Hsi Lai Temple

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Hsi Lai Temple
Mountain Gate of Hsi Lai Temple.JPG
The mountain gate of Hsi Lai Temple
Denomination Linji Ch'an / Humanistic Buddhism
Founded 1988
Founder(s) Hsing Yun
Director(s) Hsin Bao
Abbot(s) Hui Dong
Address 3456 South Glenmark Drive, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
Country United States
Website www.hsilai.org
Hsi Lai Temple
Traditional Chinese 佛光山西來寺

Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple (Chinese: 佛光山西來寺; pinyin: Fóguāngshān Xīlái Sì) is a traditional Chinese Buddhist mountain monastery, in the U.S. state of California. It is one of the largest of its kind in North America.

The temple complex is located in the northern Puente Hills, within Hacienda Heights, in eastern Los Angeles County. The name "Hsi Lai" means Coming West in the sense of the "Great Buddhadharma Coming West."

The temple is affiliated Fo Guang Shan, one of Taiwan's largest Buddhist organizations. It is the order's first overseas branch temple, and serves as the North America regional headquarters for Fo Guang Shan. Hsi Lai was the site of the founding of Buddha's Light International Association, established in 1991. The temple, like its mother temple in Taiwan, practices Humanistic Buddhism, which incorporates all of the eight traditional schools of Chinese Buddhism - especially the Linji Chan and Pure Land schools - to provide guidance deemed most useful to modern life.


Hsi Lai Temple and its surroundings

In 1976, Master Hsing Yun, the founder of the order, represented a Buddhist group from Taiwan to participate in America's bicentennial celebration. Master Hsing Yun was asked by American friends to build a monastery in the United States. Therefore, Fo Guang Shan asked the Venerable Tzu Chuang (who, upon the inception of the temple, became the founding and first abbess of Hsi Lai Temple) and Yi Heng to plan and organize the construction of the temple in the Greater Los Angeles area. It was officially registered under the name of International Buddhist Progress Society. Until the temple was complete, Ven. Tzu Chuang bought an old church building, which was to be Hsi Lai's temporary headquarters. The original temple, located in the city of Maywood was called the Bai Ta (White Pagoda) Temple.

The planning and construction of the temple in the 1980s was met with suspicion and resistance from local communities, many of whom knew little about Buddhism and had unfounded fears of Buddhist practices. Many felt that the project was too big for a neighborhood of single-family home and that the traditional Chinese architectural style would not fit in. The main reasons for resistance against the building of the temple were the impact of weekly services, heavy traffic, noise, and concern about environmental damage.[1]

Originally, the organization had planned to build the temple in the South Bay, Los Angeles area, but were blocked from acquiring land. They also tried to acquire the historical Pyrenees Castle in Alhambra, but also met opposition from the community.[2] The building of the temple at its current location survived six public hearings and numerous explanatory sessions. Finally in 1985, the temple was finally granted a building permit. The groundbreaking ceremony was held the following year, and was completed on November 26, 1988.

The temple was finished at a cost of $10 million. Such negative feelings about the building of Hsi Lai have since diminished as the general level of awareness has been raised and as the temple and its residents have proven to be good neighbors.[1]

Immediately after its opening, Hsi Lai was the venue of many important events. The 16th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and the 7th conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth were held from November 19 to the 26th, an international Triple Platform Full Ordination Ceremony for monastics was held for over a month, and a Liberation Rite of Water and Land, the first of its kind in North America, was held prior to the temple's opening.

In 2008, in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Hsi Lai, another international Triple Platform Full Ordination Ceremony for monastics and a Liberation Rite of Water and Land was subsequently held.

In Summer 2011, Hsi Lai Temple was the starting location for the 19th season of the Emmy Primetime award-winning reality series The Amazing Race.[3]

On September 4, 2012, Hsi Lai Temple abbot Hui Chi was elected to the post of head abbot of the Fo Guang Shan order, succeeding Hsin Pei.[4]

University of the West[edit]

In 1990, in conjunction to the completion of Hsi Lai Temple, Master Hsing Yun founded Hsi Lai University, one of sixteen Buddhist colleges and universities operated by Fo Guang Shan. The university relocated to Rosemead, California in 1996. It is one of the first Buddhist colleges in the United States.

Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Buddhist studies, comparative religious studies, and a Master of Business Administration are available at the university.

In 2004, the university changed its name to the University of the West and appointed Dr. Lewis Lancaster, a religion professor at UC Berkeley and longtime member of Fo Guang Shan, as president. Dr. Roger Schmidt became Lancaster's successor in 2006, and was replaced by Dr. Allen M. Huang a year later.


The Arhat Garden in the temple
  • The Bodhisattva Hall (五聖殿): The first shrine before entering the temple. It is a large hall that honors five Bodhisattvas, Samantabhadra (Pǔxián), Ksitigarbha (Dìzàng), Maitreya (Mílè), Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin), and Manjushri (Wenshu). Outside the shrine, on each side, honors the Bodhisattvas Skanda (Weituo) and Sangharama (Qielan).
  • The Arhat Garden (十八羅漢): Located on the left of the temple, it contains 18 statues of the earliest known disciples of the Buddha.
  • The Avalokitesvara Garden (慈航普度): Located on the right of the temple, it is also known as the "Salvation Garden". It contains the acolytes of Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin) and statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.
  • Founder's Statue (創辦人 星雲大師雕像): A bronze statue of Venerable Master Hsing Yun. The statue was once located behind the Bodhisattva hall, facing the main shrine, but now occupies a spot near the conference rooms to the right of the foyer.
  • Main Shrine (大雄寶殿): The heart of the temple's activities. It contains the statues of the historical Sakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, and Bhaisajyaguru Buddha. Thousands of niches containing an image of the Buddha can be seen on the walls. Outside, a large bell and drum can be seen on either side. Traditionally in many Chinese Ch'an temples, these bells are played daily to ready monastics for daily practice. Hsi Lai does not use these instruments regularly because of their loud volume when played as there are residential areas at the foot of the temple. The bell and drum are only used to mark special occurrences.
  • Requiem Pagoda (懷恩堂): Located at the summit of Hsi Lai, it honors those who have died. In the past, it was also a small mausoleum, but since there was no more room for urns to be interred, the urns were moved to a new Buddhist mausoleum built by Hsi Lai in 1999, located at the summit of Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. The Requiem Pagoda is now for people who entered their loved one's names in the pagoda, and can only be accessed by request.
  • Meditation Hall (禪堂): Located on the back of the main shrine, and next to the monastic dorm rooms, meditation classes are held here.
  • Dining Hall (五觀堂): Vegetarian buffets are served here every day for lunch only, and sometimes dinner on special days. Each person can make a voluntary donation for their lunch.
  • Translation and Publishing Center (佛光山國際翻譯中心與佛光出版社): The Fo Guang Shan International Translation Center and Buddha's Light Publishing are located on the very top of the temple complex cross facing to the Requiem Pagoda. Buddha's Light Publishing was established to publish Buddhist books translated by the Fo Guang Shan International Translation Committee as well as other valuable Buddhist works.
A bell within the grounds of Hsi Lai, traditionally used to mark the start or end of daily activities at a monastery.

Dharma services[edit]

Regular Dharma services are held on Sunday and weekday mornings, usually chanting various sutras such as the Diamond Sutra or the Amitabha Sutra. Meditation sessions, retreats and Buddhism classes, are held on some days of the week, which are offered in both English and Chinese. Monks and nuns who reside at the temple speak a variety of languages besides Mandarin, primarily English and Cantonese, are available to perform weddings or funerals services.

Many larger services held annually mostly revolve around filial piety, along with the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophy of worshiping one's parents and ancestors. In the spring, they hold a large service in commemoration of Ching Ming, a traditional Chinese festival where many pay respects to deceased relatives by cleaning their graves. In the summer, they hold a large service in commemoration of Ullambana. During this time, they also hold a ceremony known as Sangha Day, where devotees gather to honor the monastics by offering food to them, as well as offer a public cultural performance, performing classical and traditional Chinese music or elegant solo dances.

Annually, retreats and services are held for taking refuge in the Triple Gem, receiving the five precepts, and a short-term monastic retreat where disciples are able to temporarily experience life as a monastic.

Larger ceremonies and rites[edit]

Main Hall.
  • Water Repentance Service (水懺法會): A one day repentance service for filial piety. Held annually in the month of the Qingming Festival.
  • Emperor Liang Repentance Service (梁皇法會): A week-long repentance service held annually as part of the Ullambana festival observed in July to early-August.
  • Amitabha 7-day Retreat (彌陀佛七): Seven days of mindful recitation of the Amitabha Sutra and Amitabha's name, held at the end of December and early January around the time of Amitabha's birthday.
  • Yoga Flaming Mouth (瑜伽焰口): A Tantric ceremony inviting and feeding sentient spirits. Held in the afternoon after Sangha Day, and at the end of the Emperor Liang Repentance service.
  • Great Compassion Repentance Service (大悲懺法會): Monthly service held in the evening on the second Friday. A popular service at Hsi Lai, it involves the recitation of the Great Compassion Mantra, elaborate bowing, offering, and circumbulations.
  • Grand Offering to Celestial Beings (供佛齋天): A ceremony inviting heavenly guardians of Buddhism. Held during the lunar new year celebrations.
  • Bathing Buddha Ceremony (浴佛法會): Celebration of the Buddha's Birthday held in and outside Hsi Lai, and is hosted by other temples in Southern California.
  • Thousand Buddha Repentance Service (禮千佛法會): A short ceremony paying homage to Buddhas and bodhisattvas; held on Chinese New Year.
  • Liberation Rite of Water and Land (水陸法會): An elaborate and large traditional Chinese Buddhism, which involves inviting beings from higher realms to help beings in the lower realms escape from their suffering. Hsi Lai has only held this ceremony three times, once in 1988 to celebrate the temple's opening, again in 2000 to celebrate the millennium, and once more in 2008 to celebrate the temple's 20th anniversary.

Hsi Lai offers community service to a variety of people in need of hours. Jobs range from cleaning and sweeping around the temple to serving lunch in the dining room.

1996 campaign finance controversy[edit]

A campaign finance controversy centered on Hsi Lai Temple erupted during the 1996 presidential campaign. Vice President Al Gore attended a luncheon at the temple. The U.S. Justice Department alleged that Maria Hsia solicited $55,000 in donations for the Democratic National Committee the following day, which were later reimbursed with temple money.[5] Non-profit groups are not allowed to make political contributions. Hsia was eventually convicted by a jury in March 2000 of making five false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and sentenced to 90 days home detention, a fine, and community service.[6] The Democratic National Committee returned the money donated by the temple's monks and nuns. Twelve nuns and employees of the temple, including then-abbess Venerable Yi Kung who would later resign from the abbotship because of the scandal, refused to answer questions by pleading the Fifth Amendment when they were subpoenaed to testify before Congress in 1997.[7]

Following Hsia's conviction, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said, "it's time to get beyond the small fry and take on the major players (in the scandal) like Al Gore.[8]" No other players in the controversy were ever convicted, although two nuns (Venerables Yi Chu and Man Ho) were indicted for failing to appear at Hsia's trial and are believed to have left for Taiwan and have not returned to the United States since.

Past Abbots and Abbesses[edit]

The first abbess, Tzu Chuang. Behind her is Venerable Tzu Tsung, the fifth abbess.
  • 1978–1989: Ven. Tzu Chuang (慈莊法師) (1st term)
  • 1989–1993: Ven. Hsin Ting (心定和尚)
  • 1993–1994: Ven. Tzu Chuang (慈莊法師) (2nd term)
  • 1994–1995: Ven. Yi Kung (依空法師)
  • 1995–2000: Ven. Tzu Jung (慈容法師)
  • 2000–2003: Ven. Hui Chuan (慧傳法師) (1st term)
  • 2003: Ven. Yi Heng (依恆法師) (acting abbess)
  • 2003–2005: Ven. Hui Chuan (慧傳法師) (2nd term)
  • 2005–2013: Ven. Hui Chi (慧濟法師/心保和尚)
  • 2013-present: Ven. Hui Dong (慧東法師)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pan, Philip P. (1993-08-08). "Good Neighbor : Hemisphere's Largest Buddhist Temple Wins Over Residents". Los Angeles Times. 
  2. ^ http://www.cityofalhambra.org/community/castle.html Pyrenees Castle
  3. ^ "CBS Announces The Cast For The New Season Of “The Amazing Race,” Premiering Sunday, Sept. 25 - Ratings - TVbytheNumbers.Zap2it.com". TVbytheNumbers. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "Campaign Finance Key Player: Maria Hsia". The Washington Post. January 31, 1999. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  6. ^ "2 Nuns at Fund-Raiser Are Indicted After Flight". The New York Times. April 6, 2000. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  7. ^ Abse, Nathan, "A Look at the 94 Who Aren't Talking", Washington Post, June 9, 1998
  8. ^ Eskenazi, Michael, "For both Gore and GOP, a guilty verdict to watch", CNN.com, March 3, 2000

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°58′33″N 117°58′04″W / 33.9757°N 117.9679°W / 33.9757; -117.9679