Temple of the Fo Guang Shan Movement
Centre Conférence Bouddhiste
Fo Guang Shan Genève
20 bis, Chemin du Terroux
|Type of Building:||Buddhist temple («conference centre»)|
|Area:||500 m2 (building) - 2419 2 (land)|
|Building height:||6.5 m|
|Cost:||Approximately CHF 3 million|
|Architect:||Anderreg & Rinaldi, Geneva|
|Laying of the first stone:||10 January 2005|
|Construction period:||15 months|
|Inauguration:||28th June 2006|
|Religious tradition:||Zen Buddhism|
|Conception through to inauguration:||7 years|
Geneva airport railway station – no, we are not boarding a plane, but we will soon be standing on front of a Buddhist temple. For this it will be sufficient to «board» the number 10 bus towards Balexert. We get off at the stop Terroux, then cross the busy Avenue Louis Casaï. After about 10 minutes we come across a modern building to our right, with elaborate steps to the entrance and a large courtyard paved with stone slabs. Even before the wall of the enclosure, three Buddha statues indicate the character of the building.
Right and left of the building are rare ornamental trees. Bright granite figures of Buddhist novices, slightly larger than garden gnomes, romp around the building welcoming us. One of them shows us a paper scroll, proclaiming in Chinese characters: «Buddha’s light shines everywhere.» Another performs kung fu in order to practice «mindfulness» as nun Venerable Chue Yann will soon explain to us.
After a visit from the Dalai Lama to Geneva in 1999, a group of Buddhists from Japan, China, Sri Lanka and Korea approached the local authorities in search of a piece of land on which to construct a temple. A piece of land was found for which the local authorities were ready to give planning permission, but the group were unable to raise the money necessary for construction. The authorities had set a deadline for construction of 2005. In April 2004, the co-ordinators contacted the International Buddhist Promotion Society (IBPS, the umbrella organisation of the Fo Guang Shan movement). The IBPS made a significant financial contribution, enabling construction to begin. The IBPS essentially took over the plans for the modern temple project which the co-ordinators had already begun, and work began in January 2005.
As well as Hsing Yun, the Fo Guang Shan founder, more than 1,500 people came to the consecration ceremony on 23rd June 2006, including a number of important representatives from politics and religion, among them Councillor Laurent Moutinot, Arthur Plee, Mayor of Grand-Saconnex, the ambassadors of China, Thailand, Bhutan, and representatives of religious and interfaith organisations. The temple in Geneva is the newest for Fo Guang Shan in Europe. The first was built in Paris in 1991.
Venerable Chue Yann came to Geneva in April 2008, and has since headed the Geneva Conference Centre as a branch of the main Fo Guang Shan monastery in southern Taiwan. Chue Yann was born in Malaysia, and has lived in Europe since 1992. As members of the Fo Guang Shan order are regularly transferred, she had already been stationed in London, Manchester, Stockholm, and London again, before coming to Geneva. But how was it that this friendly Malaysian became a nun in southern Taiwan? «When I was in secondary school, I met Master Hsing Yun. After that I went to Taiwan to become a Fo Guang Shan nun, and studied at a Buddhist seminary there. Master Hsing Yun is very well known in Malaysia.»
The temple stands in the middle of a residential area.
Venerable Chue Yann describes relations with the neighbourhood as good, although many did not understand the purpose of the building at first. This became clear when lanterns were once hung outdoors. «Some people thought that this was the Vietnamese embassy, others wanted to reserve a table for dinner with their grandparents», says Yann Chue. «We’re still quite new here, and aren’t yet well known. We would like to work on this in the future, we want to do something so that people know we are here.» The goal is to hold an annual open house, as in Chue Yann’s experience, people are curious, but do not dare enter the temple. Alongside Buddhists from China, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan, a few Swiss neighbours come to the Sunday ceremonies. So far, there has only once been conflict in the neighbourhood: In July 2008, the walls, windows and the entrance to the temple were sprayed with Chinese political symbols and smeared, but the members of the temple would rather forget their content.
The International Buddhist Promotion Society (IBPS) currently runs about 200 temples around the world, including the temple in Geneva in Switzerland, and another in Gelfingen (Luzern). The spiritual centre of IBPS, the main monastery of Fo Guang Shan, is located in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan. Fo Guang Shan was founded in 1967 by Master Hsing Yun, who was born in 1927 in the Chinese province of Chiangsu and is the 48th patriarch of the Rinzai school of Zen. Hsing Yun’s stated goal is «to purify the human mind through Buddhist practice» and to spread Buddhism. Hsing Yun’s model of «Buddhist humanism» is all about the intergration of spiritual practice into daily life.
The Fo Guang Shan movement also undertakes charitable projects and educational programmes. This includes 16 schools belonging to the movement in South Asia, Australia, South Africe, USA and Brazil, where it has also contributed to the building of monumental temple complexes. The lay organisation Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) was established in 1991 in Los Angeles, with the self-described purpose of «combining the strengths of the monastic community and lay practitioners». The BLIA is represented in roughly 170 locations worldwide, and spreads Buddhist doctrine of «humanistic Buddhism» in local Buddhist centres and groups. The IBPS claims to have more Buddhist nuns than any other Buddhist order.
Buddha understood his teachings as «teaching the middle way»: Insight and enlightenment are to come from neither a lifestyle of pleasure and debauchery, nor one of self-torture and asceticism. One should avoid both of these extremes, and concentrate on leading an unselfish and careful life. The Buddha adopted the Indian doctrine of reincarnation and karma from the Brahmanic tradition of his time. According to this doctrine, both natural and supernatural acts are subject to the same causal law (Sanskrit, «Karma»; Pali, «Kamma»). This means that both this and the next life are conditioned by good or evil deeds, and man is caught in a «cycle of birth» (samsara). The basic conception that all that has been is transient means that there is no everlasting happiness or consistent self. Budhdist teachings, therefore, attempt to overcome the dissatisfaction (dukkha) which comes from these «misguided ideas».
«Southern Buddhism» was the result of the first split within Buddhism and spread primarily in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. This movement describes itself as «Theravada», or «teachings of the elders». Its adherents claim to pass on the teachings as they have learnt them from the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism («the great vehicle»), which came about in the first century C.E., includes most Buddhists, and today is common in China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. The form of Tibetan Buddhism known as Vajrayana Buddhism, is found in Tibet, the Himalayas, and Central Asia. A further form of Mahayana, the «Ch’an school», originated in the 6th century in China, and was established as «Zen Buddhism» in Japan in the 12th Century. The name «Zen» is derived from «Ch’an» (meditation, contemplation), and can be divided into the two main traditions of Rinzai and Soto Zen.
There are about 400 million Buddhists worldwide, of which around 1.5 million live in Europe. It should be noted, however, that an affiliation with Buddhism does not necessarily exclude simultaneously belonging to another religion. For instance, about 70% of Japanese see themselves as both observers of Shinto and Buddhist. About 25,000 Buddhists currently live in Switzerland, of which the vast majority are of foreign origin, many of whom have become citizens. It is notable that two thirds of Swiss Buddhists are women and the proportion of 20-39 year olds is higher than average.
The Geneva conference centre of the IBPS organizes various educational programmes: summer youth camp, seminars on Buddhist philosophy, Zen ceremonies and tea ceremonies, vegetarian cooking classes Chinese calligraphy, Mandarin and meditation classes. Concerts and charitable projects are also carried out.
IBPS / Fo Guang Shan Temple in Gelfingen
Text : Edwin Egeter
Photos : Edwin Egeter,
Andreas Tunger-Zanetti (Nr. 1, 4 and 7)
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Center for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 27th August 2015
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