In a Nutshell: Huiguang Temple is one of Taiwan’s more recently built temples. Dedicated to the study of the Pure Land sect of Mahayana Buddhism and to carrying out good works for the surrounding community, Huiguang Temple is a living example of the continuing strength of religious belief in modern Taiwan.
The temple traces its beginnings to 1953, when Hu Chong-li, a lay Buddhist practitioner who was also Director of Improvements at the local Zongye Sugar Refinery, founded the Mahayana Abode, a dojo (school) where employees could study Buddhism and practice Buddhist meditation.
At the time, the sugar industry was the economic mainstay of southern Taiwan, and in the town of Madou, the Zongye Sugar Refinery was a major employer. Because of this, the number of practitioners quickly grew, and so in 1961 the dojo was relocated to the center of Madou and renamed the Madou Buddhism Study Association. Eminent monks and teachers were frequently invited to the Association to lecture and teach Buddhist scripture, which attracted even more devotees. By the early 1980s, another expansion was necessary.
The Association soon raised the funds necessary to purchase a plot of land and begin construction on a formal Buddhist temple to be named Huiguang (“Light of Wisdom”) Temple. The temple was completed in early 1989. In 1992, an adjacent building was purchased for use as a library and learning center.
Both because of its recent construction and because Buddhist temples tend to eschew embellishment, the building itself lacks the ornate architectural flourishes found in older Taoist temples. The focus here is less on the sensory experience and more on religious study and practice and on doing good works. Over the years, Huiguang Temple has developed into one of Tainan’s most important centers for Pure Land Buddhism.
In addition to weekly sutra chanting and rituals celebrating the birthdays of the Buddhist deities enshrined in the temple, followers make good use of the library, lecture hall, reading room, and classrooms next door to serve both temple members and the community. Experts are frequently invited to hold talks on subjects as varied as the Dharma, health care, changing international trends, and government and financial issues. The temple also holds summer and winter children’s Buddhism camps, and provides support for disadvantaged groups and those in need. Like many temples in Taiwan, Huiguang Temple is not separate from the community, but rather plays an active role in community life.
Pure Land Buddhism and the Amida Buddha
The Pure Land School is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism which is focused on Amitabha, or the Amida Buddha. It had its beginnings in India around the 2nd century A.D., and afterwards became popular in China and Japan. An essential tenet of Pure Land Buddhism is that people cannot achieve liberation strictly through their own efforts, but require the aid of Amitabha.
Those who chant the name of the Amida Buddha with total concentration and genuine faith will be reborn in the Pure Land—sometimes known as the Western Paradise—a place without earthly distractions where it is much easier to achieve enlightenment. Thus, Amitabha is seen a sort of savior, and the Pure Land as a place or state of being that brings one closer to enlightenment and liberation. The effigy of Amitabha can be found in the shrine on the upper floor.
Other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at the Temple
In addition to the Amitabha Buddha, a number of other important Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are enshrined at the temple.
First Floor (Main Hall):
Shakyamuni (the Gautama Buddha) is the founder of Buddhism. Born into an aristocratic family in India in the 5th century B.C., he left behind the trappings of wealth and material desires and took a vow of poverty. He spent several decades meditating, teaching, and ultimately achieving enlightenment. After his death, he became known as the Buddha, or “Enlightened One.”
Ksitigarbha (Dizang) is the Bodhisattva who has taken on the responsibility of teaching all beings so that they may achieve enlightenment. He is known for his great vow not to attain Buddhahood until all hells are emptied of souls.
Bhaiṣajyaguru (the Medicine Buddha) is the Buddha of healing. Through the medicine of his teachings he cures mental, physical, and spiritual sickness. He is sometimes depicted as holding an ointment pot.
The Maitreya Buddha is the successor to Shakyamuni (the present Buddha). It is believed that Maitreya will appear on Earth at a future time to re-teach the dharma to a world that has forgotten it. In Chinese Buddhism, the Maitreya Buddha is occasionally depicted as a round, laughing figure to symbolize the great joy and promise he brings to the world.
Note that there is a metal bowl gong to the right of the altar and a wooden percussion bell on the left. These mirror the drum and bell of Taoist temples, but are used differently. In Taoist temples, the drum and bell are sounded when god effigies enter or leave the temple. Here, the bowl gong and percussion bell are used to keep time when chanting the sutras.
Second Floor (Upper Hall):
Amitabha (the Amida Buddha) is the great savior Buddha. It is believed that in ancient times, he was a monk who vowed that on attaining Buddhahood he would help those who called on him to be reborn into his Pure Land where they could live in peace and in the absence of distraction and suffering until attaining enlightenment.
Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) is sometimes known as the Goddess of Mercy. She is associated with compassion, and is one of the most widely worshipped deities in the Buddhist pantheon in Taiwan, both in Buddhist and Taoist temples.
Mahāsthāmaprāpta (Dashizhi), known as the Great Strength Bodhisattva, represents the great power of wisdom. One of the oldest Bodhisattvas, Mahāsthāmaprāpta is considered extremely important in Pure Land Buddhism and forms a trinity with Amitabha and Guanyin. The three lotus flowers above the entrance to the temple represent this trinity.
For visitors interested in paying respects to the Upper Hall deities, the proper order of worship is 1) Amitabha, 2) Guanyin, 3) Mahāsthāmaprāpta.
No. 12-1, Minzu Rd., Madou Dist., Tainan City 721002, Taiwan (R.O.C.)