My family and I moved to the San Gabriel Valley in the late 1970s to get away from city life. The area we moved to was mostly comprised of farmland and a few single-family tract home developments. Puente Hills, the once untouched rural area of rolling green hills and natural landscape just south of the 60 Freeway, was where one could see untouched wild flowers and green pasture, with a sprinkle of a few homes, for miles. A large Christmas tree farm was once located on the north side of the 60 Freeway, nearby the Hacienda Heights and Industry city borders. Rustic horse trails and private horse stables, fields of cows grazing in green pastures, as well and local farm stands selling fresh fruit and vegetables from their surrounding lands were abundant in what is now the city of Walnut.
Over the years, parcels of agricultural land were slowly carved out to make way for new home communities and business districts. Today this area is one of many clusters of suburban communities sprinkled with mini-malls, shopping centers and box stores. One interesting addition to this area of Los Angeles County was the arrival of Hsi Lai Temple. Hsi Lai Temple is a traditional Chinese Buddhist temple which offers religious services and tours of its facilities. The Temple also houses a museum, gift shop, library, tea room and a dining hall.
My father once told me an amazing story of how the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, a Mahayana Chinese Buddhism monastic order, selected Hacienda Heights as the location of its Los Angeles County mountain monastery. I cannot attest to the accuracy of this retelling of how Hsi Lai Temple came to be, but it is a fantastical story worth sharing. My father claims that he met a Chinese transplant who told my father that the year 1988 would be an auspicious year, not just for the Chinese, but for all who live in this area. The purposeful opening of the Hsi Lai Temple in 1988 was to honor this supposedly auspicious time. More so, the Buddhist monks of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order sought out the area because of the Order’s desire to be in harmony with the sleeping Dragon that make up the Puente Hills landscape. Once the sleeping Dragon awakens by the establishment of the Hsi Lai Temple (the Temple is purportedly where the eye of the Dragon is located), those who live and/or do business in the area would thrive in everything due to the dragon’s spiritual protection of the land.
While I have found nothing during my field research to corroborate the fantastical tale my father shared to me during my younger years, the purpose of why Hsi Lai Temple came to be proved equally as interesting. Hsi Lai Temple was built to serve as a spiritual and cultural center in the United States for those interested in learning more about Buddhism and the Chinese culture. The goal of “Coming West” (Hsi Lai) is to teach “Humanistic Buddhism” and to create a “Pure Land” here on earth by taking refuge of the Triple Gem — the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. By providing moral and philosophical education of the Buddhist traditions, offering cultural activities, engaging in charitable programs, and by providing transparency of many of the Buddhist practices within the Temple grounds, it is the hope of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order that one’s well being, as well as humanity as a whole, will progress.
The recent Chinese New Year (Year of the Rooster) reminded me that it had been awhile since I visited Hsi Lai Temple, so I decided to drive 45 minutes east to Hacienda Heights this past Monday morning to participate in the coming of the New Year. Peace Lanterns and giant balloon sculptures of lucky auspicious creatures were displayed on the Temple’s Gateway for the New Year.
Outside the entrance of the Bodhisattva Hall, visitors are reminded that this is a holy place, so no photos are allowed within the Main Shrine and the Bodhisattva Hall. Likewise, no Pokemon Go mobile phone app playing is allowed within the 15 acre grounds of the Temple.
This area is also where Buddhist practitioners can provide offerings of flowers and food.
After leaving the Bodhisattva Hall, I arrived at the Courtyard.
Below is an aerial photo photo of the Temple to give you readers an idea of how large the Hsi Lai Temple is.
I then noticed that a line was forming nearby. It was the station for “Ringing the Bell to Pray for Blessings”. One of the visitor liaisons informed me that for the New Year, Buddhist practitioners come here to contemplate their goals and wishes and then ring the bell to purify the mind and solidify one’s commitment to work in earnest of these said goals and wishes.
She invited me to ring the bell and after I have done so, she extended her well wishes that I find what I am looking for.
I proceeded to the Courtyard and immediately noticed this beautiful tree.
I inquired about it and was told that the tree was the “Make-A-Wish Tree for All Wishes Fulfilled and Everything Going Perfectly”. It was another practice of recognizing one’s desires — that when one focuses on one’s wishes and goals, one realizes that through practice of good deeds and trusting in the all knowing, all will be provided. She invited me to partake in this practice, but to first select which goal I would like to obtain for the upcoming New Year.
I selected “All Wishes Fulfilled” and “Everything Going Perfectly for Me”.
That was an exhilarating experience.
Temple visitors began to congregate around this large rooster display.
After waiting patiently for people to move away from the display, my only opportunity to photograph this sight came right when the sun decided to ascend from behind the Main Shrine. I again exercised the practice of letting things be so that I get what I want. I resigned myself that the perfect photo opportunity was gone and quickly took the photo before walking away. Now that time has passed, I realized that I actually love this photograph.
I visited the Information Center, where complimentary tea and literature were made readily available. I found myself relaxing here for a good 10 minutes while people watching other visitors either enjoying their tea with friends, or individuals partaking in the free hand calligraphy writing in solitude on the other side of the room.
Two impressive gardens sit alongside the Courtyard: the Arhat (eighteen disciples of Buddha) and Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin, her attendants and the Four Deva Kings) Gardens.
Many statues representing the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are displayed all around the outdoor halls of the Temple. One of the Buddhist practitioners informed me that their presence serves as a reminder to work towards living the life of Buddha, so while it seems that practitioners are bowing in deference to these objects, they are in fact bowing as a sign of commitment towards the life of Buddha.
I walked across the Courtyard to visit the Main Shrine. Upon approaching the Main Shrine entrance, I happened upon Buddhist practitioners purchasing incense and/or lighted candles to signify offerings of one’s continued commitment to the life of Buddha.
One of the visitor liaisons invited me to enter the Main Shrine, wherein I took a moment of silence with the other Buddhist practitioners. I am not a practicing Buddhist myself, but the experience of meditating within the walls of the Main Shrine moved me. It was as if I was overcome by a moment of peace and relaxation. Later, I decided to observe what was actually inside the Main Shrine. Three large Buddhas representing true enlightenment, are seated at the altar. Over ten thousand statues of the Buddha adorn the walls of the Main Shrine; they represent the Buddha potential within all of us, as well as the enlightened beings who have lived before us who have reached enlightenment. Since no photographs are allowed here, readers will have to either view the photo on Hsi Lai Temple’s official website or physically go to the Temple itself to see its grandeur.
I also visited the site’s museum and art gallery (alas, no photos allowed here, either, so this will have to do) and was impressed by the rich collection of Buddhist artifacts. I was especially impressed by the collection of miniature bone carvings; I have never seen one in person before, so it was a special treat for me.
The Dining Hall wherein an $8 vegetarian lunch buffet meal is served opened at 11:30, so I quickly got myself in line for what I expected to be a light and tasteless meal. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my food was not only hearty, but it was full of delicious flavors. A Dining Hall in a Chinese monastery is usually referred to as “The Hall of Five Contemplations” to remind diners to contemplate the following five aspects when they eat for a mindful eating, healthier relationship with food and in the end, mindful living:
- Consider the work that went into the food and where it came from.
- Reflect on my virtues and conduct, and if they merit this offering.
- Guard the mind against faults, greed in particular.
- Regard it as a wholesome medicine for healing the weakened body.
- For the sake of attaining the way, we consider why we receive this food.
What a great way to enjoy one’s meal.
As my visit to Hsi Lai Temple began to wind down, I took a moment to enjoy the views on this beautiful warm and sunny January day.
As I approached the Temple’s parking lot, I happened upon this message:
Don’t wish for a full round moon; deficiency also as beauty.
Don’t seek possessions; pleasure without property is wealth.
-from The Everlasting Light
This was the exact send off I needed to receive from Hsi Lai Temple. I thought about this message during my 40 minute commute back to the Westside and decided that “Everything is as it should be.”
Hsi Lai Temple
3456 Glenmark Drive
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
© Copyright 2012-2017 by Deborah Kuzma, californianative.com and californianativeblog.wordpress.com. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah Kuzma, californianative.com and californianativeblog.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.