Of Dragons and Tigers, and Fo Guang Shan

My previous post the Ode to the Lotus at Lianchi (Lotus) Lake in Kaohsiung asks to be followed by photos and descriptions of my visit to the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas and Spring and Autumn Pavilions on the said lake, as well as an amazing afternoon at Fo Guang Shan Monastery and Buddha Museum a 30-60 minute drive from Kaohsiung – the largest and most beautiful Buddhist temple and monastery in Taiwan. Prompted was this trip by the desire to get away from the grey and rainy weather in Taipei and visit Xiao Liu Qiu (also called Little Liuqiu or Lambai Island – next post).

Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum and Pagodas

Early Monday morning, I get on the high speed rail (HSR) from Taipei to Kaohsiung. The distance is about 350 kilometres, which would take about four hours by car. However, at up to 300km/hour and only two brief stops along the way it takes the HSR 90 minutes! Fast! So fast indeed that I briefly get a slight headache (believe it or not). I experienced it both ways and was headache free off the train, so have to attribute it to the maximum speed or? Still, well worth it.

Dragon boats, Lianchi Lake

Once I arrive in Zuoying (the HSR station north of Kaohsiung), I head to the lockers to leave my luggage, so I can explore unencumbered for the rest of the day before finding my guesthouse in the centre of town. On the itinerary are Lotus lake and a bus ride to Fo Guang Shan. Maybe a little ambitious? Luckily, there’s a Youbike station close by and I’m off to Lotus lake and the pagodas which are only a short ride away. So many places to stop and take in the sights. First stop the Confucius Temple grounds.

The Confucius Temple is at its northern edge and, in the south, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas and the Spring and Autumn Pavilions. Along the way the imposing Yuandi temple. And other temples which I don’t have the time to further explore. It’s a fairly quiet day on the roads and an enjoyable ride – so nice to be in warm sunshine exploring outside again.

I love the garishly kitschy Spring and Autumn Pavilions and take my time here where I also discover the first lotus flower and am enchanted.

The colours of Guanyin and her companions riding the dragon are so rich. Such imagination 🙂 According to local legend, the Goddess of Mercy appeared in the clouds riding the dragon and instructed her followers to build a statue accordingly. Inside the dragon the story-telling continues.

Inside the Dragon at Spring and Autumn Pavilion

I briefly visit the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, but decide to come again on my last day before heading back to Taipei. I’m glad I did as more lotuses were in bloom then 🙂 and I get to enjoy the various vistas from the Pagodas. A sign tells me that entering a dragon’s throat and coming out a tiger’s mouth symbolizes turning bad luck to good fortune… Hmmm, I later realize that I entered and exited the dragon’s throat with a brief visit to the tiger’s mouth… oh well, whatever… Plenty more tigers and dragons to be found everywhere I turn, as well as a couple of very glossy looking curious birds with red eyes. Google search tells me these are Asian Glossy Starling – Aplonis panayensis red eye black birds. The red eyes are eery and I couldn’t believe the sheen of their feathers, almost like dipped in lacquer.

There are about 20 or so temples dotting the shoreline and nearby alleys of the lake. One of the largest is the Temple of Enlightenment across the street from Spring & Autumn Pavilion. And the imposing 24 metre statue of Xuantian Shang-di, the Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven and guardian of the north. This Taoist deity is also known as Xuan Wu (Mysterious Warrior) and he is said to have subdued the serpent and the tortoise – two monsters wreaking havoc on Earth. Thanks!

I’m on a (self-imposed) schedule. Filled with colourful impressions, I head back to the HSR station, drop the bike, grab some sushi and try to figure out which bus to take from which bus stop. Life is kind and sends me a local woman who is heading to Fo Guang Shan as well. We wait at one stop where a cab driver tries to talk us into taking a ride with him (for much more money) when she notices another bus at another stop – we hurry over, make it on and it’s a fast ride. I think it only took 30 minutes going, but later on the way back rush hour traffic doubles the time.

The golden standing Buddha surrounded by hundreds of smaller Buddhas

From the moment I set eyes on Fo Guang Shan I am impressed. It’s a massive site of many beautiful buildings, statues, walkways and gardens built on a couple of hills with views to the west. Towering above the monastery buildings on top of one hill is a very large, golden standing Buddha statue surrounded by hundreds of smaller standing Buddha statues.

The following is taken from the Fo Guang Shan web site: Venerable Master Hsing Yun founded Fo Guang Shan in 1967. Since then it has evolved from a mountaintop bamboo forest to the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. Master Hsing Yun has inspired the selfless devotion of over 1,000 monastics as well as the ardent support of many lay devotees to assist him in bringing confidence, joy, hopes, and providing service to countless other. Presently Fo Guang Shan has over 200 branch temples throughout the world carrying out the goals of propagating Humanistic Buddhism and establishing a Pure Land on earth.

There you go… walking the grounds, I certainly experience peace, beauty, great care, and grand architecture. And at the time, a special ceremony is underway and countless nuns and monks are chanting and praying in the main shrine and meditation hall. It’s very beautiful and sweet to listen to.

I continue on along boulevards and through carefully tended gardens, past the Golden Buddha building, the Sutra Repository and Dharma square and hall towards the Fo Guang Big Buddha, (and I thought the standing Buddha was big), the Buddha Museum, the great path to Buddhahood lined by eight Pagodas, galleries of paintings and sculptures, and so much more. I could spend days here exploring every corner of the grounds. At times I’m puzzled by what I see, feel overwhelmed by the sheer size and ‘goldenness’ of it all, the number of Buddha statues. And I wonder what the Buddha would think of it all… I’m guessing not too much. It’s all quite grandiose in scale.

At the Buddha Museum, I visit the centre shrine which contains thirty-three images of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva set in a circle of glass panes. (I’m not allowed to take photos here.) It’s all very beautiful with changing coloured lights and soft music. Impeccable devotional work creating beautiful ambience. There is also a shrine for what is believed to be one of Buddha’s teeth in the main hall. And then there is the Golden Buddha shrine housing the tallest seated golden Buddha statue in SE Asia; the statue is presented by the Thai Sangharaja, signifying the harmonious exchange between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. The Jade Buddha shrine holds the reclining Buddha, carved out of precious white jade from Burma. And topping it off the very kitschy Museum of Buddhist Festivals… is it geared towards children, I guess and hope?! Here’s a link if you feel like perusing more. The scale of the monastery and museum grounds is hard to capture – let’s suffice to say it’s huge! Some of it seems more than a touch too much, but overall the energy is sweet and peaceful and oozing kindness and devotion. I will definitely try to come back here to spend some time meditating as well.

As the dims and the sun sets, I take the bus back to the HSR station, pick up my luggage, get on the local MRT to the city centre and find my guesthouse. Alas, nobody there to check me in, nor responding to my text messages… what’s up? Just as I get ready to send a final message and head off to find another bed for the night, the entire family shows up and one of the daughters (still school age) speaks English well enough to explain everything. It’s late, the staff person has already gone home, and apparently there was a lack of communication between all the parties. All is well. I’m happy with my room, head off to the local night market in search of dinner, and am curious how my journey to Xiao Liu Qiu the next day will go, as getting to Donggang harbour seems tricky… next post.

3 thoughts on “Of Dragons and Tigers, and Fo Guang Shan

  1. Wow! Great photos. So much to take in. I love the gaudiness of it all – reminds me of the OTT sculptures of Hindu gods in India. And the inside of that dragon is fabulous. How lovely to hear the nuns and monks chanting; always a special thing for me. The whole Buddha complex looks amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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