One of several wealthy Buddhist foundations established in Taiwan since the 1960s, Foguangshan Monastery (佛光山寺; fóguāngshān sì) is a vast complex of grand temple architecture, giant statues and Buddhist art. Around 25km northeast of Kaohsiung, it’s an absorbing day-trip from the city, with regular buses making it easy to reach.
The monastery is the home of the Foguangshan International Buddhist Order, founded in 1967 by Master Hsing Yun, an enigmatic monk from China who has spent his life travelling and teaching his unique brand of “Humanistic Buddhism”. Today Foguangshan is part monastery, with around three hundred monks and nuns, and part educational complex, with over a thousand students at its on-site university and high school campus.
Starting at the Non Duality Gate at the front of the monastery, take a look inside the Foguangshan Treasury Museum on the right, packed with Buddhist art, carvings and cultural relics. From here climb straight up the hill towards the stunning main shrine or “Great Hero Hall” – it contains three 7.8m-high Buddha statutes, beautifully cast in bronze and surrounded on all sides by a staggering 14,800 smaller Buddha images lit by tiny lights and displayed within an intricate latticework of carved wood. The latest grandiose addition to the site is the Foguanshan Buddha Memorial Center, with a colossal temple and 50m-high statue of the Buddha as its centrepiece (it’s over 100m tall including the base). The hall houses the venerated Buddha’s tooth relic, donated by a Tibetan monk in 1998. The other highlight is the 36m-high statue of Amitabha Buddha on the east side of the complex (an area known as “Great Buddha Land”). The iconic symbol of the monastery, it is approached by a road lined with 480 smaller statues. You’ll hear the word āmítuófó everywhere you go: this is another name for Buddha, and has become a catch-all for thank you, bless you or hello.