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
Seven years in Taiwan certainly change one’s perspective and feeling towards this beautiful holiday. I have always love and enjoy Christmas, from my point of it is the merriest season of all. It is all about hope, family and a spark of magic. I simply love it. Yet being away from home for so long, and living in a not-very-Christmassy country makes me stagger sometimes. Until now I have manage to dismiss the Grinchy-ideas surrounding me, but how long until I give in and allow the Christmas spirit to perish?
To try to understand why Christmas perishes and why and how I dismiss those feeling by trying to keep the spirit alive, it is important to first define the meaning of this holiday.
Definition and History
For Catholics, Christians and any other type of Christ-believers it is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus-Christ. Quite enough reason to be joyous and grateful. It was passed on to the world as a reminder of sharing noble feelings, such as compassion, love, caring, forgiveness, etc. In the hope of some reflecting and introspective development. But let us take a further look into Christmas. As my good friend and blogger Grexxen mentioned, Jesus was not quite born on December 25th. Yet, since the beginning, it was set to be celebrated on the already pagan holiday. Throughout the years is has further been changed, influenced by many different cultures and reinvented to modern times.
Yes! it is profoundly commercial, it increments sales, influences the market and has strong impact in the economy. At micro and macro scale. Complaints are that Christmas was turned into a ferocious season of shopping and honouring a gift-bringer whether is baby-Jesus, the three-wise-men or most popularly known, Santa-Claus. Are these adjustments and incursions the blameable factors of the perishing Christmas?
Let us take a look into the blameworthy suspects:
Besides Christmas, when do you consider giving somebody else a present? Birthday perhaps, sometimes not even there. Would you even consider wasting your time, money and energy trying to get something nice for someone you don’t really like? I think not, unless is your boss, but not even there. Gifts are a little way of saying “I care for you”, ” you are important to me”, “I hope to see you smile with this”, “I think of you”, “I rather invest my effort in you than in anybody else”, etc. And so much more. So even in the commercial side of Christmas, it provides an excellent opportunity to say something meaningful to someone important. So, no! Christmas does not perishes because of presents. At least not because presents are given, but perhaps it has something to do with how presents might be received.
I realised a little too late, that part of the culture here in Taiwan is to refuse gifts a few times before it is accepted and sometimes they even criticize it. It is a way of being polite and to allow you to get to know them better. It is strange, but hey! I am not in my country. And so I had so learn how to give gifts here. As the years passed, I got better at giving gifts to Taiwanese and I never gave up, there is always a way into their heart. Luckily, I have always had friends to share Christmas gifts without having to change my traditions. I simply go frolic about presents. It is not receiving them that makes happy, it is the reaction I see in my friends when I give them something they’ll enjoy. Seeing my friends and dear ones happy, because of what I did for them is far more valuable than any gift I could get. But I also won’t get angry if you get me something nice. haha
Do we really need them? Probably not, but they are a way of materializing our thoughts and feelings towards this holiday. Nativities honour our religion, reminding us of the gift of hope. I personally rejoice when I see mine. It is tiny, for it is impossible for me to keep a big one, but I get a sense of peace when I see the angel and when I finally place baby Jesus on Christmas eve.
If a Nativity does not means this for you, then take a look at a Christmas tree, if you had one as a child then it is a reminder of the kid in our heart, with big eyes, full of wish, expectation, dreams and a little bit of magic. And who doesn’t like magic?
Christmas does not perishes because of ornamentation. But it does if all the decorations lack of meaning and sense behind it. For there is not use of a gorgeous Christmas tree, if it was done reluctantly and then left there to dust through out the year.
The year that I came to Taiwan, things were very different. Now there are a lot of ornaments and very easy to find. Seven years ago there were not enough. I searched restlessly for Christmas stockings, and they were no where to be found. So, I made them! Went to the store to get some cloths, thread, needles some bells, and spend most of my free time of my first December sawing them. I still have them and place them every year. Shortage of decorations will not get my spirit down.
Now this is a less materialistic part. We are getting to a deeper meaning of Christmas. Friendship, how wonderful is this girt. Not a gift, more like a treasure. We are humans, we are social by nature and friendships are meant to be nurture and kept. It is a blessing to spend a Christmas surrounded my people who mutually enjoy each other’s company.
So how can friends be a liable for the perish of Christmas?
During all these year, I have met many people, I have become friends with some of them and with some we have created unbreakable bounds that will last forever. The hard part, is that I have also seen many of them leave. The first few years I spend Christmas with about the same faces, but then they started taking other paths. Gladly, new friends came around, and then I found myself with a new group of people. And then they also left. And it has been like that for a while.
I am blessed that every year I have had good friends to hug merry-Christmas. And every year it is a brand new experience. For the good friends that have left Taiwan and that are in another part of the world, well, there is always internet. Letter and postcards are also a magical detail. I feel joy and excitement when I write them and send them, hoping that my friends feel the same when they get it and read it.
For all my friends, those who are here and for those that aren’t:
Thank you for having crossed roads with me. You are a blessing. And I hope the next year is full of joy and success. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
With love, Adriana
Probably the deepest meaning of Christmas. It has been 8 years! 8 Christmases away! It is one of the seasons that make me regret a little of my decision of being here.
I was one of the lucky few that was always able to convince the professor to not have test or academic activities on the 24th or 25 of December, but I know of many who had to spend their Christmas eve studying. I am also lucky to be working at a good company that is sensible enough not to make work on Christmas. So I am lucky. But nothing nothing can match the infinite euphoria of being with my family on Christmas. I hope destiny does not takes to long until it allows me to be there.
So? how do I dismiss the boundless yearning? Remembering good times, knowing we are bless to have each other, even in the distance, hoping to see them soon, praying and Video Cam!
Nothing could be the same as physically being there, but the camera helps. To see my mom dressed beautifully and being accompanied by my handsome dad. See my nephew’s eyes sparkle with the twinkling lights. My little niece get excited to see everybody together. Share a good warming talk with my beloved cousin. Hear my aunts and grandma’s voice. A simple web cam chat makes my Christmas complete.
I miss you, I miss you more with every passing second and for Christmas, I miss you hopelessly. But I love you and I know we are together, and we will always be. Thank you for the unconditional support. You are the biggest blessing and the only gift I want/need.
With deep love,
I am sorry for leaving and making you spend all these Christmases without me. Ever since I left there has been a Christmas tree in the house. You don’t know how much your sacrifice mean to me. I promise I won’t be too long now. I love you. I miss you.
So with all of this I refuse to be sad on Christmas. I dismiss the idea of letting my Christmas spirit perish.
It is hard being away for Christmas. but if you are in the same situation as me, don’t lose hope! don’t you even dare to feel down on Christmas! Don’t give up! Christmas is so much more, and you can find it in the little things around. And you can find it in your heart.
Merry Christmas to all! And a very joyous and prosperous new year!