You are looking at the largest Chinese palace-style temple in Europe. The temple’s opening in September of 2000 was attended by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, a first for a modern head of state. It is home to an order of nuns from the Taiwanese Humanistic Buddhist order Fo Guang Shan. It holds several shrines and rooms for meditation and education.
If it’s open, walk through the triple-arched mountain gate and up the stairs into the main shrine. (Chinese Buddhist temples are usually built on mountains, but this is the best Amsterdam could do…) Give yourself a moment away from the busy Zeedijk and take in the peace of this room. If you can, donate a Euro for fruit or flowers to leave at the shrine. If you want, take a moment in front of the shrine to breathe deeply, clear your mind, and let the spirit of the shrine move you, whatever form that takes.
The main shrine is dedicated to the bodhisattva Guan Yin, the embodiment of compassion. She’s called “the Compassionate Sage Who Sees” and “The One Who Perceives the Sounds of the World.” Her spirit shows in the many aspects of the order of nuns who live and work in this temple, from their quiet charity within the Amsterdam community to their larger work towards healing the earth.
Fo Guang Shan is an order of Humanistic Buddhism that was founded by a Chinese monk named Hsing Yun. He founded a modern Buddhist practice whose rituals are focused on the living. He advocates for people to live a life that is free of cruelty and compassionate to every other living creature. This focus on kindness and compassion also drives work in charity, education, and environmental activism through a lay program called Buddha’s Light International Association. The order began and is still headquartered at a beautiful temple in Kaohsiung.
I Chao Shih, the first abbess of the He Hua Temple, described visiting this temple as a tourist and being so compelled by its sense of peace that she took the first steps towards joining the order. By the time she became the abbess of the new temple in Amsterdam, she was overseeing all European branches of Buddha’s Light. The Zeedijk of 2000 was a much rougher place, but I Chao Shih made it home. She noted, “The temple gives the neighborhood a sense of tranquility. When we walk through the streets, we meet nothing but respect from the junkies and alcoholics. They even offer us a Buddhist greeting.”
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