Buddhism permeates all aspects of life in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Almost every neighborhood has a local Buddhist temple, Buddhist art adorns parks and public spaces, and Taiwanese TV offers half a dozen Buddhist channels. Some Buddhist traditions that have died out in Mainland China after more than seventy years of Communism still flourish in Taiwan. In fact, Buddhism is so omnipresent in Taipei that it is hard to single out particular Buddhist places. Here is a sampling of some highlights.
1| Longshan Temple
At the center of Taipei lies one of the city’s oldest temples: Longshan (“Dragon Mountain”) Temple. Originally built in 1738, it has, over the years, repeatedly been renovated and expanded, and is an excellent place to experience the inclusivity of Chinese Buddhism. While the main shrine is dedicated to Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion, there are also shrines to Daoist, Confucian, and local deities. After paying respects to Guanyin, worshippers usually head to whichever shrine meets their particular needs: students make an offering to the god of learning to ask for a good exam result; doctors and patients appeal to the god of healing; and the lovestruck can be seen throwing divination blocks at the shrine for the matchmaking god to find out if their love will have a happy outcome.
211 Guangzhou St., Wanhua
2| The Keelung Ghost Festival
If you are interested in popular Buddhism, try to visit Taiwan at the end of summer during the Ghost Festival, when temples hold elaborate Pudu (“universal salvation”) ceremonies to help beings who have been condemned to hell attain better rebirths. The festival is observed throughout Taiwan, but one of the highlights is the grand Pudu ceremony in the town square of Keelung, a coastal town some fifteen miles outside Taipei. The evening before the Pudu ceremony, the whole town participates in an elaborate evening procession in which paper “ghost houses” are paraded through the city, set on fire, and sent off into the ocean.
3| Fo Guang Shan Taipei Headquarters
For a more modern form of Buddhism, visit the Taipei headquarters of Fo Guang Shan, one of the biggest Buddhist organizations in Taiwan, with its own TV station and Buddhist universities. Fo Guang Shan has branches in more than fifty countries, including Communist China, where it is one of few international Buddhist organizations endorsed by Xi Jinping. The order’s global headquarters in Kaohsiung form an impressive temple complex that features a 108-meter-tall Buddha statue towering over the landscape. If you can’t travel all the way to Kaohsiung, you’ll
have to make do with the Taipei headquarters, situated in an unassuming high-rise on the east side of the city. However, once you take the elevator up to the top, the fourteenth floor, you’ll find that the whole floor is taken up by a gorgeous shrine, where services are held every Friday evening. The ninth floor of the building hosts the Fo Guang Shan TV studios, and the tenth floor features a calligraphy gallery, a gift shop that sells Buddhist art, and a vegetarian restaurant that overlooks the city and the mountains behind it.
327 Songlong Road, Xinyi
4| Tzu Chi Foundation
Coincidentally, the lower three floors of the Fo Guang Shan building happen to be occupied by the Tzu Chi Foundation, another major Taiwanese Buddhist organization with a global presence. The goals of the Tzu Chi Foundation are more hands-on than Fo Guang Shan’s; they run one of the world’s largest Buddhist international relief organizations, with a membership base in forty-seven countries. To visit Tzu Chi, you’ll have to enter the building from a separate entrance around the corner. Their café bookstore sells some translated books by Cheng Yen, the nun who founded Tzu Chi in 1966.
327 Songlong Road, Xinyi
5| Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education
If you are willing to venture a little outside the city, make sure to visit Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education, situated on the edge of the beautiful Yangming Mountain National Park, just north of Taipei. The center features modernist Buddhist architecture and breathtaking views of the mountains.
208, New Taipei City, Jinshan
6| Yuan Dao Guanyin Temple
If you are already heading into the mountains, you might as well visit some of the other Buddhist temples that dot the slopes of Yangming Mountain, all within easy driving distance from one another and each vying for attention. Yuan Dao Guanyin Temple, dedicated to Guanyin, is featured in Guinness World Records as having the largest steel sculpture in the world.
251, New Taipei City, Tamsui
7| Fufudingshan Temple
Perhaps the most eccentric Buddhist temple on Yangming Mountain is Fufudingshan Temple, which is made entirely out of coral and seashells (earning the disapproval of Taiwanese environmentalists). Fufudingshan is dedicated to Ji Gong, an unconventional wine-loving Chan monk from 12th-century China who was expelled from his monastery for refusing to follow monastic rules of abstinence. Drunk and homeless, Ji Gong became a wandering monk who used his supernatural powers to stand up against injustice. His stance against hypocrisy and false piety made him a folk hero who is now venerated as a bodhisattva.
252, New Taipei City, Sanzhi
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