Hsi Lai Temple – the Biggest Buddhist Temple in America


Located in Hacienda Heights, a lovely area in LA California, Hsi Lai Temple is one of the largest monasteries in the entire U.S. This mountain temple sits atop the northern Puente Hills, and the literal translation of its name is “Coming West”. The monastery belongs to a young Buddhist order from Taiwan that goes under the name Fo Guang Shan that emphasizes connection and unity.  If you never heard of Hsi Lai before, make sure you stick around, as you will find its story pretty interesting. 

History of the Temple

Aaron Logan [CC BY 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)]

Let’s start with the name first or its translation coming West. Basically, the temple was established with a purpose of sharing Buddhist teachings with western culture and thus it was named Hsi Lai. Fo Guang Shan order that owns the temple was established back in 1967, and its name stands for “Buddha’s Light Mountain”, and that monastery is actually the largest structure in Taiwan spreading across 600 acres. The orders teachings combine the power of self with the power of land or “other-power”. Basically, the realization of true potential comes only when you connect with fellow humans and surroundings, so it emphasizes the power of unity.  

The governing philosophy of the order is Humanistic Buddhism, and it empowers people to integrate empathy, kindness, equanimity, and positivity into everyday lives, as these were some of the basic lessons passed down from Buddha. There are numerous Fo Guang Shan temples all over the world, and the one in LA was finished back in 1988.     

The temple was established in order to provide education for future Buddhist missionaries, use cultural activities to promote Buddhism and to organize charity events that benefit the society. Additionally, the temple serves as the area’s Chinese cultural center. 

Explore the Hsi Lai Temple

The temple’s design corresponds to the Chinese architecture used for Ming and Ching dynasty, it spreads across 15 acres and consists of temple buildings, statuary, and gardens. Some of the buildings that you should definitely visit are the tea room, the shrine building, the museum, and the classroom. You can also go to the gift shop for souvenirs, and if you get hungry there is a vegetarian cafeteria. Since it is a big temple you can just get a map from their website and make sure you do not get lost while in the complex. 

By Aaron Logan [CC BY 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)]

Temple’s focal point is definitely the main shrine building as it to the historical Buddha called Shakyamuni. You will see that there are 3 statues of Buddha in front of the shrine, and Shakyamuni statues are in the center.

The monastery is more than a tourist attraction as it houses monks and nuns who provide different classes, organize events, and lectures, in order to spread Buddha’s teachings. You can also participate in a workshop that pertains to Chinese language and culture, and you also get to see weekly prayer service along with the meditation sessions.  

The temple beckons visitors from all across the globe and in order to accommodate a high influx of guests they offer audio guided tours that you can pick up in the Information Center. The tours consist of 15+ people groups, so if you are coming over with friends and family make sure you book the same tour. As mentioned, you can visit the cafeteria where you can enjoy both Chinese and Taiwanese vegetarian cuisine, so don’t worry if you get hungry.    

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