Temple makes peace by scrapping Buddha

By ROBERT MATAS, The Globe and Mail, October 21, 2005

Richmond, CA (USA) -- Taiwan-based Lingyen Mountain Temple has scrapped its plans to build one of the world's largest Buddhas in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond following an outcry over the height of the temple and crowds the landmark was expected to attract.

"We will be starting from the beginning and redesigning our proposed expansion, based on the good planning principles recommended by city staff and council," Mei Hua Kuo, a temple director, stated in a letter to the Richmond planning department a few weeks before a public hearing on the proposed temple.

"It's back to the drawing board," temple spokesman Terry Wen said yesterday in an interview. "We feel a bit excited, because this gives us a chance to have a fresh look at our project."

The colossal temple was expected to attract international attention as an architectural work of art that embodied thousands of years of Oriental history, culture, religion, philosophy and art.

A gold-leaf Buddha, rising about 10 storeys, was designed to sit on a lotus leaf in a temple hall 14 storeys high. The temple would have been similar in height to Richmond city hall and high-rises in the city centre.

The 15-metre-high roof was to be designed to reflect the social ethics of China. A promotional pamphlet for the temple stated that the higher class of the structure, the more extensive its roof should be, and the more extensive the roof, the more grand the whole building.

However, the height of the temple was four times the limit permitted on the site and two to three times the height of other religious structures on the street. The temple would have been next to the group's current facility on No. 5 Road, which is known locally as the Highway to Heaven. More than 10 temples, mosques and churches are next to one another along the road.

Carol Day, who organized petitions against the temple, said yesterday she was pleased that the Buddhist leaders withdrew their application for a variance in city zoning.

"It was absolutely too much for the area," she said. Ms. Day anticipated the project would cause serious parking and traffic problems. She was particularly concerned about the height of the temple.

"They proposed a beautiful building. But if they want to build a landmark building, they should do it on 50 acres in Langley or somewhere else," she said.

Ms. Day said she had heard privately from members of other religious institutions who were concerned that the grandiose temple would overshadow its neighbours.

They were hesitant to speak out publicly because they did not want their comments to be misconstrued. But they suggested the mammoth structure could spark competition among the religions.

"If we say one group can have 160 feet [48 metres], then other groups will say they want 160," she said.

Ms. Day acknowledged that she was occasionally uncomfortable campaigning against a religious group that promotes compassion and kindness.

"They are wonderful people. I went to the temple and they were very gracious and hospitable. I could not say enough nice things about the people," she said.

"I told them, thank you for your kindness, but it is just too big."

At the temple yesterday, the decision to abandon the plans had a mixed reception.

"It's disappointing," Thomas Chan, 40, said in an interview, adding that "bigger is better."

It would have been an interesting landmark for tourists, he said. The oversized temple would also mean more for the religion, he added. "People are always against things here," Mr. Chan said.

Chu Lo was more concerned about what went on inside the building. The temple is a place for people to find peace, regardless of its size, he said.

"The religion is not just a big building," Mr. Lo said. "People should not be so concerned about material things."