Firstly, the weather conditions! The days have seen blazing hot sun out of a clear blue sky, high humidity with temperatures around 30c +. Thankfully I still think in f degrees so 30 doesn’t register as THAT hot and we were traveling in an air conditioned car with tinted windows. The car became, and continues to be, a welcome refuge after trips out to see places, people temples etc.
As for Fo Guang Shan, one of the four largest temples in Taiwan and a major tour destination, perhaps you would like to take a look at the web site. You will need to copy and paste the address into your web browser, Internet Explorer for example or just click on the address and you will go there. http://www.fgs.org.tw/english/templetour/Templetour.htm We were given a tour by a lofty Austrian monk who stayed with us all of the time and after two hours we had not seen everything. There are various tours one can take, up to four hours I see listed on the web site.
In the morning we visited a a moderately sized temple for nuns. My notes do not give me the name of it unfortunately and my attempts to communicate to Dur Ann through mime and our ‘foreigners friend’, the electronic dictionary, have been in vane. The Abbess there had become a nun at 17 and in due time the temple was passed into her hands. It was/is situated on top of a hill and at that time not easy for people to reach and, from what we saw on a DVD, in a poor state of repair. It did look like it was falling down. About ten or so years ago she, the abbess, decided to build a new one which to my eyes could have held 200 people in the hall. This took a number of years to achieve and in the middle of it she was in a bad road accident. In 1999 there was an earthquake which hit this region (we saw evidence of this in the mountains with, for example a hotel made derelict). She was not deterred and went about rebuilding again, the amount of money this must have taken can only be imagined. We were told that there was a team working on the project, designers etc. etc. Part way through she decided it was not up to standard for possible future earthquakes so it was dismantled and started AGAIN! Work was finally completed in 2003
We met the Abbess, now just 48 years old, and she watched a DVD with us (in English) in a very modern lecture room. We drank coffee and after awhile she slipped out not to be seen again. Latter we took a brief tour taking in the kitchen (stainless steel everywhere) and dining room. The main statue, usually they are of the historic Buddha, was carved out of one piece of wood from a tree 1000 years old. Everything about this place was ‘high-tech’, for example the large drum and gong used during chanting usually stored by the altar where suspended on a wire and electronically winched up and down for ceremonies. We had a demonstration and there was just a minor hum as the drum descended. Apparently the Abbess had done a lot of research, visiting temples all around east Asia. She clearly had decided to break with traditional temple styles, which are often highly decorated, colourful and ornate and gone for simplicity and I must say elegance.
We were sent off with packets of coffee and tea for each of us and Dur Ann and I were given dana envelopes. This giving of dana to monastics (offerings of money in red envelopes) is a well known practice in East Asia. There is a specific form used to give them and I have learnt the monastic form for receiving them which is not unlike what we practice within the OBC.
As we were leaving I noticed, down by the entrance, two very large white elephants (statues of course) that had walked their way through the various incarnations of this temple having survived the earthquake. Elephants have a lot to teach us as they steadfastly walk on, they certainly symbolized what had been achieved at the temple they now stand in front of.
To be quite honest I left with a bit of a furrowed brow. Maybe I was mentally and emotionally exhausted on behalf of the Abbess and all that she had gone through over the years and there was something else too… Perhaps it is realizing that in order to have achieved this monument to Buddhism, a place through which Buddhism is taught to the lay congregation, nuns and a few monks (there were around 20 in residence), one needs to push, push, push towards a goal. For sure it can only be taken one step at a time and I can not conceive of the magnitude of offerings needed to achieve that goal. It is, incidentally, possible here since Taiwan is a booming and culturally a Buddhist country.
I saw this place, and other temples in Taiwan I’ve visited, in stark comparison to our modest establishments in the West within the OBC. It made me realize, firstly what CAN be achieved if one put ones mind to it and that good can come from setting (temporary) goals. People are attracted to Buddhist practice via these vast edifices and no doubt benefit should they take up the practice. There is merit too in simply coming and bowing, as we did everywhere. I also see, and more importantly accept, that a temple builder I probably am not. There is not the push, push in me. Saying that however does not stand for all time, I could be busy building next year!