|Buddhist temple roof, Anping 2012|
Every May Buddhists celebrate Buddha's birthday in Taiwan by bathing his statue. Buddha's birthday (佛誕) is celebrated in Taiwan officially on the second Sunday in May, the same as Mother's Day, as well as the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, which this year is May 25th. So it's not too late to observe some local customs.
There are three main Buddhist traditions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (Tibetan). Taiwanese Buddhism developed over the past 300 years when the first Han Chinese immigrated to Taiwan. They followed the Mahayana traditions, of unselfishly delaying enlightenment and becoming Bodhisattva saints to help mankind, as they usurped agricultural lands from aboriginals, pushing them into the mountains where they remain today. (Which is no different from Christian Europeans doing the same thing in the Americas, Australia and Africa.)
|3 Buddhist traditions, which is your cup of tea?|
Here is a scant list of some of the main Buddhist groups in Taiwan and with abbreviated backgrounds for English speaking people to participate in meditation or Buddhist educational retreats. Check their websites for more unabridged information. There are "4 Main Temples" of Buddhism in Taiwan, they compromise the first four in the following list:
1. Tzi Chi Foundation "Compassionate Relief"
If I had to pick my favorite organized Buddhist group in Taiwan it would be Tzi Chi, the world's largest Buddhist charity. Their headquarters, as well as university are located in Hualien. Their leader is nun Cheng Yen, the 78 year old "Mother Teresa of Asia". She is one of the first faces of mainstream Buddhism I saw when I first moved to Taiwan. She is often on TV with English subtitles.
|Cheng Yen, founder of Tzi Chi Compassionate Relief|
|My daughter at the neighborhood Buddhist temple, just checking it out. Anping 2006|
2. Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山) or Fagushan Founded by Master Sheng Yen, they focus on Chan (Zen) meditation. They are located in New Taipei City with a complex of monasteries, two universities and a college. They practice three kind of educational outreach and four kinds of environmentalism. Their main goal is to educate the public in Buddhism and they also raise money for other donations. Their leader was also a mainland Chinese monk. They spend 200 million NT per year to help families just above the poverty line who don't quality for govt assistance. They are having meditation events/festivals, May 23rd and 24th and in September, check their schedule.
|Chung Tai Temple, Puli 2011|
4. Fo Guang Shan- Located in Kaohsiung, they are the most comprehensive group with a monastery for men, women and foreigners. It has adult centers, youth and children;s camps, 3 kindergartens, a middle school and three universities. Believers recite Confucian ethics along with Buddhist chants and is associated with Chinese cultural activities. They publish books, a journal, newspaper, have medical clinics, hospitals, treatments for prison inmates and a cemetery for the poor. Their leader is the Chinese, charismatic leader, Hsing Yun.
5. Taiwan Vipassana- This probably is the most well known for Westerners and comes from the Theravada branch of Buddhism. This branch focuses on meditation techniques for calming the mind and having insight rather than teaching a system of religious beliefs. I have had friends do the 10 day silent Vipassana course (hardcore!). They offer, 1 day, 2 day, 10 and 20 day courses, for Mandarin and English speakers and some are for women only. Here is their schedule for the Lyu-Guei location. They have a main branch in Kaohsiung and another in Taichung.
|Chung Tai Temple, Puli 2011|
7. Ling Jiou Shan- They also embrace Tibetan and Theravada, Han traditions but goes further in trying to bridge all world belief systems and is known for their Museum of World Religions and the Chan Institute. Their leader Xindao was a student at Foguang who immigrated to Taiwan at age 13 from Burma, where he was a child-monk soldier in a monastery in Burma.
8. Kadampa Buddhism- Located in Tamsui, they offer retreats and meditation classes in English. They are a kind of modern (Gelug) Vajrayana (Tibetan) branch of Buddhism that was officially started in England and they have branches all over the world. Their main point is teaching meditation to be used practically. They call themselves the "Pure Gelugpas" and follow the writings of Je Tsongkhapa, which are interpreted and taught by their founder, the Venerable Kelsang Gyatso.
What I know for sure is that meditating 30 min everyday for 4+ years, definitely had a noticeably positive impact on my friends' lives, regardless of their claim for their guru to be the Godhead. I've been inspired to recently have been making my own times in the morning for a daily devotion and meditation, more in the style of vipassana. I'll meditate on uplifting scriptures or subjects like, abundance, goal setting . I think even emptiness is an illusion.
Meeting Taiwan's New Age Buddhists
Taiwan's Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups
Meditate and Buddhism in Taiwan
Database of Buddhist Temples in Taiwan
The Development of Taiwanese Buddhism
The Corporate Body of Buddhist Educational Foundation
A Buddhist Library
Out of the Monastery into the Crowds