Category Archives: Pilgrimage 2005


Part of this journey involves finding a fast Internet connection to ‘upload’ photographs. I am starting to think the one I have at the moment comes at too high a price! I am not sure what the word is to describe what is simply a very ‘interesting’ situation at this very moment.

Cheng Hoon Teng is ‘historic’, many tourist visit it each day and when they step through the temple gate and enter the main shrine room it is like stepping back in time. Here is ancient China and Buddhism (as well as a couple of other religions too it would seem) kept alive by the faithful in this town. There is a minor city road at the front of the property and a very major one running along the back. So much traffic on a narrow road. Thankfully the road is only about one and half car widths, + a few motor bikes, wide so crossing it to get to this Internet Cafe was not completely death defying! However now here and connected, embraced as I am by surround sounds, I question the wisdom of slipping out of the back door of the temple in search of fast connectivity.

Let’s see now, the cars, tour buses, motorbike, bicycles, lorries and people on foot pass on two sides within feet of where I sit typing this. The cafe, having walls on only two sides the rest only closed by wooden shutters at night is hot and humid. Just to my left is a water feature, blessed water pouring from a bamboo pipe into a circular stone then cascading into a large pottery bowl. The loud Mexican music from the speaker just above my head is the real test! I see that the temperature is a mere 32c. What I thought was steam pouring from the building I now realize is water being sprayed onto the outside tables which are on the pavement. This, yes this is to keep the customers cool, wonderful!

So there you have it, a block away an ancient temple opens it’s doors to all comers to make their bows and say their prayers, offer joss sticks, light candles and offer oil to keep the eternal light burning. Then here, a couple of hundreds yards through the temple complex, a wireless internet connection. They are called ‘hotspots’ by the way!

The fact that this journey can be shared through the medium of the Internet adds a dimension, of offering I guess, that simply seems ‘good’ to do. It does take working at and I am only so glad and grateful that I am able to continue to type…and remain on my feet! Not both at the same time of course.

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Back to Taiwan.

I don’t have my notes from the days we were traveling however I do want to let you know about those days and post photographs too. That will have to wait until I am able to hook my laptop up to the Internet. Just for the record here is what happened:

In the south of Taiwan we met up with a woman called Linzy (not her Chinese name but one I could at least remember and pronounce). I had come to know her via email and telephone and she had helped me a great deal with making plans for me in Taiwan. Linzy had spent a year at Lancaster University and meditated with the Lancaster Group (who hasn’t meditated with the Lancaster Group?!!) so she was familiar with our practice and monks of the Order. I’d been put in touch with her through a member of the Leicester Group. Thank you Linzy, thank you so much for all of the translating you did while we were together.

While in Linzy’s home town we met up with a nun who leads chanting of the Lotus Sutra for 5 and 7 day ‘retreats’ at temples that invite her. She had just come back from mainland China. It turns out that she is very well know in Taiwan and East Asia and I can understand why as just seeing her leaves a deep impression let alone being with here chanting for a week. I’d seen her briefly at Shasta Abbey in 2003 when a group came from Singapore and thought I’d like to get to know her. Our few hours together where, in a word, amazing! We went shopping at a robe factory and she me bought a brown wool cape, we drank coffee at a road side cafe from beans grown by her lay disciples, we had lunch and most especially we laughed together, it was so much fun to be with her. All this without a common language. Linzy’s help was invaluable.

A day or so latter we visited my Dharma Aunt who is both blood sister and ordination sister of Seck Lee Seng the Abbess of Cheng Hoon Teng. She was one of the main reasons for going to Taiwan and sadly there was very little time left to spend much more than a morning with her. We had lunch with her five disciples and 60+ lay guests who had just completed 7 days of chanting one thing, Amitofu, Amitofu…..etc. More monks and nuns I will not forget. All pressing me to come back and stay longer.

On the Friday night I had the chance to speak to a group of people, perhaps 50 to 60 of them, who had come to the city temple where I’d been based. For the first time I spoke into a microphone (no wires attached and who knows how that works,) anyway it was liberating. By not having to project ones voice a lot of the tension around talking in public simply dissolved. Linzy had come by train to do translating for the evening and during the next day. On the Saturday night there was another talk in another center connected to the Master who was my host. That seemed to go well with the Master translating. Lay practice in the east is impressive, so much so that I had to restrain myself from going on and on about how impressed I was and am. Here in Malaysia it is the same, the word Devotee really does describe what I see. I’ll have to write more about that another time.

Last day, Sunday, found me at Dharma Drum Mountain Temple near Taipei, the temple of Master Sheng Yeng (somebody correct my spelling please). I went here to meet a 6 year nun who I’d met at Throssel when she was staying as a lay resident. Yes, she had sat with the Lancaster Group while at Lancaster University and just happened to be friends with Linzy as well. I can assure all those who know her that she is a shining example, very definitely shining. Yes, I am talking about the former Ming Ting.

I can’t sign off from Taiwan without a final mention of gratitude to the couple who picked me up at the airport, drove so many miles when we went south for three days and who finally scooped me up after the talk on Saturday night and placed me in a fabulous hotel room for the night. And then next day, driving all day to Dharma Drum Mountain and back to their home near the airport, feeding and housing me, telling me the breath taking story of their life and sending me on my way to Malaysia with coffee, mamalade and toast at the airport. Their friend, Clare, was with us for 24 hours doing a great job of translating. Thank you Clare.

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Cheng Hoon Teng, Malaysia.

This is the temple where Rev. Master Jiyu came in 1962 and the home temple of Master Seck Kim Seng who was her ordination master. I arrived here last afternoon having been met at K.L. airport by two women volunteers from this temple. One I had met previously in England in 2001 when she came with the Abbess, Seck Lee Seng, for the celebrations at Throssel in that year. What a jolly pair! After the usual greetings and luggage handling, everybody insists that I do not carry anything, we set off in the modern air conditioned car.

For as far as one can see there are Palm tree plantations, palm oil is extracted from the fruit of these trees. The roads are three lanes each way, fast moving and not too crowded. It took about two hours to drive to Malaka (I have seen that spelled several ways). No sooner had we arrived and I had made the customary bows to the main altar and bow to Master Seck Lee Seng (and had a shower) and we were off for a meal at a vegetarian restaurant. There were the five Chinese male monks who live here, several lay women, who either live here or are volunteers, and an elderly Chinese monk who was here for the Wesak Celebrations which happened the day before. Seck Lee Seng was there too of course who presided over the ordering and distribution of the food. There is so much I could write about from just being here 24 hours. There seem to be so many people around just in the kitchen alone. Gradually I am getting used to faces, know who speaks English, know who (more or less) lives here and what time things (generally) start. There is a wonderful family feel here.

As I am on a slow dial-up connection I will not write too much as it might take a long time to ‘upload’ and it is time for bed. I’ll be able to write more tomorrow hopefully. Enough to say thank you to those of you who post comments or have sent me emails letting me know you are following my progress. This encourages me to keep going with the writing.

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Amitofu and Answering the Telephone

I have had a rare day of being in one place, sitting behind the computer here at the city temple, answering email and writing for this Blogger. Now and then the phone rings in the office and Dur Ann usually is here to answer it. Having heard her answer the phone I dared to do it myself when she was not here…”Way”, “Amitofu”… and that is far as I got!

Amitofu is the Chinese name for Amitabha Buddha (Amida Buddha in Japan) the Buddha of Infinate Light, also known as the Buddha of the Western paradise in the Pure Land Tradition. Amitofu is the universal greeting when Buddhist do absolutely anything in China and Taiwan, Amitofu crosses language barriers, fills in pauses in conversations, covers confusions while making interminable arrangements (which change constantly by the way) and any rifts that come as a result of social interactions. (here comes dinner with Dur Ann, she is chanting Amitofu, of course!) I have witnessed Dur Ann repeat Amitofu, Amitofu to animals and even fish in one temple garden! She just keeps on repeating Amitofu, Amitofu. I did once wonder if she thought it might stop a dog going for her although probably not! At the monastery where we stayed the night before last I had the opportunity to join in the evening chanting. I was so glad I had listened to the Amitofu, Amitofu etc. etc. etc. chant before. Having heard it, and sang along with it too in the past, repeated over and over (there is a tune) made it possible for me to join in with confidence as we walked around and around in procession in the main hall at this small nuns temple and university. The master of this temple teaches the nuns English there.

Dur Ann does her chanting on her own two, perhaps three, times a day for about one hour. She plays a tape and practices using the musical instruments. She just showed me the small shrine room where she does that. Rising for her is at 5.00 am and I am not sure if she does seated meditation and chanting or just chanting. We have grown close during this week together.

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Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan and (name of temple not known).

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. 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!

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