New Buddha Memorial opens in Kaohsiung, thanks to ‘a million well-wishers’

This month's unveiling of 180m-high copper Buddha statue, the largest of its kind in Asia. Photo: Trista di Genova

By Trista di Genova, The Wild East

The Fo Guang Shan (‘Buddha Light Mountain’) Monastery in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan opened to the public this month its new memorial to the Enlightened One, an 108m-high, 1,780-ton copper statue that is the largest of its kind in Asia. The monumental effort entailed three months of assembly, using in total 800 tons of metal.

The monument’s cost is hard to calculate since the project was the result of “a million well-wishers” –individual donations from supporters around the world — but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 10 billion NT dollars (US$332 million), according to representatives there, who say “it’s all about the spirit.”

When asked “Why spend so much money on such construction when those funds could go to charity?” Fo Guang Shan’s Venerable Miao Tan explains the thinking behind the decision to carry out this undertaking: “This is charity, and an education that is unstoppable and goes on for many thousands of years.”

The memorial is intended to become “a site of great spiritual significance” and a force for peace in the world. Grounds include a massive square that features a basement gallery, flanked by eight bell tower pagodas. Trees landscaping the grounds were grown from seedling, at Kaohsiung primary schools among other places, then transported and replanted on the premises. At first, locals in the area were concerned that construction would be for something like a cemetery, but their fears were put to rest.

Poster for Master Hsing Yun's 'one stroke calligraphy' competitions.

Construction for the monument began in 1998, and after more than 100 draft versions, a plan was decided upon, according to architectural specifications that were the inspiration of the monastery’s Master Hsing Yun. To express his vision for its design, Master Hsing Yun took eight bottles, a box and another smaller bottle and arranged them in order for an 8-pagoda design, with a main stupa. He said, “This is how I want the Buddha memorial to look,” according to another guide.

In front of the statue is an underground gallery with 48 rooms designed to act as a huge time capsule. Items for the time capsule are contributed from around the world — objects of great sentimental value fill a room, and sealed with a stone door. One hundred years later, one room will be opened every year.

The intention of the time capsule is to preserve heritage, “to learn from history, and to record for people many generations later so they’ll find out about us,” says the Ven. Miao Tan, our guide on a media tour taken in December that was sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. “We want to keep something so in future people will open a capsule and deliver the past. We’ll get to know what we were,” she explained. She elaborates the aim to see everyday objects that are important or meaningful to us at that time, so we will better understand our forebears, “how they live and what’s important to them.”

Established in 1967, the Fo Guang Shan Monastery began as a Buddhist education college. Today there are 200 branches and convention centers founded by the Fo Guang Shan around the world (a new one in Los Angeles), with the mission ‘to bridge Buddhism and humanity’.

Fo Guang Shan is well-known for its Buddha tooth relic, which, while being shown in a glass case, a second tooth is said to have miraculously appeared beside it a few years ago, according to a temple guide.

Thanks to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

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