It was with some trepidation and lots of excitement that I went to Taiwan in August last year. There were a couple of reasons for this. I had vowed to take the 3 refuges and 4 of the five precepts at Chung Tai Chan Monastery and also I had never traveled with a large group of people before.
From the time we boarded the bus at the airport in Taipei the feeling of comradery was amazing. Everyone helped each other with the luggage and made sure all were comfortable. Then came the first of many amazing vegetarian meals. We were given a lunch box full of goodies with flavours I hadn’t tasted before. All the meditation centers we visited put on a feast for us, presented us with gifts and made us feel very welcome.
The first time we saw Chung Tai Chan Monastery was at night and an awesome sight it was. A beam of light shone from the top of the monastery into the sky. This was to be our home for the next four days.
We were allocated our rooms for our time at the monastery and we tried to make our wooden bench bed as comfortable as possible. It is amazing how softwood becomes when you are really tired and you get used to it.
After breakfast on our first day we visited the organic farm run by the monastery and visited the Pu Tai Elementary School that had been built by Grand Master Wei Chueh. What an amazing school. Every area we walked through was set up to encourage learning in a fun way. The Grand Master must really understand how children learn. I think we all left the school wishing that we had had the opportunity to learn in such a great environment.
I was lucky enough to have my birthday while we were away and it was celebrated on the top of a mountain where the monks grow Jelly fig trees. Not many people are as fortunate as I was to share an amazing, totally vegetarian cake, that the shifus had organized, with wonderful people, in a fabulous country. I thank all that were there for making it a wonderful day.
The official function we attended during those first few days gave me an insight into the culture and history of Taiwan. We saw dragon dances and the Zhejiang Yue Opera Troupe performed at the high school. I was always amazed at the organization everywhere we went. Thousands of people were fed lunch in boxes and it was all cleared and packed away in no time. Everyone did their bit to help.
Our last day at Chung Tai Chan Monastery was a day with lots of noise, joy and celebration. Meditation groups from different monasteries from all over the world were dressed up in funny hats and lots of noisemakers. All from Bao Lin wished we knew what was planned as we would have prepared ourselves. However we made up for it with lots of cheering and noise when our abbess paraded past us with all the other monks and nuns. I always thought that monasteries were places of quiet and reverence but I now know they are also places of fun and laughter.
This day was the day that I took the three refuges and four precepts. Yes four not five. The Grand Master explained that only the precepts that can be kept should be taken.
The Grand Master has an amazing presence. Its hard to describe what it is but I felt a feeling of peace and affirmation that what I was doing was right, and that I am on the right course with my life. We were very fortunate that the abbess could organize for us to have a photograph taken with the Grand Master which I am sure we all treasure.
We were also very privileged to have a private meeting with the head Abbott which our abbess also organised. We were all individually introduced and had tea with him. He is not only a great man but also very interesting to listen to and has a great sense of humour.
Next we left Chung Tai and started our tour of Taiwan. We visited many meditation centres that continued to feed us amazing food. We learned more about the history of Taiwan and its people at the prehistory museum and the National Palace museum.
Travelling up the East coast I was amazed at how beautiful the coastline was. Although some areas had been devastated by Morakot typhoon only six weeks before we arrived, the roads had been rebuilt and our journey was not disrupted.
We visited Taroko National Park and walked down to the Shakadang river. We took off our shoes and rolled up our pants and paddled in the beautiful clear, cool, water. Fish nibbled our feet and there was lots of laughter and fun. We walked through Swallow Grotto, all with hard hats on and then drove through the tunnel of nine turns. It was great to see the Shifus relaxed and having fun after the organization that when into planning the trip and looking after all of us and making sure none of us got lost.
The meditation centres and monasteries we visited were welcoming and extremely please to have us visit but the most meaningful to me was Ling Quan Chan Monastery. It was after ten years of seclusion the Grand Master was encouraged to spread his wisdom and thus he built Lin Quan on the site of his retreat. To sit on chairs and around a table that the Grand Master had made and hear stories of this monastery’s humble beginnings just topped off a wonderful trip.