The island nation of Taiwan has Mahayana Buddhist and Taoist temples mushrooming at the speed of light. You will be guaranteed to see a temple at almost every corner and turns be it large or small. It is no surprise as to how she has earned the reputation for having low crime rates considering the extent of its religious influence.
Zipped through a number of temples across Kaohsiung and they all have something in common; they’re traditional temples. Oil lamps illuminating majestically handcrafted roof darkened by thick sombre soot produced by incense lit by fellow devotees. Elaborately decorated walls and roof that witness and overheard the vows, wishes and cries of many. Time and again I was being reminded by the locals that no travels to Kaohsiung is complete without visiting Fo Guang Shan (佛光山). They said Fo Guang Shan is different.
There are two main grounds; the monastery combined with the Buddha Museum spans over 130 hectares is the largest in Taiwan. Founded only in the late 1960s by Venerable Hsing Yun, it has received significant funding to come to its current state.
We did not have time to visit the Monastery as it closes at 5.00 p.m. if you do happen to visit, make sure to visit the Monastery first, then the Buddha Museum which closes at 7.00 p.m. on weekdays (Closed every Tuesday).
Entrance to the Front Hall
Got to the Buddha Museum, which they also referred to as the Memorial Hall at 11 a.m. it costs us close to 900 TWD by taxi, one way! The consequence of not doing sufficient research before travelling! There is a direct bus from Zuoying HSR station which costs only 70 TWD. Mid-day at Kaohsiung during autumn is very warm. An umbrella will prove handy to protect you from the strong UV. Visit this link for detailed information on getting there.
Buddha Museum (FGS Memorial Hall)
A tall main gate and Chinese Palace style Front Hall welcome all visitors. There are restaurants, cafés and gift shops within the Front Hall. Vending machines are also available throughout. Some shops are selling pretty fragile and intricate souvenirs. You need to have really deep pockets to afford these.
24ct gold sculpture of a miniature divine frog teasing a dragonfly.
Hidden behind the Front Hall is the real deal. The famous eight Chinese style pagodas, the Eighteen Arhats and Patriarchs of the Eight Schools, the Main Hall with the four Indian style stupas and of course the big seated Golden Buddha. Be mesmerised and awed by the vastness and breath taking sight. It definitely is a humbling experience. There will be buses after buses of tourists coming in – photography may be a challenge past mid-day. Get there early!
An unexpected twist. Welcome to the 21st century! – No smoke, no oil lamps, and no soot. Everything is digitalised.
There are 3 shrines within the Museum.
Jade Buddha Shrine
This is a must see. It houses the reclining Buddha carved out of white jade and where the purported Buddha tooth relic lies. The side walls are adorned with wood paneling with carvings of different pagodas and stupas from all over the world that houses Buddha relics. Very strictly guarded. There is a firm and quiet feeling when you enter the shrine. Experience the surreal serenity within. We were very fortunate to be able to join the short meditation session in this shrine.
Inside the Jade Buddha Shrine, image obtained from internet free repository
Mount Potalaka Avalokiteśvara Shrine
Divine figure of the Thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokitesvara with panels of lit images of various forms of Avalokitesvara on infinity mirrors. You can see devotees prostrating in reverence. Very moving.
Inside the Mount Potalaka Avalokiteśvara Shrine
Thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Avalokiteśvara, image obtained from internet free repository
Golden Buddha Shrine
Majestic golden Buddha figure with thousands of Buddha figurines lining the wall.
Inside the Golden Buddha Shrine
Apart from shrines, there are a few exhibition halls worth visiting.
The Life of the Buddha. The gallery brings us through the journey from the birth of Gautama Buddha, his palace life, realisation of sufferings, renunciation, awakening up to his passing.
Museum of Buddhist Underground Palaces. There is a tomb (48 Underground Palaces) housing artifacts donated from around the world. The tomb will be opened every 100 years. At the time of visit, there are 93 years remaining before the tomb will be re-opened. Guess neither of us will still be around long enough to witness this. Other than this, there is also a bowl of sarira as a center of attraction. There is also a replica of ancient tomb housing Buddha relics.
Inside the Museum of Buddhist Underground Palaces, image obtained from internet free repository
Historical Museum of Fo Guang Shan. We haven’t had enough time to visit this hall.
Museum of Buddhist Festivals. Very touristy hall where you get to try out some Buddhist practices like showering the Baby Buddha and be blessed by the mist from Avalokiteśvara Boddhisattva.
Buddhist Art Galleries. Various lifelike paintings worth seeing.
Here comes the bits everyone is waiting for. From the Main Hall, we can take an elevator up to the big golden seated Buddha. From here we can also access the four stupas inspired by those at Bodh Gaya. The view from the top is fantastic.
Sunset with the Buddha
Overall experience was really great. The staff were friendly and amenities are well maintained. Personally, I feel Buddhism should be less commercialised but I suppose this is how funding comes about and the way forward to appeal to younger generation. A truly amazing and humbling experience.
Address: Fo Guang Shan (佛光山)
No. 1, Tongling Rd, Dashu District, Kaohsiung City, 840
Monday to Friday: 9 am – 7 pm (Main Hall closes at 6 pm)
Weekends & public holidays: 9 am – 8 pm (Main Hall closes at 7 pm)
Museum is closed every Tuesday, except 4 April, 16 May, and 7 November.