Sunday, January 8, 2012

A new focal point for international Buddhism (

Much has been said and written in recent years about "soft power" and how Taiwan can use its cultural and social strengths to raise its international profile. While such talk usually revolves around whether pop stars and tourism can achieve something politics cannot, a different facet of Taiwan has been quietly enhancing the island's image for years: Buddhism. No one can dispute that the charitable and religious activities of the country's Buddhists, at home and overseas, show Taiwan to be a civilized and generous society.

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation is probably Taiwan's best-known charity. Foguangshan (佛光山), one of the island's largest Buddhist monastic orders, has expanded rapidly since its founding in 1967. It now operates branch temples, publishing houses and schools on five continents.

Over the years, Foguangshan's base in Kaohsiung City's Dashu District has developed into a complex of shrines, dormitories and museums. About 300 monks and nuns live there, and large numbers of lay followers attend short retreats and courses.

The Buddha Memorial Center (佛陀紀念館) - a new addition to the complex opening on December 25, 2011 - is sure to lead to record numbers of pilgrims and tourists making their way to Foguangshan, which in 2010 attracted 1.4 million visitors.

Since World War II, the building of memorial halls to honor notable individuals has become a tradition in Taiwan. The edifices in central Taipei dedicated to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) are the best known examples of this type.

Occupying a valley less than 1km northwest of Foguangshan, the 34-hectare Buddha Memorial Center houses one of the religion's most precious relics - a tooth the faithful believe was retrieved from the ashes after Buddha was cremated in what is now northern India in 543BCE.

Of the four teeth found, one was immediately carried to Heaven. One is now venerated at Sri Dalada Maligawa, a temple in Sri Lanka, while another is in Lingguang Temple on the outskirts of Beijing.

The final tooth stayed in India until the 13th century AD, when Muslim armies destroyed most of the sub-continent's Buddhist institutions. It was taken to Tibet and worshipped at Namgyal Monastery until 1959, when Communist China invaded.

As the Very Venerable Kunga Dorje Rinpoche - the Tibetan lama who had cared for the tooth relic after fleeing to India with it - grew old, he began searching for someone to whom he could entrust the tooth. He eventually chose Foguangshan's founder, the Venerable Master Hsing Yun...

To read the rest of the article, go here.

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