May 13, 2014

Kaohsiung 2014: Fo Guang Shan 佛光山

On Saturday, a friend of mine who is working in the city offered to show me around the area. Actually he is my junior from TKU and he is one of a few who likes to ask me about my lives in Singapore and Japan. He's like a little brother to me. :) Together with his girlfriend, Jason chauffeured me around in his car and I got to see more of this southern city. And one of the places we visited was Fo Guang Shan (佛光山), one of the four 'big' Buddhist organizations in Taiwan. The abbot, Master Hsing Yun (星雲法師) is a prominent figure.

Fo Guang Shan (佛光山) is quite from the city area and you definitely need some sort of transportation to get there. There are plenty of parking spaces around the area. According to Jason, the traffic during CNY is crazy with queues (for car park) spanning several kilometers and waiting of at least 3 hours! So luckily we are here on a non-festival weekend.

The only thing I can say, even before going into the compound, is that the place is super impressive. The scale and structure of the entire place is something more associated with Christian churches and cathedrals than Buddhist monastery. There is a humongous parking lot for travel buses in front of the main gate. When I say humongous I wasn't kidding. The space can accommodate at least 100 buses. In fact, we walked passed rows of buses on our way in.. No less than 30 buses were there already..

I think I will let the photos speak for themselves. You can see it for yourself and decide if I'm exaggerating.
see the lines on the road, that's parking lines for buses.

Entering the main hall.. 
Once inside, I can't believe my eyes. It's like being in a shopping mall, seriously I am not joking. There are restaurants and shops selling everything from souvenirs, scriptures, handicrafts, vegetarian food and many more. I didn't want to take photographs of the interior because there's just too many people there.. Once through the main hall, we came to another vast space.. Hard to describe, just see it for yourself here..

There are four pagodas on each side and each of these pagodas serves a purpose. Some are for meditation, wedding venues, book stores, children's learning center, and press area etc. It's really an integration of religion and commercialization/marketing. And don't forget about the areas beside and behind the pagodas, there's plenty of garden, stone gardens, sculptures and many other "Zen-like" deco..

One of the many cute little stone monks around..
One of the many 'Zen-words' stones.. 
Then we got to where the big Buddha statue is.. Again, there are 4 pagodas by the side and one in front.. those are not the same ones seen in the photos above.. Each of these pagodas are dedicated to four Bodhisattva - 觀世音菩薩地藏菩萨文殊菩薩 and 普賢菩薩

looking out (what the Buddha statue is seeing)
We took much longer than expected in this place, spent almost 4 hours just walking and talking. There are definitely more areas that we didn't get to see. We watched a short movie about the life of Buddha in one of the auditoriums. There is even a museum dedicated to Master Hsing Yun. There are lots to do and see. They are doing a great job trying to more people to be interested in Buddhism.

Then we had lunch in one of the restaurants and I must say it was one of the best (Chinese) vegetarian food I've ever tasted. All made with fresh produce and very little 'fake' meat/pork/chicken/whatever was used.

strongly recommended!
A very enjoyable trip and a real eye opener too.. Definitely a place to bring my parents to when they come over either next year or year after next.

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