fo guang monastery calm: my favorite ::::
This is the second post from our Taiwan trip this summer. Check out the first post at this other link.
Day 5 of trip: After a few days of jetlag and acclimation in Taipei, we were off to explore more of the country. Our first destination was to the south of the country, touted as the Bay Area of Taiwan — Kaohsiung. This city was founded in the 17th century, starting as a trading village to a large industrial city focusing on steel, oil, shipbuilding, and freight. Its port is the largest and busiest in Taiwan. The population of 2.7 million encourages all sorts of cultural activities: it’s known for its parks, arts, naval connections, and industry.
The top ticket is for an adult fare for the Taiwan High Speed Rail (bullet train), bottom is the child’s. Can you spot the difference?
We showed up at the train station much earlier than needed and resorted to eating bento lunches on the floor until we could get to the right track to board. These were pork and chicken based.
We spent two hours on the train, traveling along the west coast of Taiwan. Grub and I played lots of Phase 10, his current favorite rummy-based card game. We then took a local train to our stop. We boarded a low-riding train over these ultra-lush tracks to Love’s Pier over the Love (Ai) River.
Soon, there was food, always. We headed to a dumpling restaurant nearby with these happy pig figurines sitting near our table. Not as big as Grey Spot, the pig in a nearby neighborhood in Decatur, but similarly pudgy.
We ordered xiao long bao (小笼包 or 小籠包), the popular soup dumplings we love to eat. We ordered the pork and some crab based ones, though the pork are always better anywhere we eat them. “Xiao long” refers to the bamboo steaming basket used to cook them, “bao” means bun. The Chinese character “小” also literally means “small.” What’s the trick to get the soup inside the dumplings? Pork jelly. It goes in with the meat filling and when cooked, liquifies to form the soup. If you can pick up xiao long bao without breaking the tender skin, you have mastered chopsticks.
Some of the xiao long bao have eyes….
We also ordered the kitschy black xiao long bao. The color is from added charcoal. I thought the addition made the skins more tough.
This was some of the best drunken chicken [Shaoxing (绍兴花雕酒) rice wine-marinated chicken served cold] I’ve had, perfectly cooked and tender. Drunken chicken translated from Mandarin is literally “drunk chicken” (醉雞; or 醉鸡). The white shreds are fresh ginger and the red berries are goji berries (also called wolfberries).
We made a 7-Eleven shop run for snacks and breakfast goodies that night. Sleep needed to prepare for tomorrow’s adventure!
Day 6: The next morning, we sampled the juices. Mixed fruit – check. Green guava – check. Mango – check. Asparagus – check…and NOT good. We bought it out of curiosity. I like asparagus. I even like asparagus liqueur (Cynar — an Italian liqueur that mixes well with lemony drinks), but this juice…not so much. It was sickly sweet and woody tasting. I’m guessing the advertising for asparagus juice has resorted to placing a scantily clad woman on the box to entice people to drink it.
We walked over a glassed-over former train track bridge over the Love River. The river snakes its way through Kaohsiung and was once a focus of its industry. The hexagonal structure in the background is a music center under construction. There was a lot of other modern architecture around town.
We spotted a cat down here one day, prompting Peach to assume it was stuck in the bridge and under duress. It was actually staying dry from the rain.
Our building is the peach-colored one on the right.
After a slow amble for another breakfast (the kids are hungry within 20 minutes), we note the sign at Leo’s Café. “Come in we are awesome” the café sign stated. So, we did. It just was ok.
We walked to the Yanchengpu train station, transferred at Formosa Boulevard to the Red Line. We took the train to the Zuoying station and hopped the Harvard Express (weird name) shuttle for a 30 minute ride to the Fo Guang Shan monastery.
This was my favorite place on the whole trip.
Fo Guang Shan (佛光山) is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. “Fo Guang” (佛光) means “Light of Buddha.” “Shan” (山) is “mountain.” Venerable Master Hsing Yun founded Fo Guang Shan advocating humanistic Buddhism. He moved from China to Taiwan in 1949 working as a teacher for the Buddhist Chanting Association of Yilan in 1953. The Fo Guang Shan Order was founded by him in 1967 with the goal to promote Dharma (universal truths or the teachings of Buddha) through education, charity, culture, and spiritual growth. He has since founded over 300 temples internationally, Buddhist colleges, a high school, and five universities.
It is here in Kaohsiung that the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order headquarters sit amongst swaths of green and the lush, tropical scape of Taiwan. Its architecture and layout promote Dharma and community, being people-centered and all areas having more than one function. Shrines are places to reflect, to educate, to promote love, to feel peace. The Pilgrims Lodge feeds the nuns and monks, volunteers, and visitors invited through kindness to join in communal nourishment. Every place in the complex has more than one purpose in order to promote Dharma and bonding with visitors.
We first walked to the section called Great Buddha Land, the road lined with hundreds of golden Buddhas.
A brief history of the first Buddha: “Buddha” is literally translated from Sanskrit as “enlightened,” a past participle of budh, which means “know.” Around the 5th or 6th century, Prince Siddhartha Gautama of Nepal was born into the Kshatriya caste of warriors and kings. It was prophesied at his birth that he would either be a great king or a great spiritual leader. His father King Suddhodana favored the royal path for his son and took great care to steer Siddhartha in that direction. By age 29, shielded by his family from the outside world, Prince Siddhartha became curious about what lay beyond the palace walls. Knowing nothing of religion, human suffering, or old age while living such a comfortable life, a seed of doubt crept in, making him question if there was more.
He requested a charioteer take him beyond palace grounds; this is when he first witnessed an elderly man, a sick man, a dead man, and an religious ascetic. These were all shocking and horrifying to the prince, last learning the ascetic had renounced the world and its luxuries. The prince returned to the palace, soon renouncing his princely life once realizing how unhappy he was in its confines. One night he left the palace, shaved his head, changed to beggar’s clothing and began his search for enlightenment. Many teachers and disciples followed during his quest to understand enlightenment, first attempting release from suffering through pain and starving themselves.
Siddhartha realized the opposite: Discipline of the mind led to liberation, with food sustenance needed to build strength and focus. In meditation, Siddhartha was challenged by a demon named Mara to whose spiritual accomplishments were better, the earth itself ultimately bearing witness to Siddhartha, the demon vanishing in defeat. The Buddha devoted his life to teaching, eventually reconciling with his father King Suddhodnana, his wife Yasodhara who became a nun, and his son Rahula who became a novice monk as a boy.
Buddha entered parinirvana at the age of 80. This is when a person who has achieved nirvana (निर्वाण in Sanskrit; literally “quenching” or “extinguishing”) does not come back with a karmic rebirth, and Buddhisms ultimate spiritual goal. His cremated body lies in many stupas, the domed buildings in Buddhist monasteries around the world.
[Note: My history lesson was gathered from educational material from Fo Guang Shan, from reading exhibit information while at the museum, and Wikipedia to confirm some of the historical details and translations of words. This is a very brief synopsis, so forgive my omissions and mistakes and please contact me to correct any glaring errors. Buddhism makes sense and I want to make I convey that in my writing.]
Many of the Buddhas were being restored; here are some near the Longevity Memorial Park. Here, we walked up what felt like a steep grade in the heat past some of the Buddha restoration. The blue paint is some sort of primer before the gold is reapplied.
Also take note of the hand positioning of each Buddha. There are many different hand, leg, and posture positions in other Buddhas around the world that coincide with significant events in the Buddha’s life. The hand positioning here shows the right hand raised and the left hand with palm up, showing reassurance (right hand) and offering charity (left hand). (Much of the United States and its atrocious, unrelenting bigoted attitudes towards immigrants and non-white people might get something out of this idea, if those bigoted masses would actually listen and consider. No, I’m not asking you to “worship idols.” No, you’re not venturing into something “evil” or “ungodly.” Stop being so suspicious. Signed, an American.)
So bright was the sun (deceptively clear — until minutes later).
The 480 smaller statues of the Amitabha Buddha that surround the Fo Guang Shan Welcoming Buddha symbolize their patronage to the Buddha in the world. The Welcoming Buddha pictured below is one of the tallest Buddhas in Southeast Asia at 40 meters high. His right hand is raised showing radiant light, while his left hand is lowered to greet sentient beings, per the Fo Guang Shan written literature I read about this Buddha. There are buddhas and bodhisattvas (Sanskrit बोधिसत्त्व; any person who is on the path to Buddhahood) at the base of the statue, too. (See #4 on the map at the end of the post.)
Just before a rainstorm hit and pushed puddles all over this already slippery area, I walked down the loggia outside the Bamboo Garden Lodge. The Main Shrine sits just right of the photo. A nun invited us inside the Lodge to have hot tea. Sitting in front of a fan blowing hot, humid air drinking hot tea wasn’t cooling but it was relaxing to stay still for a while. (Maybe a comparison to this is when Siddhartha was suffering, thinking that would bring him into enlightenment. I needed to mediate more to appreciate the nourishment!)
After the rainstorm, we stood on the path in front of the Main Shrine, after being wowed by the hundreds of gazing Buddha images inside. No photography allowed. There are hundreds of statues wall-to-ceiling, three stories high on all its walls, each with a light. It was beautiful and otherworldly. (See #3 on the map at the end of the post.)
The nun who invited us to tea directed us to the Pilgrims Lodge to have lunch at 11:40AM (she was specific about the time). The Lodge is a room-and-board building on the monastery grounds, equipped with a large dining hall (a different room than where we ate), 10 classrooms, and an auditorium for 1000 people. Buffet-style vegetarian food was served. We all went back for seconds, at least. I learned later that some Buddhist monks and nuns eat only before noon, so perhaps this is when the food was put away at the Lodge. Vegetarianism, avoidance of certain pungent foods (like onions and garlic), and even avoidance of alcohol in some cases are not absolute throughout all Buddhists schools, the choices based on renunciation. One will willingly give something up when they recognize the wisdom of the sacrifice, not because someone is telling them to do it. (Life would be a lot easier in this world if people recognized this everywhere, for everyone!)
After lunch, we headed through the grounds of green off the roads and paths, taking in the views. The whole complex includes not only the monastery and shrines, but art galleries, a museum, housing, gardens, education centers, a children’s home, souvenir shops, restaurants, and lots of helpful volunteers, nuns, and monks directing visitors with patience. Below are the eight pagodas following to the Bodhi Wisdom Concourse to the museum. The Fo Guang Big Buddha sits to the left. It’s huge! It is the tallest sitting bronze Buddha statue in the world. Just in front of the statue sit the stupa, the gray triangular domes that contain relics. There are four here (though only two are visible in the photo): the Stupa of Practice (the most leftward in the photo), the Stupa of Wisdom, the Stupa of Compassion, and the Stupa of Vow (just to the right of the Stupa of Practice). Literally, stupa (स्तूप) means “heap.” (See #8 on the map at the end of the post.)
The stupas create the four corners of the Main Hall, the museum nestled inside. The Buddha Museum was built purposely to enshrine the Buddha’s relic while also being an art gallery and education center. Sky-Girl is learning about Baby Buddha below. (See #6 on the map at the end of the post.)
This is looking from the Main Hall (just in front of the Big Buddha), the Eight Pagodas lining the path to the Front Hall. (See #7 on the map at the end of the post.)
If walking inside a pagoda, one might see something like this:
Inside this pagoda, there was a children’s activity area and gift shop.
We walked back to the Front Hall, got some more requisite photos, and headed to get some boba drinks. We had asked a nice lady to take a family photo for us in this spot (with Eat’s phone, so I don’t have it here). She was obviously a visitor too, with family and friends. A few minutes later came up to us while we ordered some almond milk black sesame boba cold drinks, asked Eat his last name, and told us she knew his uncle’s name. Long story short: That nice woman lives in upstate New York and knows Eat’s uncle through her boyfriend! She recognized Eat from her boyfriend’s Facebook account. Small world! She was in town for her nephew’s wedding in Kaohsiung.
As lovely as the day was, we were really tired from all the walking and exhausted from the heat. Despite the photos with the cloudy skies looking cooler than the sunny ones, the heat was still so oppressive when mixed with the humidity! The nuns and monks in their thick brown robes looked cool and happy — I want to know their secret. We took a shuttle back to the Zouying train station where we were greeted by a multitude of choices of food. Train stations in Taiwan, especially if connected to the High Speed Rail stops, always have good food choices.
We went for hot pot at the restaurant Hoshino. Taiwanese hot pot doesn’t really have just one recipe; it can be very family- or restaurant-dependent on what is served. At home, we love being very fish ball and tofu heavy in our ingredients, whereas another family may focus on the paper-thin sliced meats and glass noodles added. The goal is to add some vegetable, noodles, and proteins into a broth over a communal pot, never over a stove, and eat together. We usually use a Napa cabbage broth and allow the added proteins to give the broth more flavor as it cooks. This restaurant made the job easy with its many pre-cooked broth choices for each table.
Grub really wanted the shrimp. They came raw and skewered, ready for cooking in the boiling broths.
Two of our four broth choices were sukiyaki and tonkotsu style. Cooked down, these were really rich.
Pork bone broth and miso based:
There was a huge buffet of add-ins, like tofu, fish tofu (my favorite — fish and tofu processed into patties/cubes), mushrooms, and choices of dipping sauces you could customize. We ordered the pork and chicken with the broth choices.
So what’s next? I don’t think there will be anything much better than Fo Guang Shan! We slept well after hot pot that night to ready ourselves for the next adventure — floating temples!
One year ago: fondue with IPA
Two years ago: corn salad
Three years ago: roti
Six years ago: apricot compote, tomato and halloumi salad with pomegranate drizzle and peach-blueberry pie
Eight years ago: kaiserschmarrn with peaches and blackberries and matonella con biscotti sablee (chocolate loaf with butter cookies and nuts), korean dried squid (ojingo chae bokkeum) and danube salad.
If you want to visit the posts from our Japan trip in 2017:
One: Tokyo and Mount Fiji
Three: Hiroshima and Kyoto
Four: Tokyo and home