Say good words – Do good deeds – Thinking good thoughts
The first time I went to Fo Guang Shan was in the Summer of 2013. Dad was visiting me in Taiwan for a few weeks and I wanted to make his stay unforgettable. While I was looking for places that we could go I remembered that a few friends had shown me some magnificent pictures about this place. I have been in Taiwan since 2009 and I wondered why I did not hear too much about it before and as it turned out, it was new!!! It opened in December 2011. Well, at least the Memorial Center did. The monastery was built in 1967, but until recent years they decided to be open for the public.
I have experience the temple in two different ways, as a tourist and as meditation practitioner.
- Discovering with Dad – Tourist
Of my first visit I remember being dumbfounded by the vastness and beauty of the place, there is no denying of that. But I also have a strong memory that it was sunny and very hot. What I am trying to say is the real reason I enjoyed that day was not because of the place but because I was with dad and we were both excited taking pictures at the details. Here are some pictures of things you perhaps did not notice.
However, something happened that day, that without knowing at that time, changed my life. Dad and I were exploring the main temple and we noticed that at entrance on the right side there is a table with some brochures, candles and other paraphernalia on it. Behind it, there was a smiling venerable. (a “venerable” is alike a monk, but they do not use this word, so I will be refereeing to them as “Venerable”). She saw us and with a friendly tone started talking to us with her best English. Small talk at the beginning and the then she handed me a brochure of information of a monthly retreat for foreigners. I did not pay much attention, but dad seamed to encourage the idea. I left the temple with a “maybe I will come”.
The coming months I forgot about the temple but the idea of going back and experience that retreat lingered in my head. Then it happened, one of my best friend told me he found about this activity and, from one day to the other, decided to join. He told me all about it and I was fascinated with his experience. I had to go. Without hesitation we signed out for the next one, which would be held in March 2014.
- Re discovering of the temple – Meditation
For three days we experience the monastic life. Waking up at 5 am and then quickly getting ready for joining the morning chants in the main temple. There was a sea of people, but it did not matter because everybody moved in order and being mindful of each of their movements. When the chants were over, we were directed to the main dining room, where more than 2000 people could fit, however that morning we were no more than 300. Everybody entered in order and in silence and at 6 o’clock they served the breakfast. For 15 min nobody spoke and just focused on the first meal of the day. At 6:15 everybody was finished and in less than a minute everything was picked up and cleaned. Impressive.
All the meals were served and carried out this effective and thoughtful manner. Every course was vegetarian, needless to say, and it was deliciously well done.
During the morning, we shared the temple chores with the venerables. We got simple things like planting flowers, so it was a beautiful task. In the afternoon and before dinner we were taught meditation, starting out from the most known one, sitting meditation, to walking meditation and even meditation white drinking tea. We laughed, we learned, we grew, we became better. No one told to me change religion or to forget mine, or that I was wrong, we were there to experience and learn just what we wanted, or let’s say, what we needed, and they respected that.
- Breathing – Meditation
What can I say? Once was just not enough, so on December of the same year, I joined my second retreat. This time, it was more focused in developing meditation skills and instead of doing so many activities, we mostly stayed in the meditation hall.
This time we were asked to remain silent and be truthfully mindful and aware of everything we were doing. This time we went meditation in different parts of the temple. I do not remember the names of all the places, but here are some pictures for you see.
It was beautiful, I felt so much in contact with nature, with trees, with the birds, with the wind and of course, in contact with myself. Remembering to breath, being aware of the involuntary movements of my body, realising that I am in control. Relaxing, letting go, breathing, seeing life from a different angle, living, existing, breathing. Yes! Breathing, it is amazing how we can easily forget to properly do such simple task. Realising that we are all connected, that this blog is here because you would read it, and because you would read it, I sat today to write it, and so you affected me and I have affected you.
- Chinese New Years – Tourist
The experience was life-changing and mind opening. I am not changing my religion, but I adopt what is useful for me from other beliefs. The next retreat I was able to join was the one held for Chinese New Year in 2015, the year of the lamb. There were less teachings and close to no meditation activities, but the temple offered a big meal to celebrate the new year and there were, parades and lanterns all over. Definitely a hectic time for the temple. Also, if one was able to visit all the key places of the temple, they would give you a temple souvenir, which I still keep very dear.
After that, I was convinced that the best way to spend CNY for foreigners, was to go to the temple. So next year, in 2016, the year of the monkey, I took mom, who was visiting me, along with two other friends to Fo Guang Shan. I was finally able to tell mom all what I have seen and explain all what I have learned.
We walked around the temple more than once and experience the greatness of the place. Then, at night, fireworks. Do you think the temple is beautiful? Now imagine it being illuminated with fireworks! It is simple breathtaking. The newest part of the temple was recently completed, so we were able to take pictures from this new angle.
The retreats were an amazing experience and I wish I could do them again, but the temple has stopped doing these activities for foreigners. It is only held once a year during the month of July and it lasts for 1 month. It would be a little hard for me to join, but I will never forget what I lived and learned.
- One more time – Tourist
Now it is 2017. I was happy to hear that some of my foreigner friends were looking forward to go, and without thinking too much I joined the group. We were a big group, we were 22!!!
It felt good to see all those places again. The memorial center is impressive, but my favorite part is the monastery, after all that is where I spent most of the time during the retreats. I remembered doing meditation in the Buddha land, the mesmerizing morning chants in the main temple and the secluded little shrine on the top of the hill. I hadn’t been to that little shrine since the first retreat. It is a little far away and the road is a little steep. When I finally reached it, the venerable there, offered me and my friend who was walking with me, water and candies. She even turned on some relaxing music, just for us. The 10 minutes that I spent there brought back flashbacks not only of my experiences but also of the lessons learnt.
I am sure you have probably seen that Fo Guang Shan is a must-see in Taiwan, but if at the time you read this the retreats are being held again, Fo Guang Shan is a must-experience in your life!
Thank you for reading, here is an origami crane for you