While in Puli, we went to see the largest Buddhist Monastery in all of South East Asia. It was the Chung Tai Chan Monastery.
We got there right at 5:00 pm, and the guard at the gates hurried us along so we could get inside. We ran up the hill and the huge doors were still open. The guard at the door kindly allowed us to go inside for just a minute. We hurried inside and our breath was taken away by the huge Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings. They stand 12 meters high, and there are four just alike, standing in the four corners. Each has four heads. It is really kind of scary. I hope God doesn't really look like this.
We hurried to all the rooms in this small part of this Monastery, then the guard came and waited while we reluctantly headed back outside into the harsh hot evening, and he closed the HUGE doors. The doors each weigh five tons, we learned later, and stand about 2 stories high. We stood by the stairs and wall overlooking a large valley and just took pictures outside the monastery. The view was amazing, and across the valley on another mountain was a HUGE Buddha
Pretty soon monks began to walk by. After a while, Missionary Son asked one of them what the difference was in their different colored clothing. This monk began to explain about the Monastery, the dress and their beliefs. DL and our Missionary son talked with him for about 5 minutes. Sailor and I watched in awe as they spoke a very foreign language that made no sense to us. Suddenly the two young men turned to us and in English explained we were going to the cafeteria, the Monk was going to feed us. This was a most unusual turn of events, something I never expected. By way of explanation, our son told us that the Chinese greeting was "Have you eaten?" rather than, "hello". Since their answer was "no", this monk took it upon himself to feed us.
We were ushered back behind walls and doors we never would have dared to explore, to a covered, but open to the outside air, cafeteria and sat us down at a table. There were two other monks sitting far across the room at another table. We were seated at a table, then the monk went inside.
Finally after about 10 minutes, the monk came back with what looked like five boxed lunches plus four bowls of soup, and utensils. We began to eat as the monk continued to talk to our two Chinese-speaking young men. The last box was fruit, for desert. We ate and talked to this monk for about an hour. We had rice, egg plant, deep fried sweet potato, bean sprouts and carrots, some green stuff that reminds me of asparagus, and a clear soup made with some kind of melon. It is not sweet, but spicy. It was delicious, but very different. Sailor didn't like it.
He told us the Monastery held 1000 monks and nuns. They each have their own room. They are given duties and rotate after several years. He told us of his daily routine. He arises at 3:30 in the morning and studies scripture and meditates until about 6:00. Then he eats breakfast. After breakfast, he does his assigned duty, which was cleaning the grounds. He does this until lunch. After lunch he takes classes until 5 pm. They then are fed supper, and are given 2 hours to do what they like. They then take classes until 9:30 at which time they go to bed.
So we happened to run into him during his rest time. When we had eaten every bite (they don't like anything to go to waste) he opened the 5th box and gave us fruit. We talked some more. He asked MS about his mission and told him that when he was looking for a religion, he had actually attended the Mormon church. He then told us how he loved the leader of this Monastery and his teachings. He said he admired the LDS Missionaries and hopes that some day the monks will be able to go out and proselyte. He would like to talk to people and hand out tracts like the Mormon missionaries do, and tell people about the Buddhist religion.
It was getting dark and he said it was time to walk around. He invited us along.
We got to this place on the grounds that had a huge bell. He explained that when the bell was rung, and resonated, the souls of the dammed would have a rest. He then read in Chinese the little explanation, or prayer, then rang the bell and waited for the resonating to stop. He did this two more times. Then he turned to each of us and told us we could ring the bell too. DL and MS both read the prayer in Chinese, but the Monk told us we didn't have to since he had just read it.
After we all rang the bell, it was time for him to go to classes, but first he walked us to our car. As we passed the gates, the guards and others looked on. The Sailor commented that he got the feeling that not everyone gets escorted to the car by the monks. DL said this was an opportunity for the Monk as well. The Monks name was Shi Jian Mai. I told him that this was a moment I would never forget. He said that he wouldn't forget it as well. He seemed to love being able to host the Americans. I felt very honored. It was amazing. Looking back, I think it is safe to say it was one of my most favorite moments in all of Taiwan.