My wife was visibly surprised when I pulled up at the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Association NZ at the junction of Harakeke Street and Riccarton Road in Christchurch, New Zealand. Frankly, so was I. I had not expected to see such an impressive Buddhist building in the heart of the city but here it was!
But I have got to say that this was a Buddhist temple with a difference. It looked totally unlike others that I have seen. You need to throw away your pre-conceived idea of how Chinese temples look like traditionally and look at this one with a fresh eye and an open mind. The concept of this building in Christchurch was modernity and the design was architecturally appealing.
After we parked the car, we went round to the front of the building. There were three stone statues to greet visitors. One was obviously that of a Buddhist monk sitting in deep meditation, no doubt about that, but the other two required a stretch of the imagination before we could accept that they were indeed a modern artistic interpretation of some other Buddhist concepts.
The interior was also equally interesting. On the upper floor was the huge shrine hall and a long corridor running deep along the length of the building while the lower floor housed a cafe as well as some exhibition rooms.
When we visited, there was an exhibition of calligraphy paintings by the 82-year-old founder abbot, Venerable Master Hsing Yun. This old monk, it seemed, was a master of the one-stroke calligraphy, that is to say, every piece of his work would have to be completed in a single continuous movement. He was forced into mastering this technique because of failing eye sight.
During the Christchurch 6.3-magnitude earthquake in 2011 when large areas of the central business district of the city were destroyed, the Fo Guang Shan immediately reached out to the city and the victims by providing a great community service. Their earthquake relief service centre gave free hot meals, free basic medical supplies and cleaning items and free Internet access to the victims irrespective of race or religion. In addition, there was access to the temple's main shrine for anyone who needed spiritual counselling.
So that's it; our visit to the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple in Christchurch. From here, it was next to the Riccarton Bush where a Sunday morning market was going on. More later....