Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chung Tai Chan Monastery

Chung Tai Chan Monastery (中台禅寺) is a Buddhist monastery located in the township of Puli in Nantou County. It took 10 years to build and from 2001, when it was first open to the public, it has the tallest Buddhist temple in the world.

On our way to the temple, we could see it from the highway. Allie also informed us that it was designed by the same architect who designed the Taipei 101.

Situated in a mountainous site, the temple grounds were also surrounded by beautiful mountain landscape. Street parking was ample and after Allie parked the car, we walked towards the welcome arch, which to me was quite a grand one.

I noticed a map and it struck me that the place was huge! No wonder Allie said that it would not be possible to cover the whole monastery in a day.

My first impression was: Wow, so grand... so huge... so erm... actually, it looked like a 6-star hotel or a shopping complex more than a temple (no offence meant here).

As we climbed up the stairs to reach the main hall, it felt even less like a temple or a place of worship. This was made worse by the huge numbers of tourists.

The high ceilings, marble and granite finishings, despite showing how generous their followers are, also baffled me slightly. In my own experience and knowledge, Buddhism teaches pragmatism and moderation. Many a times, I hear the phrase "the middle path" whenever attending Buddhist talks. I felt rather overwhelmed here instead of the serene and calm feeling I was expecting.

However, my consolation was visiting the Chung Tai Museum (中台山博物馆), where we were shown around by a very professional and knowledgeable volunteer. I learnt much during this guided audio tour, which included exhibitions and collections of different types of Buddhist statues made of different materials such as bronze, stone and wood, as well as in different forms, such as Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arahat. There were also Buddhist scriptures and calligraphy that were written during different eras differentiated by the different styles and brush strokes. The piece I was most transfixed on was a big piece of calligraphy of the Heart Sutra (心经).

Should you be one who is interested in the different branches (or brands) of Buddhism in Taiwan, this monastery is definitely a place for you to visit. Now, I have covered two of the four (I have been to Fo Guang Shan [佛光山] in Kaohsiung). Another two to go. ;)

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