Friday, January 15, 2010

Funds for Building Temples/ Hospitals?

Apologise for the long interval…it’s due to my internet connection problems. I wrote this in response to a comment someone made regarding Kek Lok Si temple, i.e. that it was a grandiose project, the funds could have gone to aid humanity, etc. And it so happened that HH the Dalai Lama was also quoted to have said that it is better to build hospitals than Buddha statues. Well, my response to this is that it depends. First, you have to know the audience to whom the Dalai Lama was speaking to. Second, as the Buddha of Compassion and an international Nobel laureate, he cannot possibly glorify himself and said that building Buddha statues is more important, can he?

I think it depends. If the society needs more hospitals, then it is appropriate to build more hospitals. Whether it is big, small or grand, is another issue. Similarly, if the society lacks spiritual values, in the long term, it will be better to have more temples and places of worship built. Whether the temple is big, or small or grand, its grandness, or smallness is not an issue by itself. It’s how much benefit it’s able to provide to sentient beings that will decide whether it was worth channeling the funds to it or not (i.e. if at all it can be valued, knowing that many spiritual benefits cannot be valued in a true sense).

About Kek Lok Si temple, while it may be true that it is better to have strong sangha and more faithfuls than grand temples, unfortunately the history of Buddhism in India and Pakistan/Iran had shown that grand structures sometimes do last longer than the Buddhist sasana. Generally Buddhism has disappeared from those places but statues like the giant Bamiyan Buddhas lasted much longer than the sanghas there (until recently in 2001, when the giant statues were destroyed too by the talibans). Is it better to channel the funds to aid humanity than structures like these? My answer is Yes and No. We need to have a balance of both. There is no such thing as it is forever better to contribute to building temples than funds for humanity, or vice-versa. If you are in a situation like Haiti now, where funds are needed on an urgent basis, then contributing to such funds would be more appropriate. Like I said before, it depends on the needs of the society. Funds for temples are more for long term spiritual needs. If the temple or statue does benefit its society/community in terms of supporting Buddhists who actually do practice and strive for enlightenment, or supporting its community in other spiritual ways, then it is definitely good. It is when the monks/nuns and lay-persons that the temple houses do not practice and do not benefit its local community in other spiritual sense, then yes, the funds could have been better used by channeling it to other more urgent needs.

No matter what we think of the Kek Lok Si in terms of its grandiose, we much judge it by its spiritual impact. If you notice, and as mentioned in my previous blog on Kek Lok Si, there is the six syllable mantra on the eight-sided roof of the pavilion. You can see it from below. I do believe in the power of mantras and as Ven. Master Hsuan Hua and other Tibetan masters have said, every time the wind blows on the mantra and touches a sentient being, its impact is inconceivable. We may not see its immediate effect but its karmic imprint is definitely imbedded. The grand statue itself of Kuan Yin will generate faith in many people. Penangites have much faith in Kuan Yin and she provides them with sometimes the only hope they have. You can give aid to cancer funds, but we cannot guarantee a cure and we cannot guarantee the benefits beyond this lifetime. Funds for spiritual projects, however, go a long, long way into benefitting future lives. In this degenerate times when most people do not know how to practice and do not practice, these sort of projects are about the only things that will connect them to the Buddha’s blessings in the future lives.

If not for anything else than the Kuan Yin statue and the mantra, judging by its said long term spiritual benefits to sentient beings, I would say that it is beneficial in that sense. Of course, there are critics who say that it is too much commercialism, too grand, etc but still, we must be careful not to be deceived by mere appearances. I am not trying to take sides, but just to balance out the points of view.

At the end of the day, a project whether it is a temple or hospital (or whatever else) is only beneficial if it does not turn out to be a white elephant after the project had been completed. And clearly the Kek Lok Si is not a white elephant. Some projects supposedly for the aid to humanitarian funds or hospitals could also possibly be misused or misappropriated, can't it? It's the same for temples. But millions of visitors have gone to Kek Lok Si and many more will do that in the future. These visitors include non-Buddhsits, and what better way to make a connection with Buddhism generally and Kuan Yn specifically than visiting Kek Lok Si. At least, this way is not done in a manner seen as proselytising. In this way, the temple contribute to the continuation of the Buddha sasana. Therefore, think about it in this manner.

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