I turned in rather early as I was exhausted from the events of the last 48 hours. I woke early and has a pseudo Taiwanese breakfast of porridge with yam, fried eggs, and I had to try the tropical fruits of course (dragon fruit, passion fruit, kiwi, and a persimmon looking fruit that tasted like nothing). What I wanted to have was soy bean juice with fried dough, Taiwanese sausage, and all the seasoned sides you add into the porridge… all looked so delicious!
From Sun Moon Lake we traveled to Kaohsiung, the southern part of the island. We stopped at Fo Guang Shan, the official Taiwanese Buddhism Cultural Center. The actual Fo Guang monastery was the highlight prior to the development of the center. But perhaps because of tourism, the center was built and has become a commercialized spiritual center. In fact, our tour guide actually called it “the Disneyland of Buddhism…” He said this half-jokingly, but in fact, it was a pretty accurate description.
The venerable Master Hsing Chen emigrated from mainland during the time Chiang Kai Shek was exiled to Taiwan in late 1940s… also the time my family fled along with millions. Master Chen built the monastery with the idea that he wanted to spread Buddhism to the masses. Somehow, I doubt he was be pleased about the mall-like cultural center. But who am I to say?
While others went for lunch, I limped alone to ascertain that I would see everything the center had to offer. It took me 30 minutes to limp to the other side of the grounds. The 8 pagodas appeared to be opportunities to learn something about Buddhism or experience something spiritual but were really just shops. One pagoda informed visitors how to book the “spiritual center” for their wedding and featured a White couple. This is when I threw my towel in.
I made my way slowly back to the entrance. On my way back, I decided to explore the garden path instead of the pagoda path. It was really quite peaceful. As I limped down the stone walkway, a staff person approached me. She had a friendly, weathered face and spoke to me in Mandarin. She said “hey, you injured your foot, what happened?” Commence conversation. She was very concerned and advised me how to care for it. I thanked her and went on my way.
When I finally made it back to the front, I grabbed some snacks and made my way back toward the bus. I waited for a vehicle to make a U-turn before crossing the street. As I carefully crossed, the vehicle pulled up next to me and a monk stepped out. She asked me in Mandarin, “do you need a ride?” My limp caught her attention. I explained that I did not. Commence conversation. She wanted to know how I learned Chinese, where I was from, why I was at the monastery, and when I would return. She offered to show me around the monastery. Although I desperately wanted to leave Buddha Disneyland, my time constraints forced me to politely decline her offer. She started to share a little bit about her teacher who, as I understood it, is being unjustly returned to China in the coming weeks. She explained why but I could only understand about 10 percent of what she said. (I have been humbled by how little of Mandarin I actually know but surprised by how much I can read!) She was saddened by this news and ended the conversation abruptly after that, with tears welling up in her kind eyes. She told me to visit again and to visit their center in Los Angeles. This was very reminiscent of my experience in the ashram in India in 2008 where the preceptor invited me to return to the ashram to stay a few days and urged me to visit their center in Los Angeles.
I had hoped for a more intimate experience at this Buddhist center as part of the tour but I had my own special experience instead. I am grateful, thank you Buddha Guan Yin.