The Fo Guang Shan He Hua Temple is the largest temple in Europe, that has been built in traditional Chinese palace-style. The atmosphere of the temple is Chinese, however Buddhism and practicing Buddhism are both universal and beyond architectural features and culture. During the years the roof had to be changed and is now a mixture of Dutch engineering and Chinese architecture.
- What is the meaning of: “HE HUA”?
- What is the symbolism of the main gate?
- What do we see in the temple?
- The Sakyamuni shrine
“He” means “lotus” in Chinese and “hua” is equivalent to “flower”, so He Hua temple, means in fact lotusflower temple. The lotus is a special kind of waterlily and plays a very important part in Buddhism, already from the beginning. With its roots in the soil of the earth, it emerges to a beautiful, colorful and pure flower that reaches from the water out to the sky. It is the symbol of enlightenment and Buddha is often pictured standing or sitting on top of an open lotusflower.
A second meaning of “He” can be found in the Chinese word “Helan”, which means Holland. So “He Hua” can also be translated as “Dutch flower in Buddhism”. And one of the goals of our temple is to help Dutch Buddhism blossom.
A Buddhist monastery’s front entrance is literally called “mountain gate” in Chinese, referring to the traditional mountain setting of monasteries. He Hua’s main gate is constructed in a style traditional to Chinese Buddhist temples: a large central opening flanked by two smaller openings. Nuns and monks traditionally enter through the maingate, while layman use the side gates.
The triplet mirrors:
- The three virtues leading to enlightenment: Wisdom, compassion and skillful means;
- The three provisions which aid one in realizing the truth and be free from suffering: Faith, vows, and practice;
- The three essential elements of Buddhism: Discipline(precepts) meditation and wisdom;
- The three gates leading to liberation: Emptiness, formlessness and no action (Chin: “wu wei “).
The steps of the stairs symbolizes the idea of practicing Buddhism step-by-step that gradually leads to enlightenment.
Inside the main shrine, the Kuan Yin Shrine, you can see a prominent statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, known as Kuan Yin in Chinese. Avalokitesvara can be loosely translated as “the compassionate sage who sees,” referring to this Bodhisattva’s ability to see all the suffering in the world and thus come to people’s aid. She is said to have one thousand eyes and hands with which to save all sentient beings. She is also an attendant to Amitabha Buddha and guides people to his Western Pure Land. A small figure of Amitabha is thus frequently shown in the center of her headpiece. Kuan Yin takes a variety of forms; the Main Shrine’s primary statue portrays her with a third eye in the middle of her brows, and multiple hands. The several postures of the hands, also known as mudra’s, are used in statues to express several Buddhist concepts and episodes in the life of Buddha. Each posture has often a deeper meaning that cannot be expressed in words. Likewise each different body posture of the statues –reclining, sitting or standing– has a symbolic meaning.
Kuan Yin Bodhisattva holds many different attributes in her hands, which all have a symbolic meaning.
A summary of the attributes followed by their meaning:
- Buddha statues held in upward turned palms: Upholding the way of the Buddha;
- Vase: As water is poured from a vase, so does Kuan Yin pour compassion upon all beings. Also, a vase represents a vehicle capable of holding the Truth, analogous to a devotee’s open heart. It is furthermore significant that the Chinese word for “vase” is a homonym with that for “peace”;
- Willow: The ability to ward off demons and natural disasters. Kuan Yin dips the willow into the water and sprinkles it over sentient beings;
- Arrow and Bow: The ability to effectively extend one’s reach to others and thereby benefit from many teachers and friends;
- Axe: The ability to overcome personal disasters;
- Sword: The strength to render evil beings powerless and likewise help them develop purity and goodness. Also, the triumph of wisdom and knowledge over ignorance and evil, thus leading to enlightenment;
- Bell: Impermanence, as the sound it makes gradually diminishes. It is held in Kuan Yin’s left hand which symbolizes wisdom;
- Trident: The spreading of Kuan Yin’s compassion;
- Lotusflower: Purity, enlightenments, mercy and compassion;
- Sutra Scroll: The teachings of the Buddha. In connection with Kuan Yin, Mahayana Buddhists sometimes specify this as the Lotus Sutra;
- Pestles: The ability to overcome enemies;
- Sistrum (staff with rings): Kuan Yin’s compassion and ability to protect all beings. A ringed staff was traditionally used by monastics as a way to avoid stepping on small creatures. Tapping the sistrum on the ground to make make its rings jingle would alert birds, animals and insects to move aside. Because of its benevolent and compassionate function to prevent harm, the sistrum is equated with these virtues;
- Staff: The ability to thwart robbers and subsequently help them change their evil ways;
- Palms together: Gesture of devotion;
- Curled fingers: Mudra of meditation;
Kuan Yin Bodhisattva is flanked by two statues of Wei Tuo en Qie-Lan, the legendary protectors of the Dharma and the temple.
The walls of the Kuan Yin shrine are decorated with many tablets having an image of Kuan Yin in relief. The repetition and the large number indicates that the Dharma, the way of Buddha, can be found anywhere. Names of those people who made a significant financial contribution for the construction of the temple, are written on the tablets.
Many statues and objects (such as incense jars) have sauvastika signs printed on it. These signs have nothing to do with the Nazi swastika!
The arms of the Buddhist sauvastika point in a counterclockwise direction and the sign is always in an upright “+” position. The sauvastika is an ancient sign which is infused with a variety of symbolic meanings, particularly lightning, the sun, the power to overcome evil as well as universality.
Several percussion instruments are used during Buddhist ceremonies.
- A drum is usually kept to the right of an altar inside the shrines, and is used in chanting. Its sound symbolizes the end of the cycle of rebirth which inevitably leads to happiness.
- Wooden fish: A wood block carved to represent a fish is played during chanting services. It is usually kept to the left of the altar and may be of various sizes. The symbolism of the fish may be explained as follows: Just as a fish never closes its eyes and is thus always “awake”, one should be similarly “alive” in earnest dedication to Buddhist practice.
- Handheld bell: a small bell which is both held and tapped with a mallet by the same hand, is used while chanting.
- Bell Bowl (Chin. Da Qing): A hammered metal bowl is also used while chanting.
- And last but not least incense: Every chanting starts with a sutra for the incense offering:
Incense heats up in the censer. The fragrance premeates all space
Buddha’s in all universe are aware. Everywhere gathers auspicious clouds
Be sincere and solemn, Buddha’s appear in the midst of fragrant clouds
Let’s take refuge with the Bodhisattvas in the cloud of incense.
Here we see a statue of the historic Buddha. Typical is the right hand, pointing towards the earth. The dot on the forehead is one of the thirty two special features of a Buddha or Boddhisattva. Sometimes it is compared with the cosmic eye, which radiates the light of wisdom, or the third eye symbolizing the highest insight. It can also be displayed as a piece of curly white hair in the middle of the forehead.
Long earlobes are another special Buddha-feature. Other features of a Buddha are: a swastika sign on the chest, three skinfoldings in the neck, long arms, curly hair with a knot on top of the head and a Dharmawheel on the palm or sole of the foot.
Inside two large pagode-shaped towers you can see hundreds of tiny Buddha statues, each in an illuminated niche. The repetition of these images has been used for a long time to emphasize and clarify Buddhist concepts. These numerous images symbolize the universal Buddha nature that is always present in everything and everybody. Everything and everyone can become enlightened by practicing the Dharma, Buddhist law. The conic shaped form, reaching to the sky, symbolizes the concept of practicing Buddhism step by step, which at the end might lead to enlightenment.