Fo Guang Shan, which translates as ‘Buddha’s Light Mountain’, is a Chinese Buddhist religious organisation founded by the monk Hsing Yun in 1967. It has centres and monasteries worldwide to propagate Buddhist teachings and Taiwan’s Fo Guang Shan Monastery, 30 minutes from Kaohsiung, is its headquarters. Covering a site of 52 acres, it is Taiwan’s largest Buddhist monastery and its biggest charitable organisation, and is undoubtedly the main reason many foreign visitors pass through Kaohsiung.
Located on a hilltop overlooking the Gaoping River Basin, the complex comprises several magnificent structures, notably the Main Shrine and the Great Compassion Shrine, the Meditation Hall and the Gate of Padmagharba. Two important Buddha statues also grace the monastery: the Great Buddha, a statue standing 36 metres tall which towers over 480 smaller Buddha statues; and the seated Buddha statue at the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum.
The Monastery’s charitable endeavours focus on helping the poor, and encompass social, medical and educational programmes. Free medical clinics with mobile units serve remote villages and in winter, distribute warm clothing and food supplies to the old and needy. To further its educational programmes, Fo Guang Shan has established both Buddhist and mainstream colleges, Sunday schools and kindergarten, and a Chinese Buddhist research institute.
What to do at Fo Guang Shan Monastery
Fo Guang Shan Monastery is an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from other parts of Taiwan and also overseas, but also a fascinating place if you are interested to learn more about Buddhism, or simply visit the impressive temple complex. Temple tours led by a resident monk or a nun offer an introduction to Buddhist thought, the history of Fo Guang Shan, and explain the daily life of the monastics.
For a more in-depth insight into Fo Guang Shan and the lives of the monks and nuns who have chosen to discard worldly desires to join this monastic order, an overnight stay at the Monastery’s basic but comfortable Pilgrims’ Lodge is highly recommended. As well as joining the residents and pilgrims for simple vegetarian meals, you will be involved in the chanting and meditation sessions, and assist with the ‘work’ periods such as sweeping the temple grounds, collecting rubbish and tending the plants and flowers. It’s a truly unique and unforgettable experience.
Don’t leave without visiting The Great Buddha Land. At its heart is the iconic 36 metre tall bronze Great Buddha statue that can be seen from miles away in its hillside setting. Soak up the serenity as you gaze over the river basin below towards the mist covered mountains. It’s a particularly picturesque spot at dusk when lanterns are lit.
Also worth a visit, and in complete contrast to the tranquillity of The Great Buddha Land, the Pure Land Cave has a Disney-esque vibe with its animated figures, music and light show.