East meets West

East meets West

One of the marvels of life is that it leads us down paths we have never expected to travel. Today was a spectacular day, even by Southern California standards. The Santa Ana winds had blown all the smog out of the valleys revealing the full glory of the San Gabriel mountains framed by clear blue skies. It is my sister-in-law’s birthday. We are meeting her, her son and his Chinese girlfriend, as well as the girlfriend’s mother at a Buddhist temple to attend a Sunday service.

I’m not sure exactly what I had expected, but it certainly was not the Hsi Lai Temple. Located in a working class section of Los Angeles, the 102,000 square foot temple complex sits on 15 acres of land overlooking the local mountains. This is the largest Buddhist temple in the United States, and one of the largest outside of mainland China.

Hsi Lai means "Coming West." The temple, built to serve those who are interested in learning Buddhism as well as Chinese culture, serves as a bridge for cultural exchange between the East and the West. Open seven days a week, the temple’s multiple parking lots were already full when we arrived. Having found a space on a nearby street, we slowly made our way up to the main temple gate, bypassing a number of smiling stone Buddha figures demonstrating 10 different exercises as a path to relaxation. We passed through a number of the red walled buildings with Chinese inscriptions in gold characters.

The walls are lined with Bodhisattva Statues representing those who aspired to Buddhahood and have devoted themselves to altruistic actions especially for the sake of the enlightenment of others. There are also figures with bulging eyes and frightening demeanors, possibly to keep evil away. On one wall is a passage from a famous sutra, "All phenomena are like a dream, illusion, bubble, or shadow; they are like dew or lightning. One should meditate upon them thus."

We cross a large square courtyard, and ascend another flight of stairs to the main worship hall. From inside comes the sound of chanting, accompanied by the beating of a drum and the clinking of cymbals. The smell of incense comes wafting out to us, as we are invited to join the ceremony inside. We are handed books with English transliterations of the Chinese words, as well as English translations of the prayers being chanted. We are one of the few occidental’s present. I look out at the faces of those present praying, seeing a mixture of young and old, with facial and body attitudes not unlike any be found in a Christian ceremony. Except for the microphone held in the hands of the monk leading the chants, the scene before me could have occurred at any time in the past several millennia.

Afterwards, we eat the delicious vegetarian lunch served in a large communal hall underneath the main temple. While the ceremony and its setting was strangely alien to me, the impulse to spirituality inherent in us is one I easily recognized. I’ve attached a few photographs in the photo section of my blog for those of you interested.


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16 Responses to East meets West

  1. Fenix says:

    Hello Jorge. How are you?
    Myself  am not a believer… but I think that the oriental religions respect the life (people and animals)and that is very important for me
    Have a great week

  2. Holy says:

    "A bodhisattva is someone who has compassion within himself or herself and who is able to make another person smile or help someone suffer less." 
    Thich Nhat Hanh
    Seems to me you strike quite a bodhisattva pose in cyberspace.  🙂
    Great pics.

  3. Heidi says:

    What an experience!  You are very good at painting a mental picture.  Thank-you for that as I\’m not sure I will ever get the opportunity to visit such a place myself.  The internet is wonderful for just this purpose and has opened my little world up so much.  I do not like to fly…have only done it once, well actually twice as it was a round trip ticket…lol.  If I would have had my car waiting for me at the other end, I would have drove home.  *smile* 

  4. Theresa says:

    Wow…the temple really sounds beautiful!  Thanks for the pics!!  I must visit there someday.  Thank you for sharing this experience with us.  I love learning about different cultures.  My son is in Anaheim right now…maybe he will be able to visit the temple before he comes home.  I will pass this along to him. 
    And don\’t be jealous!  😉  I will take that as a compliment…you made me smile 😉  Thanks for that! – http://i10.photobucket.com/albums/a136/babytreese/glittaheartflag.gif

  5. Gelert says:

    You know, although I\’m a Christian, I think God is so much bigger than people make out. God can\’t be boxed, and here is the expression of the great unknown we give these names to, as surely as anywhere else. Great post Jorge. Ty.

  6. Deborah says:

    I was remembering my first time at a Bhuddhist Temple in Hawaii and how the steady chanting became a hum which vibrated through my body as I participated.   Funny that I was thinking about it the other night before reading your blog.  I enjoyed this very much.  My family is such a mixture of religions, yet I find that we believe in the same principals whether Christian or not, and that we love and accept the familiar aspects of each other as well as respect our differences.  My ecclectic family amazes me at times, and most of them accept my Pagan views.
    Blessed be

  7. Jane says:

    What a wonderful experience 🙂

  8. dawn says:

    Hey Jorge,
       Thank you for sharing your experience so vividly. There\’s something in your title: "East meets West" that strikes a chord with me. \’guess it\’s cos i\’m eurasian— dad being Chinese from hongkong and mum is dutch. lols, i am the result of the "meeting" :p

  9. Mercy says:

    I love the pictures.I have a Buddha alter in my house, well the Buddha was just painted and is making his way to the room tonight if he\’s dry.  Mercy

  10. PJ says:

    Good Afternoon Jorge,
    What a beautiful place to have visited. The location is breath-taking..to say the least. I, personally, know little of the Buddhist faith. I would be very interested to visit this Temple. Perhaps one day, I shall.
    Thank you for the photos to view. It made my day.
    Hope this finds you well. Take care.
    Until next time..Keep Smiling.

  11. Yours Truly says:

    I’m on my way from here to there
    And visiting your Space – oh, where?
    Come visit mine, I’d like to share.
    Perhaps you’re someone who will care.
    You’ll be surprised, I do declare.
    You’re more than welcome at my lair.

  12. zizicmp3 says:

    Hello Jorge … Uje you wish to pass a very good weekend Olivier has very soon

  13. Heidi says:

    Hi Jorge…..
    If you have a moment, could you visit my space and check out my latest blog….Thanks!
    Take Care.

  14. batti says:

    thank for sharing this expericences to us.
    i never know that in United States can also see such beautiful Temple

  15. zizicmp3 says:

    hello Jorge…. small cuckoo to wish you a very good beginning of semainesinceres friendships olive-tree has soon

  16. Unknown says:

    Hello Jorge. Because something was wrong with the net, I didn\’t visit ur blog in time to see this excellent article.
    I\’m glad u r interested in Chinese culture. What\’s more, it surprised me to see the photo of such a temple in the US. I\’m not a believer of the Buddhism, either. But everyone can be a Buddhist even if he drinks, smokes, or eats meat. And Buhhdists are not gods. They are human.I think the core of Buddhism is to understand that everything exists naturally–there is happiness, so sadness exists. There is greeting, so departure exists. The leaves of the trees are green, not red. And the flowers are red, not green. Everything happens naturally. We should not waste our time struggling with the rules of nature. And when you are through with all the struggles in your life, and finally come to know your fortune, and the nature, and adapt to it, you become a Buddhist.

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