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(4 pages total)

Page 3 - Buddhism in the West


In the center of the main shrine is Sakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha who was born a prince in India more than 2,500 years ago. He gave up his royal life to seek enlightenment and, upon achieving this, went on to teach an ideology that has come to be known as Buddhism: life is impermanent, without essence and characterized by suffering. Recognizing these principles is the beginning of the Buddhist path, which points the way to a release from suffering.

To the right of Sakyamuni is Bhaishajya-Guru- Vaidurya- Prabhassa Buddha, or "Medicine Buddha," who reigns over the Eastern Paradise (another Pure Land). Medicine Buddha symbolizes the healing or perfecting quality of buddhahood and is, consequently, invoked and meditated upon for healing purposes.

Flanking the central courtyard below the main shrine are two of the temple's large gardens. The Avalokitesvara Garden, with its many gold-colored statues and colorful flowers, honors the bodhisattva of compassion.

Avalokitesvara, depicted in the garden as a female, is the power of the buddha Amitabha manifested as a bodhisattva and appears as his helper. She sits on a rock with her two attendants, Shan Chai and Long Nu. Before them is a pond surrounded by four Deva Kings (celestial beings), who are the guardians of devout sentient beings.

The Arhats garden is a scene of eighteen gold-robed statues, each in a different pose. Cousin to the bodhisattva in the Buddhist pantheon, the arhat is an enlightened being who has attained nirvana but does not have the goal of assisting other sentient beings with that objective. The statues are gathered among the verdant flora in a symbol of good fortune.

Splashes of color accent the temple grounds in many forms. Bright-hued ceramic animals crouch in corners. Lavender chrysanthemums highlight the landscape. Round, red and yellow paper lamps dangle from building eaves.

The exhibition hall serves as the temple's museum, where visitors can view an impressive collection of Buddhist iconography and related artwork from such countries as China, India, Tibet, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan. Among the exhibits are a number of statues representing various bodhisattvas, beautifully rendered wall hangings (known as "thangkas"), and examples of religious artifacts. There is also a fine collection demonstrating the Chinese art of painting the inside of small perfume bottles. These intricately decorated bottles, painstakingly hand painted with tiny brushes, depict classic Chinese scenes with amazing clarity.

This aggregate of carefully manicured gardens and colorful buildings, each adorned with detailed Buddhist and Chinese images, is but one branch on a tree that covers five continents. The Fo Kuang Shan order has established similar monasteries in Canada, France, England, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, South Africa, and other countries.

Not surprisingly, the temple's impact on the local community in Southern California has been enormous. Since Hsi Lai's opening in 1988 (it took ten years to plan and construct), Chinese immigrants have flocked to the area, searching for north-facing homes (the Chinese custom) near Hsi Lai. According to the Greater La Puente Chamber of Commerce, which collects statistics for Hacienda Heights, the Asian population has gone from representing 13 percent of the total population in 1988 to 42 percent of the city's 52,350 residents today.

Of course, the temple's influence reaches far beyond city limits, attracting visitors from all over the world. "Hsi Lai Temple is very famous in China, Taiwan, and other countries," says Man-ho. She admits that most of the visitors from the People's Republic of China are not Buddhist devotees, but tourists attracted to the temple's beauty. "The Communist government in China does not allow Dharma propagation (Buddhist teachings) outside the temple grounds," she explains. "Buddhism encourages freedom, and that is something the Communists will not permit."


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