Mixed Plate: Monastic life in Taiwan’s Hushan Temple

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Taiwan’s religious diversity has deep roots in Chinese culture and Taoism.

More than a third of residents are Buddhist, some of whom choose the monastic life.

High in the hills of Yunlin County, on 40 acres of forest, stands Hushan Temple.

Many monasteries are quiet sanctuaries, but not this one.

“The person who is standing is the challenger. The person sitting is the defender. Like a test, the defender is the one being tested,” explained monk Xing Jiunn. “In this type of debate, the challenger will present questions in the five great treaties. If you look at the challenger, when he raises his right hand, the right represents skill and means, and the left, pushing forth represents victory over afflictions.”

The novice monks go at each other for about 15 minutes, then reverse positions. The language of the debate is Tibetan, which each student must learn to speak fluently before being ordained as a full monk.

Our guide was known as Samson Huang in his hometown of Los Angeles. Here, he is Xing Jiunn, one of many novices who have given up the material life of the west for a future of humanitarian service through Tibetan Buddhism.

In ancient times, Buddhist monks would live on the scraps dropped into their begging bowls.

So it is today. All of the food the monks eat is donated.

“During the meal, you try to prevent your greed or head trip. If somebody get what you like, you have to watch your mind and motivation and try to purify,” said Venerable Shi Zu Wei, Bliss and Wisdom Foundation.

The practice of prostration, it is believed, can eliminate physical and mental blocks to spiritual progress.

The novices perform up to 500 a day, each seeking balance and inner peace through the teachings of Buddha.

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