I Slept With Over 200 Monks in Taiwan

By Madelyn Miller

I’ve slept in an old jail, a stationery railroad car, a convent, an old catamaran on the eighth floor of the Fantasy Hotel in Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. You could say I enjoy sleeping in unique places. But the Fokuangshan Monastery in Taiwan was the best of all.

It wasn’t just the beautiful setting or the loving devotion of the monks. I think what really made this so special for me was the food.

The food in the monastery? Tofu and vegetables?

100I HEAVENLY THINGS TO DO WITH TOFU

Actually, the creativity of the preparation and presentation is worth a trip to the Fokuangshan Monastery. For supper my first night, I had pumpkin soup, 2 varieties of dim sum dumplings, mushroom spaghetti, and mushrooms and tofu combinations that were created to look and taste like fish, chicken and beef. The desserts would wow any sweet tooth and I left thinking I could be a vegetarian if I knew these recipes and had someone to cook for me.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO BESIDES EAT AND PRAY?

Some of the serene countenance of the monks must come from their hours of meditation. I took a short meditation class from a German monk and really learned a lot about concentration. He also said that if you gave things up, you wanted them less. I questioned him about whether that was true of things like chocolate. He almost convinced me. And I did not have any chocolate for the rest of the day.

There is also an interesting calligraphy class. We sat in a large room where the monastic students studied, and used traditional brushes and ink to "trace" the characters. I began to see how relaxing this mindless task was, and began to develop a sort of rhythm as I learned the shapes and strokes.

IN THE BEGINNING

Venerable Master Hsing Yun left Mainland China for Taiwan in 1949 in order to pursue his goal of developing a humanistic Buddhism that combines all of the eight Mahayana schools.

Since the Founding Master, Venerable Hsing Yu established Fokuangshan in 1967, it has evolved from a mountain top bamboo forest to the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan and an internationally recognized site of pilgrimage. Master Hsing Yun has inspired the selfless devotion of over 1,000 ordained disciples as well as the ardent support of many lay devotees to assist him in bringing faith, happiness, hope and convenience to countless others.

Fo Guang Shan has almost 200 branch temples spread over the world’s six continents. Master Hsing Yun founded 16 Buddhist colleges (seminaries), His Lai University in Los Angeles, and two publishing houses to spread the dharma.

Master Hsing Yun also started the "Buddha's Light International Association" (with 100 chapters around the world and a present membership in excess of one million) in order to contribute to the unification of Buddhists worldwide and promote world peace.

His 20-some mobile clinics provide free medical care to people in the remote countryside of Taiwan, and Foguangshan’s charity outreach programs have benefited the needy all over the world

MORE ABOUT BUDDHISM in TAIWAN

Taiwanese Buddhists don’t focus on studying compassion. They practice it. It’s called "Humanistic Buddhism" and the Taiwanese are its greatest exponents and practitioners. Throughout Asia, Buddhism is often relegated to temples and the activities of monks. Modernity and Buddhism don’t seem to mix. Not so in Taiwan. Its monks are among the world’s most educated and best traveled, and its centers of Buddhist study are world class caliber.

Over 5,000 temples, hundreds of meditation centers with 3-and 7-day training courses and seminars and classes on Buddhism are available all year round. Visiting them is a great way to better understand the Taiwanese people.

Fokuangshan Monastery
Ta Shu, Kaohsiung 84010
Tel 07-6561921-8
Fax 07-6562516
www.fgs.org.tw

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

CURRENCY

The Republic of China’s unit of Currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (NT$). The current exchange rate is US to NT$33, and it slightly fluctuates from time to time. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at most of the banks and hotels. Major credit cards are accepted and Travelers Checks may be cashed at some tourist oriented businesses and by room guests at most international hotels

ELECTRICITY

Electric current is 110 volts, 60 cycles AC. Drinking water served at hotels and restaurants is distilled or boiled.

WEATHER

The climate is sub-tropical with an average annual temperature of 22C (72F) in the North and 24C (75F) in the South.
Summer lasts from May to October and is usually hot and humid with average daytime highs from 27C to 35C (81F to 95F)
Winter lasts from November to February and is short and mild with average lows from 12C to 16C (54F to 61F)
Snow falls only on higher mountains.

CLOTHING

Sweaters and light jackets or coats are advisable from December through March and light clothing in April though November.

TIPPING

A 10% service charge and 5% value added tax (VAT) are automatically added to room rates and meals. Tip your guide or driver $2.00 to $4.00 a day.

BE PREPARED

1.It helps to have a guidebook like Lonely Planet with a simple dictionary. Many people in Taipei speak English, but outside the center of cities you may have trouble being understood. Sometimes it helps if you write out a question, rather than saying it, as Taiwan people are more used to reading English than speaking it.

2. Outside of major cities and luxury hotels, you may need to provide your own toilet paper. Carry packages of Kleenex with you. You may also want to use the Kleenex for napkins if you sample street or market food.

3. Drinking water served at hotels and restaurants is distilled or boiled. As a precaution, water should not be drunk directly from the tap.

4. Lock your hotel room door. Most hotel doors do not lock automatically. Also check the windows. Sometimes they are left open for guests. I learned that one night when I nearly froze to death in the mountains despite covering myself with two quilts and sleeping in my clothes. When I heard loud voices early the next morning, I realized the window had been open.

GREAT GUIDES

I believe a good guide makes all the difference on a trip. And I had a great one on my recent trip thought Taiwan. Ask for Yichi at Golden Foundation Tours.

Golden Foundation Tours Corp.
8/F, 134, Sec. 4, Chung Hsiao E. RD.,
Lung Mem Bldg.,
Taipei, Taiwan
Tel 02-2773-3266
Fax 02-2773-4994
www.gftours.com.tw
gftour@ttla.com.tw

HELPFUL WEBSITES and contacts
WWW.taiwan.net.tw
service@tbroc.gov.tw

TRAVEL INFORMATION CENTER
Hotline 886-2-2717-3737 from 8am to 7pm
1F, 345,, Shunghsiao E. Rd. Sec. 4
Taipei, 106 Taiwan