The Hsi Lai Temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in North America and encompasses 15 acres and a floor area of over 100,000 square feet. It is the Regional Headquarters of Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order. Traditional Ming and Qing dynasty influence abounds in the temple’s statues, gardens, and architecture. Hsi Lai means “Coming to the West” and portrays the Order’s dedication to spreading the teachings of the Buddha to Western culture (Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple, 2018). It is located at 3456 Glenmark Dr. Hacienda Heights, CA 91745.
We checked the weather in San Pedro and with an expected high of 83 degrees we boarded our Can Am Spyder and headed out for our Saturday adventure. At the time, I didn’t consider how much cooler the coast of southern California is compare to inland destinations which resulted in much higher temperatures at the temple, despite it being nestled into the foothills. Parking at the temple was a nightmare and we had to circle the parking lot several times before heading down the street to seek parking elsewhere. It was 106 degrees and I let my wife off to stand in the shade of the main gate. I finally found a small place at the bottom of the hill on Glenmark Dr. that I could fit in, courtesy of the Spyder’s small footprint, and trudged my way back up the hill to my awaiting wife. Sweating profusely, we began to explore the temple grounds.
We entered Bodhisattva Hall and were greeted with the likenesses of several statues depicting enlightened sages clad in gold. Being unfamiliar with Buddhist lifestyle, we weren’t sure where we were allowed to roam until we asked one of the many helpful people we encountered throughout our visit. We exited Bodhisattva Hall to the wide expanse of the courtyard, which is used for walking meditation during retreats and other outdoor events. The pavement rectangles represent China’s rice paddies with weeds around the edges. The courtyard was massive and we had arrived just after some kind of outdoor presentation. Monks dressed in traditional robes called Kasaya walked with purpose, adding to the surreal atmosphere that transported my imagination to China. At that moment I felt far away from southern California. I was completely lost in the experience now and felt out of place in my shorts, t-shirt, and tennis shoes.
We stopped in the information center and tried some delicious Fo Guang Tea, despite the heat. I was hoping it was cold but should have known better considering where we were. It tasted good, but I couldn’t drink very much because it only made me hotter. As we walked along the outer rim of the courtyard to stay in the shade, we saw gardens and many different statues of the Buddha and other entities made from many materials, including carved wood.
We found a tea room and gift store next to the dining hall and perused their offerings, sometimes aghast at the staggering prices of some of the merchandise for sale. The exotic gifts were incredibly beautiful, but I could not see paying thousands of dollars for a statue I could easily pack in the Spyder’s saddlebags for the trip home. My unfamiliarity with these items may highlight my ignorance of their value and they could have been good deals, but I do not have any experience for perspective.
We finally arrived at the Main Shrine and was greeted with a sign proclaiming no shorts were allowed. There were several women sitting at tables that immediately offered to provide my wife with a cover up to wear so we could go into the shrine. My shorts went to my knee and they said that was okay. I don’t know if the deciding factor was because she was female, or if her shorts were too short. We thanked them and went inside the enjoy the cool air for a bit.
Rows of seats lined the floor and we sat in the back to take in the sights. Three statues of Sakyamuni Buddha graced the center of the main wall overlooking many offerings. No pictures were permitted. Devotees entered, performed prayer rituals, then left, not staying more than a few minutes. The feeling of peace and tranquility I experienced there was palpable and for a few moments I was able to leave the busy city just down the street aside and clear my mind. There are too few times I can achieve that level of peace and this time was memorable. In fact, I didn’t feel the frenetic city energy the entire time I was on the temple grounds and its absence was notable.
By this time we were hungry, hot, and ready to get home, so we journeyed back to San Pedro with a long stop in air conditioned comfort of Denny’s. It’s hard to believe something as beautiful and unique as the Hsi Lai Temple exists in southern California. One aspect that really intrigued me is that it is fully functional and not just decorative or symbolic. I always thought I would have to journey overseas to visit an authentic monastic temple and see the incredible art and gardens, but it just goes to show the depth of culture one can experience in this great country of ours if you just get out and look around. Now get out there and experience something new!
His Lai Temple Website Link: http://www.hsilai.org/en/
Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple. (2018). About Hsi Lai. Retrieved from Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple: http://www.hsilai.org/en/hlt/