A Modern Buddhist Experience
We started the day by going to Fo Guang Shan, a modern Buddhist temple. We knew we would be spending most of the day there, but we didn't have any idea what we would be doing. When we got there, we were greeted by a nun and four other people who volunteered to spend the day with us. They were extremely welcoming and were one of the main reasons why we had a great experience there.
After watching a short video about the life of Buddha (which happened to be in 3D), they talked to us about the temple. One of the most interesting things they said was that they try to adapt to modern times. The other places we had visited were all very traditional, and while these were wonderful experiences, it was nice to see a different side of Buddhism. The next thing on the agenda was lunch. The format was similar to the meals at the monasteries. We are now experts at eating quickly and silently! After lunch, we had a tour of the temple, led by the volunteers who were with us. They knew so much about the temple and it was really interesting to talk to them about Buddhism and Hong Kong.
Our last two activities at the temple were both favorites of the group. We started with meditation. Something that has been interesting to see is how meditation differs from place to place. At Fo Guang Shan, we meditated for five minutes (which felt like nothing compared to an hour, like we had done previously). What was unique was that it was followed by a tea meditation. They gave us all tea and had us think about the way it smells and tastes, as well as everything that had to happen for that tea to end up at that temple for us to drink it. It was our first tea meditation, and it was very memorable. After meditation, we did another activity that was new to us, calligraphy. Fo Guang Shan prides itself on promoting Buddhism through cultural activities. They taught us how to do it and we were each given a passage to try out our new skills. It was fun to have a new experience relating to Chinese culture.
Walking the Garden Path
Our second stop of the day was Nan Lian garden at Chi Lin Nunnery. While the temple was closed, we were still able to walk through the beautiful landscape garden nearby. Like the other landscape gardens we’ve visited, it was permeated by an air of tranquility and encouraged the positive energy from the first part of the day to continue. As we walked through the garden, we admired the unusual rocks, carefully trimmed plants, and petrified wood on display throughout, including a hall displaying some of the more impressive rocks and an outdoor bonsai tree museum. The garden reminded us of what we had learned in Japan about the importance of landscape gardens as sacred spaces where everything is just so and showed us that even though Chinese and Japanese Buddhism are different, many of the practices are quite similar.
After visiting the Nan Lian garden, we had free time for the rest of the evening and split up into smaller groups. Some people wanted to go out to eat, others wanted to do more sightseeing, and still others wanted to get some shopping in before the stores closed. Despite starting out with different goals in mind, nearly everyone ended up at the Avenue of the Stars at some point during the evening. As we walked along the surprisingly peaceful boardwalk, we looked for familiar names (we succeeded in finding Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee!) and admired the view of the city across the harbor. It was amazing to be able to see Hong Kong from the Avenue of Stars after seeing it from Victoria Peak on the opposite side only the night before. We were glad to have been able to experience two incredible views in two nights. The view got even better when some of us lucked into seeing the Sound and Light show over the harbor. During the show, various buildings along the water shine beams of light across the water in time with music that plays all around the harbor. Seeing the Avenue of Stars and the Sound and Light show definitely made this an evening to remember.