It’s been a year since I have written a blog post, travelled, or even picked up my camera. Last week I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful Tsz Shan Monastery (慈山寺) in my own backyard that is Hong Kong. Tsz Shan Monastery covers an area of 500,000 sq ft in Tai Po in the New Territories and is privately owned by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing who wanted to bring the Buddhist teachings of Clarity, Compassion, and Action to the masses. The Tang-styled monastery complex cost over US$190 million and took 12 years to build and opened to the public in 2015 free of charge through a booking system hence limiting the number of people visiting each day. The place is simple, solemn, but elegant and kind of reminds me of an Aman resort. The highlight here is no doubt the 76-meter tall Guan Yin (Goddess of Compassion) statue which is the world’s largest bronze Guan Yin statue and can be seen from miles away. Underneath the statue is a Buddhist Art Museum that officially opened in 2019 and houses many Buddha statues and relics from different eras and countries. My friend kindly arranged our visit through Buddhist Master Yan Wei 衍偉法師 who personally showed us around the compound and discussed some of Buddha’s teachings in a very relaxed and informal way. The monastery also offers a vegetarian lunch and very decent coffee. Master Yan Wei’s approach to teaching Buddhism is very informal and very different from the other masters I have met before. My own Buddhist teacher is very serious and teaches through the more traditional way of discussing the various Buddhist sutras in these long and almost unbearable sessions. But Master Yan Wei would make things light and often jokingly refer to modern day events and his own life prior to becoming a monk when he used to work in the entertainment industry. He communicates with younger people through sports such as the monastery’s own basketball team and borrowing from the popular coffee culture and creating coffee meditation sessions etc. He teaches through simple stories and one such story he shared with us was that of the earthworm husband and the millipede wife. Every time the couple gets ready to go out, Mr. Earthworm would complain that his millipede wife takes forever to put on all her shoes. One day, Mrs. Millipede calmly told her husband that he should stop complaining because she never complained that he doesn’t even have any feet. This story teaches us that before you criticize and complain about others, be self-aware and reflect upon yourself first. Even though his approach is very casual and a bit unconventional and I’m sure sometimes criticized by the more traditional masters, I came away with a refreshed enthusiasm to explore more of these Buddhist teachings. To me Buddhism has never just been a religion, it is more a way of life. The scriptures teach lessons of compassion, filial piety, and the acceptance that everything in life is in a constant state of flux. We all have different lessons to learn in life and until we figure them out, things will keep repeating themselves. Tsz Shan Monastery is the perfect place for a breath of fresh air, a bit of contemplation, and finding some of that missing peace. In this fast-paced world that we live in, we all need moments of stillness, peace, and plain nothingness and as T.S. Eliot wrote, be that “still point of the turning world”.
Until the next time! Thanks for stopping by!
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