares in Dashu Township at Kaohsiung County were bought by Hsing Yun to become the site of the monastery. And this is the reason why Fo Guang Shan Monastery is a vast place and takes a long time to visit.

According to the monastery’s flyer, Fo Guang Shan has the west, the central and the eastern areas. Down below the parking area in the east, we saw the 36-meter tall statue of Amitabha Buddha which was consecrated in 1975.

To get a better glimpse of the area, we took the Pilgrims Path, moved towards the central part, and stopped to make a wish at the Great Vow Shrine. Our wishes should be coupled with the throwing of coins which should hit the bell of the shrine, according to our Filipino friend-cum-guide, Jenn Taton-Chang.

After such, we entered the Mountain Gate and commenced walking towards the Non-duality Gate. Then, with only a little amount for donation, we entered the gate of Pure Land Cave.

To purify people’s hearts and minds, Venerable Master Hsing Yun created the Pure land Cave. It is a 5,100 square-meter site on the slopes of both sides of the Non-duality Gate. After 8 years of work from 1972, Pure Land Cave was opened to the public on February 5, 1981. Combined with Buddhist art, the cave architecture shows artistic and educational scenes of the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. The concept of the interiors of the cave was based on the content of “Amitabha Sutra and Sutra of the Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life”.

Inside the cave, we were impressed with well-crafted, life-like sculpted images of the great Bodhisattvas of the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss and the great Arthas. The Arthas are Buddha’s ten disciples.

The passageways are so immense and we saw descriptions of how the depth of one’s life vows and merits could lead to a rebirth in different stages within Buddha’s Pure Land. We also had seen representations of the three saints of the Pure Land and full-size heavenly maidens playing music (recorded, of course).

With the ready paper and pencil available, we wrote and dropped our petitions inside a box set before the icons. With the aid of the interior personnel available to our prodding, we lighted our candles, offered our silent prayers and sent them to flow, together with multi-colored lotus, in the lotus pond.

We also touched the iconic seven rows of trees, seen the flowing “water of eight virtues”, heard the recorded chirping of the symbolic flocks of birds which are believed to have taught the Dharma. We posed before the assembly of good people and the other images of the divine features of the Pure Land.

After having been inside the Pure Land Cave for almost three hours, we walked back towards the Buddha Memorial Center. Because its more than 100 hectares, in an uphill climb, we just stopped at the foot of the Great Welcoming Buddha, which was surrounded by 480 Amitabha Buddhas.

We found out that, besides fostering Buddhism, Fo Guang Shan also foster its members’ talents through education. And this is manifested by the presence of Fo Guang University, 4 other Buddhist colleges, 3 regular colleges and a community college which specializes in humanities and social sciences. Together with the kinder, nursery and Sunday schools, these educational institutions are all located in the west area of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery. Tuition fees and lodging are said to be provided by Fo Guang Shan, free of charge.

It was late in the afternoon. The remaining sites we can’t anymore visit. The remaining part of the 300-hectare lot is something we promised to see if we’ll have the chance to return. So we traced our way back to the main gate. Upon seeing us, the gate attendant gave each of us red paper scrolls: one for peace, the other for prosperity. And with peace in our hearts and minds, we intoned what we recall of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery’s motto: “May the Buddha's Light shine upon the ten directions. May the Dharma stream continuously flow towards the five great continents.”

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 13, 2013.

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