Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Death: How Wesak Is Celebrated Around The World

May 7 marks Wesak (or Vesak) Day, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, a central figure in Buddhism. It is one of the most important days for Buddhists around the world. Unlike Christmas, which has a set date each year, Wesak falls on the full moon of the month of Vesakha according to the ancient Indian calendar, which is typically between April and May.

While Wesak is celebrated in many different ways, with some practices intertwined with the local culture, one common aspect of the festival is paying homage to Buddha and observing the Buddhist precepts of kindness to all living beings. As such, Buddhists will usually eat vegetarian food, go to temples to offer prayers, practice loving-kindness and donate to charity. Many temples around the world will also organise talks on dharma (the Buddhist equivalent of the gospel – ie Buddha’s teachings) and activities such as bathing the Buddha, a symbolic ritual which involves pouring water over a small Buddha statue to cleanse one’s sins.

MALAYSIA

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At 19.2% of the population, Malaysia has a significant number of Buddhists – and Wesak is considered a national holiday. During this time, temples are usually packed with devotees, who come together to donate to the needy and light candles, incense and joss sticks as offerings. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple – one of the most prominent Sinhalese Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur – turns into a bustling hive of activity on Wesak Day, as thousands converge to chant sutras together and pray for the wellbeing of all living beings. The highlight of the celebration is a large procession through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, with lighted floats of Buddha and the deities accompanied by devotees holding prayer candles.

NEPAL 

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Buddha was believed to have been born in Lumbini in Nepal, and every year, thousands of pilgrims gather at this pilgrimage site (as well as the surrounding Kathmandu Valley) on Buddha Jayanthi (Buddha’s birthday), to attend religious processions and chant Buddhist scriptures. Similar to other parts of the world, kind deeds and acts of charity are observed, such as donating food and clothes to the needy, providing financial aid to schools and monasteries, and taking part in blood donation drives. Some people dress in white (to symbolise purity), and observe a vegetarian diet.

SRI LANKA 

Piliyandala Vesak Thorana 2016
A Pandol for Vesak. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Varuna Harshana / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Wesak is a major event in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, with celebrations lasting for a week. The sale of alcohol and fresh meat is prohibited during this period. Aside from alms-giving and prayers, Wesak celebrations in Sri Lanka take on a slightly festive mood – with public displays of electrically-lit pandols (a temporary structure which illustrates stories from Buddhist scriptures) as well as colourful lanterns called Vesak kuudu hung along streets and in front of homes, to represent the light of the Buddha, Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community). There are also organisations and groups that go about singing bhakti gee, or Buddhist devotional songs, much like the Christian practice of carolling.

SOUTH KOREA 

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service/ CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

South Korea celebrates the birthday of Buddha, or ‘seokga tansinil’, on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Korean lunar calendar. Besides being a religious celebration, it is also very much cultural, with traditional performances, folk games, parades, and more. The world-famous Lotus Lantern Festival, which dates back over 1,000 years, is held in conjunction with seokga tansinil. Seoul hosts the largest event of its kind, featuring grand parades, floats with Buddhist figures and cultural icons such as dragons and phoenixes. Parade participants carry lotus-shaped lights (Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus) – a symbol of purity and wisdom.

THAILAND 

Candle Light Vesak day ceremony at WatYai Chaimongkhol Temple, Ayudtaya, Thailand
Candle Light Vesak day ceremony at WatYai Chaimongkhol Temple, Ayudtaya, Thailand. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Leelaryonkul / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Another Buddhist-majority country, Thailand’s Wesak celebrations are massive. Many Thais are deeply devout (young men are encouraged to be ordained as monks for a certain amount of time as a rite of passage into adulthood) – so temples will usually be full of devotees offering prayers to gain ‘merits’ (in millennial terms – they’re kind of like a points system in Buddhism: do good stuff, get good merits, do bad stuff, get demerits) in order to accumulate good karma.

1 Wesak Day (in Thailand) 2007
Image via Wikimedia Commons – ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้าย / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Buddhism in Thailand is mainly of the Theravada branch (there are several differences between the two major branches namely Theravada and Mahayana), so devotees observe the Five Moral precepts according to the branch’s tradition – by refraining from harming living things or consuming intoxicating substances. Bars and clubs are closed during this period as a sign of respect.

INDONESIA 

Borobudur Temple on Vesak Day 2015
Waisak (as Vesak is known in Indonesia) celebrations at Borobudur. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Aditya Suseno / CC0

Indonesia once housed powerful Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, with many ancient structures that have stood the test of time scattered across the region. One of these is Borobudur near the city of Yogyakarta, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It is an important site for Indonesian Buddhists as well as pilgrims from around the world, who gather here for Wesak Day celebrations. Something unique to Indonesia’s Wesak Day celebrations is Pindapata, a ritual involving thousands of monks walking around the structure as well as on the streets, whilst praying to receive charity and blessings for the Indonesian people. Sky lanterns are also released into the night sky, which makes for a magical display against the backdrop of the full moon.

LAOS 

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The Rocket Festival being celebrated in Yasothon, Laos. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Wesak is known as Visakha Bouxa in Laos, where Buddhism is the predominant religion. As Visakha Bouxa falls during the transition between dry and wet season, Laotians celebrate it with Boun Bang Fay, or the Rocket Festival. Villages compete with each other to send large homemade rockets into the sky in an attempt to convince celestial being to send down rain. The rockets can be rather dangerous as they contain a large amount of gunpowder and can sometimes reach several hundred metres. The rocket launching is preempted by parades, musical shows and dance performances. These practices are also apparently quite prevalent in the northern Thai region of Isan.

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Locals performing as part of a street parade for the Yasothon Rocket Festival. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

 

 

 

 

Exploring Wat Pho, Bangkok : The Birthplace of The Traditional Thai Massage

One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.

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The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !

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The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.

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Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.

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Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.

Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.

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Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.

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Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.

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Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.

 

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The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.

Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.

Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GETTING THERE 

Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin, then a Chao Phraya express boat at Taksin pier to Tha Tien Pier.

There is an entrance fee of 200 baht to get into Wat Pho.

Opening hours: 8AM – 6.30PM (daily)

 

We Went To A Taoist Medium In Selayang

Despite being Buddhist, my family has never been devout. We have an altar at home dedicated to Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy), and make offerings at temples during religious occasions – but they mostly stem from tradition, because these were practices handed down by our ancestors.

Lately, my mother has become increasingly spiritual. She is going through a hard time, what with old age, illness, and the inability of medicine to help alleviate the pain. I’d like to believe that religion has given her some comfort – but we’ve also advised her on the dangers of superstition, as there are many charlatans out there preying on the desperate.

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On the recommendation of a friend, she went to seek blessings for an upcoming surgery from a medium in Selayang, Kuala Lumpur. The ‘temple’ turned out to be a double-storey terrace house in a quiet neighbourhood, hardly distinguishable from the rest of the houses if not for the giant brick furnace outside (for burning offerings) and several small shrines within the compound.

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The place didn’t look much like a temple, aside from baskets of paper offerings in a corner. There were several couches at the waiting area and a large wooden altar with Buddhist and Taoist deities. I recognised the main one as Guan Yu, the general-god, and Guanyin. The altar was furnished with the usual trappings; platters of fruit, oil candles, a reflective mirror (for repelling evil spirits) and a tapestry depicting heavenly scenes.

My dad got there at about 7.30AM to get a number, as the medium is very popular. The temple opens at 9.30AM, after which the medium will see you according to the number you have written.

 

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The medium was a curly-haired lady, not much older than my mom. She had a stern face but kind eyes, and a mole almost at the centre of her forehead, like a third eye. If I passed her on the street, I would have assumed she was just another auntie going about her grocery shopping.

By the time 9.30AM rolled around, the temple was already filled with people eager to get a reading, or ask for advice and blessings. I thought that it would mostly be people my mom’s age, but there were many young people as well, some younger than me. Because most of my close friends have agnostic views towards religion, I just assumed that the younger generation did not care much for spirituality. I was obviously mistaken.

The medium here is Taoist and channels Ho Sin Gu (He Xiangu), one of the Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology and Taoist beliefs. She is the only female among the eight immortals, and in mythology, carries a lotus flower that is able to improve one’s physical and mental health.

The medium first invited the deity to enter her body. There wasn’t much pomp aside from some clapping and praying, which was very different from the deity I remembered visiting as a child, when I had seizures. The medium/deity sat at a ‘consultation’ table (reminded me of a doctor or a physician, really). There was an assistant on hand to translate, since the medium spoke in Hakka Chinese.

 

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Mom was third, and she asked for blessings for the operation to go smoothly. The medium advised that she should go for it, but it wasn’t going to be all hunky-dory because she foresaw ‘a long and difficult time’ for my mom’s illness(es), and cautioned her to be mindful of her health, avoid stress and look after her intake of food. She then proceeded to write on some talismans in red ink; some of these were to be burnt and consumed, one was to be kept on my mom’s person.

During our consultation, parents with children brought their kids to the medium for blessings. They seemed completely at ease, even going up to the medium and hugging her like a favourite grandma, so I think they come here pretty often. The medium then blessed them with a pat to the head and a stamp of Chinese characters in red ink (presumably a talisman or amulet of sorts?) to their backs.

The consultation took less than five minutes, and there was a token fee – kind of like a consultation fee when you go to the doctor’s. My mom was also advised to consume some pearl powder for recovery, which she bought at the temple.

If you’d like to ask for a reading / blessings, the temple is located at 7262, Jalan Len Omnibus, Taman Selayang Baru, Batu Caves, Selangor. 

Thoughts 

I’m an INTP, and despite my love for theories (which are intangible), reason often rules the roost – so faith is something I seriously lack.  It is not that I don’t believe in the supernatural or a higher power, it is simply that I don’t believe in much of what makes up organised religion. The reason I call myself a Buddhist is because Buddhist teachings centre around morality, rather than reliance on a higher power. My favourite quote is about how the Buddha only “points the way; but it is you yourself who must walk the path.” There is no ‘if you don’t believe in this, you go to hell’, or ‘you must pray to god to for salvation’. Buddha’s philosophies are about leading a mindful life.

Taoism, a relatively new religion rife with Chinese culture, Buddhist teachings and Chinese folk beliefs, requires a faith in the supernatural which I do not have. That being said, visiting a medium was still an interesting insight and experience, and it is heartening to see the solace and comfort many people find in their beliefs. If it makes things more bearable for them, then why not?

My mom often chides me about my non-belief. “I was like you when I was younger. I felt like I didn’t need god. But when you’re closer to death’s door, you will understand.” Perhaps, but that time has not come. In the meantime, I’m quite content just following what I feel is best, doing and practising good deeds.

PS: Mom had her surgery and is in recovery at the moment.

 

 

 

30-Day Writing Challenge – Day 5: An Inanimate Object That’s Important To You

5. An Inanimate Object That’s Important To You 

I can’t even remember when exactly I started wearing it, but I’ve always had a small jade pendant on a silver chain which I never take off, even for showers or when I go to bed. The pendant is an amulet of sorts that was blessed when I was ‘taken in’ as an ‘adopted daughter’ of the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, Guanyin (or Avalokitesvara, as she is known in Buddhist texts).

I haven’t been able to find anything on the Internet, but according to what I know, it is common for Malaysian Chinese families to have a child ‘adopted’ by a particular deity, so that they may enjoy protection and blessings. I don’t recall much of the ritual, but I think it involved me going to a temple and there was a monk presiding over it. We also had to buy the jade and have it blessed.

By virtue of having had it for so long, it feels weird whenever I don’t have my pendant with me. I’m not very religious, but I also believe in the supernatural. There have been times where I felt afraid and the presence of my pendant (and the belief that it affords me protection) have helped me to sleep, especially when I am alone in a foreign place.

 

 

 

Visiting The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple In Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

Many Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur follow the Chinese tradition, so it’s common to see cultural decorative elements such as dragons and phoenixes in its design. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple in Brickfields is more ascetic, so it might not be a draw for tourists – but it is still an interesting place to visit if you’re in the neighbourhood and want to learn more about Theravada Buddhism. If you come during major celebrations such as Wesak (Buddha’s Birthday), the place transforms into a colourful and bustling hive of activity.

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Established by the immigrant Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) community in the late 19th century, the temple now encompasses several buildings and shrines. Dharma classes and talks are held weekly, and vegetarian food is served at the canteen after.

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The main shrine in the middle of the compound. It used to be a striking red colour, but has since been painted over in white.

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Buddha statues and ornate decorative tiles adorn the walls.

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Modern building where events and classes are held.

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Free books and CDS (on meditation, dharma talks, etc.) on Buddhism are available in various languages.

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Another shrine houses a small museum of sorts. You can observe Buddha statues from different regions and the different art styles. The statues are accompanied by helpful information on the rise and establishment of Buddhism in countries such as India, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

We were pressed for time so we didn’t get to visit a lot of places in Brickfields, but if you’re ever here, do visit the other religious abodes around the area as well, such as  St Mary of Theotokos (A Syrian Orthodox church), Sri Kandaswamy Kovil (Hindu temple), Church of Our Lady of Fatima (Catholic church) and Sam Kow Tong Temple (Chinese Buddhist temple).

BUDDHIST MAHA VIHARA TEMPLE 

123, Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

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Walked to the Little India neighbourhood nearby and got a Henna tattoo for RM15!

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Travel Blog: Zenkoji, Nagano’s Ancient Buddhist Temple

Many towns and cities in Japan grew around castles or temples during the feudal era. Nagano is one of the latter, flourishing around an ancient 7th century Buddhist temple called Zenkoji, also considered one of Japan’s three most sacred sites.

Legend has it that the first Buddha statue brought into Japan is enshrined within the temple, hidden even to its chief priest. The last known record of someone having seen the Hibitsu (secret Buddha) was said to be a monk in the 17th century, who did so on the emperor’s command.  While the original remains tightly guarded, a copy is shown to the public every six years (next display 2021) and draws millions of pilgrims to the city to witness the ceremony.

Credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

Lining the square in front of the temple are various shops selling souvenirs and food items.The pavement leading up to the temple is paved with 7,777 flagstones, which make for a picturesque photo.  Visitors will also find shukubo (temple lodgings), catering to devotees who wish to stay overnight and join the morning service, where the priests chant prayers and dole out blessings.

Before entering the temple grounds, we had to pass through a massive niomon (Guardian Gate), flanked by two large and fierce looking deities on each side.

There were a lot of woven slippers hanging from the gate with words written on them, but I’m not sure what these are for.

Entering the temple grounds, we were greeted by the sight of Buddhist statues lining one side of the compound…

..and the impressive-looking main shrine. Measuring over 40metres in height, it is one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan. The building itself dates back to the 18th century, as previous versions were destroyed in fires/earthquakes. As such, it is a good example of architecture from the Edo Era.

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Ian Cochrane, Flickr 

Was told I couldn’t take pictures in the main hall, so here’s one from Flickr.

Upon entering, we were greeted by a wooden statue of Binzuru, said to be one of Buddha’s most intelligent disciples.  Binzuru was one of the original four Arhats in Buddhism (before they expanded to the current 18) and is said to have psychic powers. The belief is that rubbing the statue corresponding to a sick part of your body will help cure it – hence the worn out features.

One of the most unforgettable experiences at Zenkoji was the walk through a pitch black corridor underneath the main altar. We descended via a narrow staircase into a musty passageway. It was so dark I tried waving my fingers two inches from my eyes and I couldn’t see them! The only way to make it through is to move slowly while touching the smooth wooden walls. Our guide told us to keep our hands at hip height and try to locate a key hanging from the wall, which touches the ‘Hibitsu’ – so touching it meant it’s as good as touching the secret Buddha statue itself and will earn you major merit points. It felt like a long walk because we had to take each step with caution and there was no indication as to when the corridor was going to end – but when we finally emerged into light again I felt a wave of relief. The walk in darkness is also supposed to symbolise your ‘rebirth’, in line with Buddhist belief.

  Back outside, side view of building. 

Cows are a symbol of the temple, so you’ll find many bovine souvenirs on sale!

GETTING TO ZENKOJI 

From JR Nagano Station, take a 10-minute bus (100 yen), or take a train from Nagaden Nagano Station (next to JR) and alight at Zenkojishita Station for a further 5-10 minutes walk to reach the temple.

 

 

Travel Blog: Attractions in Jenjarom, Selangor – Fo Guang Shan Dong Zhen Temple, Jenjarom

Hey guys! Sorry I haven’t been updating much – been trying to finish up work before I go off for the long weekend. 🙂

Speaking of weekends, what do you usually do? Most days I just want to lie in and sleep/read a book at a cafe, but the parents are always raring to go on day trips so occasionally,  I join them for sightseeing (and for blog material lol).

Last Sunday was one of those days. Our destination: Jenjarom, a small town located in the Kuala Langat district, on the fringes of Selangor. From where I live, it takes just 40 minutes by highway.

Sorry didn’t manage to take pic of the town gateway 😦 but here’s one from (Image credit): Buddha’s Light International Association @myblia.wordpress.com

Jenjarom started as a Chinese New Village (the British wanted to prevent the Malayan-Chinese populace from helping the communists, so they lumped everyone into these settlements and imposed curfews to monitor their movements)  in the 1950s,  so it’s not surprising that the town has a large Chinese-Buddhist population. In recent years, the place has become known for its tourism, mostly to the Fo Guang Shan Dong Zhen Buddhist Temple. Built in 1994 and spread over 16 acres of land, the Taiwan-style temple has several prayer halls and nicely landscaped gardens. It is especially popular during festival days, such as Wesak and Chinese New Year.

Ahem. So here’s a video that I put together for your viewing pleasure ! It was a good chance for me to test out my new phone (a Samsung Galaxy J7 Pro, also recorded the voiceover on it). 

I’m aware that it isn’t professional, but I tried my best (my best being four hours T-T) . Would be great if anyone has tips on what I could improve on + software to use for easy editing (currently using Adobe Premiere Pro CC). 

Entrance to the temple. There is a helpful map on the right, displaying the different sections within the temple grounds.

Well maintained front garden, featuring stone statues of Arahats and their respective descriptions.

On the right from the entrance is Lumbini Garden, a tranquil green space with more statues and decorations, flowers, small streams and ponds full of fish.

The centrepiece of the area are two Buddha statues – one of Buddha sitting cross legged on a lotus under a shady Bodhi tree, the other with his warms spread open in a welcoming gesture.

It was under a Bodhi tree that the Buddha achieved enlightenment. The tree has beautiful heart-shaped leaves.

  

Gazebos sat next to small ponds stocked full of fish, while weeping willows bowed their branches over the water and swayed gently in the wind. A picturesque mix of Buddhist Zen and Chinese architecture and landscaping.

A bit of history: Fo Guang Shan is a large Buddhist monastic order and new movement based in Taiwan; one of the country’s four major Buddhist institutions. Founded in 1967 by Hsing Yun, it promotes Humanistic Buddhism and a modern approach to religion. The branch in Jenjarom, for example, has many youth-centric activities such as Sunday dharma classes and charity events in order to attract more young devotees. In Taiwan, they have over 300 branches all over the country, as well as centres around the world.

The garden not only has religious fixtures but also cultural stuff like this kampung style hut.

Next to the main prayer hall is a three storey building which houses the Buddhist Cultural Centre and art gallery. During our visit, there was an art and photography exhibition.

We paid respects to 9 pieces of Buddha’s relics on the top floor (no photos allowed), before moving back down to the second floor, which had a huge classroom like setting. All the windows were open and it was bright and airy, with neatly arranged wooden tables and stools facing a Buddha statuette. Visitors can stop by for sutra writing, which helps to calm the mind whilst spreading the teachings of Buddha.

The pops in action

My piece of sutra, which essentially tells me to be humble. Sorry for the bad calligraphy, family of bananas.

Moo was on about it being so relevant to me because I have a problem with taking a step back/saying sorry when I think I am in the right. Heh. Gotta work on that I guess.

Spacious and opulent main prayer hall.

The sides of the hall were decorated with scenes of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, expertly done by hammering and shaping sheets of metal. (Above) Buddha and his disciples in the forest, surrounded by various animals.

Buddha achieving enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

A brief stop to the souvenir shop which sells prayer beads, sutras, dharma books, deity statues and other items.

GETTING TO FO GUANG SHAN TEMPLE JENJAROM

Address: PT 2297, Jalan Sungai Buaya, Kampung Jenjarom, 42600 Kuala Langat, Selangor, Malaysia

For those driving, it’s pretty easy to get there as the location is on Waze. Just head straight from the arch at the town entrance and you will see the temple on your right.

Opening hours: 10AM – 6PM

Phone: +60 3-3191 1533 

Admission: Free

 

 

 

Enlightened Heart Tibetan Buddhist Temple, Ipoh Perak

Ipoh in the northern state of Perak, Malaysia, is known for its abundance of beautiful limestone hills, which form a ring of green around the city. Housed in some of these are breathtaking ‘cave’ temples, built by the Chinese who first came to the place to work as rubber tappers and tin miners. Some of the popular ones are Sam Poh Tong, Kek Lok Toong (blog post here) and Kwan Yin Tong (blog post here), which tourists and devotees flock to especially during special occasions like Chinese New Year or Wesak Day.

There’s one temple that doesn’t get as much publicity. Maybe it’s the location, hidden within the hillside and surrounded by pomelo farms and lakes, but for those willing to go the extra mile to look for it, the Enlightened Heart Tibetan Buddhist Temple offers a tranquil place for meditation and solitude.

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From the main road, we spotted signboards pointing the way but once in, we were greeted by a narrow dirt road just wide enough for one car. On both sides were village homes, pomelo and nangka farms. But don’t worry – after a few minutes, the temple seems to loom out of nowhere – a vast yellow complex with a striking pagoda and tall Buddha statue nestled against the hill.

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It was extremely quiet during our visit. The only other people around were a white tourist family and some of the temple caretakers. She greeted us warmly and asked if we wanted to write down some wishes for the new year. She also gave us a brief explanation about the temple, which was founded in 1976 by Ge Li Rinpoche (formerly known as Yong Sifu), who gave up his home life to pursue the practice of Nyinma Tibetan Buddhism.

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While Mi and Pi fussed over some candles, I took in the interesting sights and architecture. Being a Tibetan Buddhist temple, it looked markedly different from regular Chinese temples; especially the colour scheme which seemed to emphasise on five primary colours. These were repeated everywhere around the complex and are said to represent different elements – yellow (earth), green (water), red (fire), white (air/cloud) and blue (sky/space).

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Didn’t manage to ask the temple caretaker, but looking up stuff while writing these, I find out that these are Tibetan Prayer Flags, printed over with images of the Buddhas + holy sutras. A practice from the Himalayas, it was believed to have stemmed from a Nepali shamanistic religion called Bon. The flags were originally used by the local population to bless their surroundings, but as Tibetan Buddhism grew, they spread to other regions. An Indian monk called Atisha then introduced the Indian practice of printing on cloth prayer flags to Tibet and Nepal; hence the version we see today.

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Mix of cultures – a Chinese-style Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) statue with offerings.

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There was a small section dedicated to the Hindu Elephant-headed god, Ganesha, right next to the entrance.  His chariot, pulled by horses, was decorated with flower garlands. It wasn’t a surprising sight, as Nepal and India are neighbours, but it was still a testament to the tolerance between cultures. Buddhism and Hinduism share many similar values and beliefs, after all. What I liked best? Just like with Chinese deities, the temple caretakers had laid out some Mandarin oranges for him. Now that’s inclusivity! 🙂 If only everyone got along so well…

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Tibetan deity statues also look different from the typical Chinese temples, especially in their costumes which carry a distinctive Indian/Nepali touch.

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An open-air hall, which I think the temple uses for large functions. There were a few temple dogs lounging around lazily.

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A walkway lined with prayer wheels. There was a notice written in Chinese which I didn’t know how to read, but had RM328 on it. I’m assuming that’s the donation needed to have a prayer wheel put up under your name (you help the temple out and get ‘merits’).

According to belief (or in this case, ‘belief’ is what I get from the Internet – enlighten me if I’m wrong), spinning the prayer wheels are to accumulate wisdom and good karma while purifying bad karma. They’re also used as a ‘visual aid’ for praying, whereby the person spins the wheels clockwise while focusing the mind and repeating the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra. The closest comparison I can think of is how people use rosary beads while chanting prayers.

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1000-hand Avalokiteshvara

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There was a chamber surrounded by a small moat, while the walls were lined with depictions of deities. I wished there was a guide to explain to me the significance of each structure; unfortunately there was no one in sight. We literally had the whole place to ourselves.

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Some of the deities had fierce expressions.

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Moving on to another section of the temple. In between the different shrines were ponds and walkways lined with plants and flowers.

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More prayer flags.

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A wooden shrine housing a thousand hand deity.

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Kuanyin (goddess of Mercy) surrounded by Chinese Buddhist deities.

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At the base of the pagoda, known as the Enlightened Heart Medicine Buddha Bhaishaya Guru Pagoda. It rises up over nine storeys and measures 72m in height.

 

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Bhaisajyaguru is known as the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahayana Buddhism, and also goes by the name of King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light (hence the deep blue colouring). He is described as a doctor who cures dukkha (suffering) using the medicine of his teachings.

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No lifts. You wanna pray, you gotta be sincere, right? Even the great monk Tang Xuan took twenty years to complete his step-by-step pilgrimage to India.

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Each floor had numerous balconies, with statues of deities in between.

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After huffing and panting up to the top floors, we were greeted by the sight of a giant 11m Shakyamani Buddha statue, facing out to the hills. Lit up some joss sticks to offer as prayers, and then rested from the climb.

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Breathtaking view from the top floors. You can see the surrounding farms, lakes and of course, the beautiful hills surrounding Ipoh.

Admission to the temple is free, but donations are welcome.

Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM

 

Directions: coming from Jalan Tambun, turn right when you see the Tambun Police Station into Jalan Tambun Baru. You will see the Government Clinic and School as you pass by. There should be signboards at the third turning. Else, use Waze or Google Maps (search for Tibetan Buddhist Temple).