Taiwan is a predominantly Taoist society, and it seems like Taoist temples are about as much of a commodity as 7-11s are. In fact, while driving down the east coast earlier this year, we saw a temple factory of sorts, where the intricate pillars and eaves seen in so many temples are manufactured. They are still beautiful, but it does take a bit of the magic away for me.
Although Taoism rules, there are still many practicing Buddhists, Buddhist temples, and Buddhist organizations. One of these is the Chung Tai Chan, whose monastery can be found in Puli, Nantou County on Taiwan’s East Coast. This beautiful temple and monastery are anything but factory manufactured. The monks at Chung Tai were kind enough to allow us to book a tour last minute.
The temple, which is over 16 stories tall, is nestled in the hills just outside of Puli and surrounded by trees. It’s shape is meant to represent a cultivator kneeling in prayer position. When we arrived, the parking lot was swarming with tour buses and tourists. Many people come to see the grounds, the museum, and the first two floors of the monastery, which are open to the public without needing to reserve a tour. We asked our hotel in Puli to help us call the monastery the morning of the day we wanted to go in the hopes we might be able to see a bit more of the temple. They agreed even though there would only be a Chinese language tour going on that day. Our guide was so nice and helpful and she took the extra time to explain everything in English to us as we went along the tour, although she did ask that if we ever wished to visit again that we book our tour at least three days in advance. Tour bookings can be made here.
A temple guardian
At the entrance to the temple, guests are greeted by guards who sit out front protecting it. The first floor is called the Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings, which features four 12 meter-tall statues.
Laughing Buddha to welcome guests
As you go up to the next floors, there are three Buddha Halls, which hold statues of the various Buddhas, and other intricate hand-made Buddhist artifacts. Each hall also has hand-painted ceilings, swimming with lotuses and mandalas of all colors. Our tour followed the path that the monks take every day on their way to the Chan Meditation Halls. The circular path instills calmness as you walk up.
Transformation Buddha carved from red granite on the second floor
On the 16th floor, the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas is amazing. The wall is covered in Buddhas hand cast in bronze. In the center of the room, a 7-story teakwood pagoda was constructed without the use of a single nail. The tour ended here, and we were asked to share our feelings after visiting the temple while looking out across the valley. Many answers were similar, with people expressing feelings of peace and calm.
Across the valley
Unfortunately photography is only allowed on the first and second floors, so you’ll have to go see the rest of it for yourself. You can also check out the virtual tour, but seeing it in person is a really incredible experience.
We were given a taste of history, culture, and spirituality all in one visit. Not to mention the beautiful artwork and architecture that fills the temple. Just seeing the craftsmanship makes a visit well worthwhile. Apart from the temple, the Chung Tai also offers an art gallery, museum, and beautiful gardens.
I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who is in the Nantou area. There is a frequent bus between Puli and the Sun Moon Lake visitor center, and the monastery is just a quick taxi ride from central Puli.