I was studying at a Taoist Christian retreat center in the Chinese New Territories in the mountains above Hong Kong. I was well ahead of my reading schedule on Chinese Taoism, and had a day free, so made my way down to Sha Tin New Town to visit the 10,000 Buddhas monastery. This had been a prominent Chinese Buddhist monastery before the Chinese government closed it in the late 1960’s, and sent the Buddhist monks to work camps, but had reopened more it a few years ago as a tourist destination. As you make your way through a working class neighborhood just behind the Sha Tin train station you begin to ascend a mountain that is just beyond the Tao Fung Shan Mountain where I have been staying for the month of February 2012. Ten thousand is a traditional Chinese phrase for saying too many to count, what we might call overwhelming numbers, and so this overwhelming display of Buddha statues is meant to be a spiritual exercise for those who are on the Buddhist Taoist Christian Way.
As I begin my ascent up the mountain there are continuous rows of golden Buddha statues on both sides of my path. Most are middle aged, or of indeterminate age, but a few look ancient, and some are quite young looking, including some of whom look like children. Most are male but some are female. Most look Chinese, but some look East-Asian (from India), a few look western, and even one or two as if from Africa. Most are quite bald but some have abundant hair including facial hair (beards or mustaches).
Most are posed alone but some are clearly in relation to others forming pairs or small groups. Most look well fed, though some are emaciated and others look positively rotund. Many of the Buddha statues representing men from India have the traditional third eye in their forehead of an enlightened Buddha as well as the Aryan dynamic cross on their chest (a symbol that has ceased to be acceptable in the west after the Nazi’s declared themselves Aryans and chose the Aryan cross as their symbol during WWII).
As I make my way further up the mountain some of the symbols become more Chinese and less traditional Buddhist. The eight Taoist immortals figure prominently. The sixty enlightened figures of the Chinese zodiac are there in their places. Buddhas are shown riding horses, dragons, deer, fish, and any manner of different creatures. There are whole rows of statues of Buddha’s mother, the mother of God, recognizable by her Buddha crown, to greet my journey. At one of the uppermost pagodas is what looks like an Aramaic long haired bearded Jesus Buddha. Chinese religion is creating a synergistic faith that welcomes all. This makes my day as I find my way back down the mountain to further explore Taoism.