Richmond Buddhist temple a delight

By Michael McCarthy, Vancouver Courier, February 21, 2009

Richmond, BC (Canada) -- When in Rome, do as the Romans do and visit the Vatican. In Europe, the churches of Spain and France can be a visual delight. When in Asia, it's the pagodas and temples like Angkor Wat that draw crowds interested in history, archeology and architecture.

<< Visitors to the International Buddhist Temple on Steveston Highway near Richmond B.C. admire the compassionate Ten-Thousand-Hand-Ten-Thousand Eye Avalokitesvara Bodhisatta statue.
Photograph by: Sam Leung, Canwest News Service

Hindu shrines like Varanasi and Rishikesh in India draw huge crowds of spiritual seekers. But you don't have to travel the world to seek out great architecture in a spiritual setting. Check out the International Buddhist Temple on Steveston Highway in Richmond, B.C. (before you get to the famous fishing piers and restaurants at the touristy wharf) and you'll feel that you've gone on a trip to a faraway land.

Maybe because it's hidden behind high walls in lower Richmond, hard to find and well off the regular tourist path, but the International Temple may be the Lower Mainland's best-kept secret. While throngs of local tourists and out-of-town visitors trudge off to the Capilano Canyon and Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, no local attraction comes close to the serenity and grandeur of the Buddhist temple. No figures are available, but the cost of the construction and endless maintenance of this jewel must be astronomical.

Known as the Guan-Yin Temple, the buildings and grounds opened in 1983 for local Buddhists to study and practise Chinese Mahayana Buddhism. Modelled after the Forbidden City in Beijing, the temple features Chinese imperial architecture, intricate stonework and symbolic carvings. The tranquil grounds were built to resemble a scholar's courtyard in ancient China. Inside, the artistic interior of the temple is filled with the finest of Chinese painting, calligraphy, sculpture and carpentry, majestic Buddha statues, exquisite shrines and spectacular ceramic murals.

The overall design is a unique combination of eastern palatial construction with its porcelain roof tiles and flaring eaves mixed with western technology (concrete columns and steel frames). The traditional Buddhist structures generally follow Northern Imperial style emphasizing the imperial colour yellow. Elaborate renderings of Chinese dragons symbolizing the imperial regime can be found on the roofs, beams and pillars. The roofs are two-tiered with traditional flared eaves, and covered with a sea of golden yellow porcelain tiles.

The temple is also home to hundreds of Buddhist paintings and calligraphy, including that of master artist Fung Kai Mun, who spent two years painting the "Seven Buddha Mural" the largest Buddhist Mural in the world. Statues of Buddha in various manifestations can be found throughout the grounds, including one in the temple's Main Gracious Hall that is 35 feet tall, the largest Buddha statue in North America.

As visually impressive as all the art and architecture may be, the serene grounds may be even more alluring, adorned with pine and spruce trees, elegant bonsai and intricate flower arrangements. Trees of assorted shapes and sizes are artistically pruned to reflect traditional Chinese gardening. Intricate gazebos, rock landscapes, and elegant lotus ponds enhance the overall sense of serenity.

Entrance to the vast grounds is free from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. The vegetarian cafeteria is open from 12:30 to 3:30. A quick visit to the International Buddhist temple is like a trip to northern China without the cost and time involved in flying overseas. Those who enjoy art and architecture or who'd like to acquire some peace of mind in the midst of a global economic meltdown are well advised to wander down to Richmond in their spare time. Parking is free, too.

The temple is at 9160 Steveston Hwy. Call 604-274-2822
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