The Nature Loving Wonderland (大自然文化世界) is an extremely large Buddhist monastery and tourist attraction at Emei lake (峨眉湖) in the mountains of southern Hsinchu county.
The grounds boast an extremely ostentatious monastery, a large grounds paved in granite and the worlds largest standing statue of Milefo (彌勒佛) the "Laughing Buddha" who is of Chinese origin and is probably the most well known image of the "Buddha" in the west despite being pretty much a complete fabrication whereas others considered to be "Buddha's" were actually historical figures.
The Laughing Buddha is considered by some to be the manifestation of Maitreya (彌勒菩薩) the "Buddha of the future" who serves a similar role to that of a "saviour", as people believe he or she will eventually appear to "save" humanity just as Christians imagine their messiah will do.
Buddhism isn't a philosophy with a lot of predictions for future salvation and/or destruction, so it is actually a bit strange that there are offshoots of Buddhism that believe this kind of thing - Nevertheless, there have been quite a few people (cult leaders) who have professed to be the Maitreya over the last few centuries and have amassed great fortunes in doing so.
The monastery at Emei Lake is run by a sect called "Maitreya Great Tao" (彌勒大道) which was founded by a monk named Wang Hao-Te (王好德) who escaped to Taiwan from China after the Chinese Civil War.
Upon arrival in Taiwan, Wang became involved with the Chinese religion Yiguandao (一貫道) which incorporates Maitreya worship despite not being Buddhist become a well-known member of the organization while ultimately deciding to leave and start up his own group.
In 1987, Wang opened the "Providence Maitreya Buddha Institute" (天恩彌勒佛院) and today boasts over a million members and over 2000 temples around the world.
The purpose of the sect, which adheres to Buddhism, but doesn't actually seem very Buddhist, is to promote world peace, healthy living, environmentalism and a prosperous healthy nation - all of which sound really nice, but like all religions, words often speak louder than actions.
The last time I checked, building a 75m tall bronze statue which requires digging precious metals out of the ground to go along with the huge granite base isn't exactly what I'd refer to as being environmentally friendly. According to the group though, their giant statue, the biggest in the world is there to be a constant reminder that we should be one with nature.
To explain a bit of my confusion about this place, I'll have to explain a bit of the tenets of Buddhism. The core philosophy of Buddhism is that 'life is suffering' and that suffering is caused by our attachment to things in this world. The Buddha outlined what he called the four noble truths of existence:
Four Noble Truths (四聖諦)
- Suffering exists (苦谛)
- Suffering arises from attachment to desires (集谛)
- Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases (灭谛)
- Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path (道谛)
Buddhism's foundations are set in the four noble truths and they are the path that the Buddha promoted in order to attain enlightenment and achieve an end to suffering. Once you understand the four noble truths you are free to delve much deeper into Buddhist philosophy, which is quite interesting and appeals to a lot of people around the world.
The problem though is that if you don't recognize the four noble truths, it'd be kind of difficult to consider yourself a Buddhist and it would be even harder to live your life as a monastic.
As far as I've seen and from what I've experienced with the "Nature Loving Wonderland," these people don't really get the four noble truths at all.
Buddhists (no matter the variety) should be mindful of the four noble truths and attempt to put themselves on a path to freedom from suffering which the Buddha explained is caused in part by material attachments to earthly possessions.
When someone becomes a monk, they are supposed to give up all their possessions and live a simple life dedicated to meditation and reaching nirvana. Therefore their only possessions should be those things that are required for a very simple quality of life. Monks are not supposed to possess things that could inspire negative emotions like possessiveness, greed or envy.
The Dalai Lama explains:
According to Buddhist practice, there are three stages or steps. The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara. Then in the third stage, self-cherishing is eliminated
With this in mind, when you will see monasteries that look like palaces you may scratch your head thinking - Is all this really necessary?
If the primary cause of suffering, according to the Buddha is 'attachment' then why is it that a monastery like this has to be as huge and as ostentatious as it is?
Shouldn't monks be leading a much simpler life?
When it comes to material possessions and attachments, some may argue that times have changed and the latest iPhones are just as necessary as your rice bowl.
I can also completely understand that in 2015 it isn't a great idea to be a homeless person walking around in robes looking for alms from others. However the point is to not have possessions that cause craving or attachment.
The question you have to ask yourself is how do you think these people would react if suddenly all of this stuff that they've constructed was destroyed or lost? How would the people who run this "wonderland" react if all of this was suddenly gone in the blink of an eye?
The Maitreya Institute seems to have this in mind, especially when it comes to their guests and they go above and beyond protecting their investment. They have instituted a list of rules that you have to accept to be permitted entry to their "Nature Loving Wonderland."
Considering that the "wonderland" is also a monastery, it is normal to see a list of rules regarding dress or lack thereof. It bothers me in 2015 that places like this still try to attempt to dictate what a woman can or cannot wear - but for Taiwanese guests, I suppose they are less inclined to complain about that kind of stuff and are willing to accept the sarongs provided by the staff at the gate to cover themselves up.
Once you get past the gates you will be led into the basement of the monastery by a set of stairs adjacent to the main doors. You will be given a pair of slippers to put on and an area to safely place your shoes.
There are a few reasons as to why they want you to remove your shoes - The first being that they don't want you walking through the monastery dirtying up their shiny expensive floors and because they would prefer you to not have the ability to escape the tour (indoctrination session) you are about to experience.
As you walk through the halls, you will notice a couple things:
- The attention to detail and will marvel at how much cash they've spent on decorating the place.
- The smiling secret service-looking volunteers standing guard a few meters apart from each other with headsets on making sure that you don't wander off or touch any of the bling bling or break any of the rules.
Apart from the rules pertaining to clothing, they also don't permit you to bring in non-vegetarian foods, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, dangerous weapons and pets.
Wait a second!
Pets? Pets are not permitted? I can understand high heels don't being permitted. But pets aren't weapons of mass destruction, nor are they poisonous or nefarious substances that will affect the spiritual life of the monastics.
Is this place not named the "Nature Loving Wonderland?"
I hold my dog in pretty high esteem, he's incredibly smart and the best friend a guy could have!
If I was a Buddhist, I'd likely try to convince you that he may very well be the reincarnation of a very important monk.
That doesn't matter though, he's still not permitted to enter.
I happened to have my dog with my the day that I visited. When I asked what I should do, the kind people at the gate informed me that I could simply leave my dog in the car while I was enjoying the peace and tranquility of their fabricated natural garden.
Can you imagine my reaction? These "nature loving" people actually advocated leaving my dog in a hot car so that I could come in and enjoy the monastery? No thanks guys, I prefer not to perpetuate the suffering of other living beings so that you can show off your vanity.
You may think I'm being unfair - quite a few places ban pets, its not really a big deal, but when you call yourself a Nature Loving Wonderland, it doesn't make very much sense to ban nature.
Other large monasteries around Taiwan allow pets in the garden areas but not in the actual monastery. That is completely understandable.
I didn't expect to bring my dog into the actual monastery and considering that photography is not permitted inside, I wasn't particularly interested in going in anyway.
I thought the garden area would at least be fine. I was wrong though.
The Buddha was clear when it came to materialism - It confuses me when you see these beautiful palaces. The money that was used to construct this place, all of which was donated by followers could have been used in much better ways that are more humanistic and better for society and for the environment.
To be fair, I realize that what I see as the irony of these massive monasteries may just be a modern approach to Buddhism. I can certainly understand that if I spent that much money on something that I'd want to protect it as much as possible.
My biggest issue is that the name "Nature Loving Wonderland" in both English and Chinese (大自然文化世界) is completely hypocritical. This complaint is not only based on the fact that they wouldn't allow my dog to enter to the grounds but because they have constructed such a gigantic temple to celebrate environmentalism with absolutely no regard for the environment at all and the extent they go to maintain such vanity.
Although it does bother me quite a bit that a volunteer told me to leave my dog in a hot car..
Nature after all is "natural" and the Emei lake area was quite natural and beautiful before this group came along and constructed their own religious version of "nature."
I'll leave you with a quote from the "Dhammapada" - The Sayings of the Buddha:
Indeed, the path that leads to worldly gain is one and the path that leads to nirvana is another. Fully comprehending this, the bhikkhu (monk), the disciple of the Buddha, should not take delight in worldly gain and honour, but devote himself to solicitude, detachment and the realization of nirvana. (Verse 75)
Website: Nature Loving Wonderland