Hacienda Heights, California
The Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights is the oldest operating Buddhist Temple in the United States, as well as the largest and arguably the most beautiful in the Western Hemisphere. Modeled entirely on traditional Buddhist architecture, the massive complex looks as though it could have easily been lifted straight out of China or Taiwan and dropped off in Southern California. The Temple, which includes magnificent halls, serene gardens, shrines and a monastery, is also the headquarters of Fo Guang Shan Buddhism in the United States.
Fo Guang Shan is one of the great traditional branches of Buddhism, though its current incarnation only dates back to the mid-20th century. Founded in 1967 in Taiwan, it became a refuge for Buddhist monks and other devotees outside of mainland, Communist China. Its main Temple is now the largest Buddhist shrine in Taiwan and one of the largest in the world.
In 1976, the head of the order, Master Hsing Yun, traveled to the United States in honor of the Bicentenial celebration. There, at the behest of friends, he decided to establish a new temple, the first on the far side of the Pacific. An initial building, the White Pagoda, was established as a temporary shrine and headquarters.
After searching for a suitable site, and facing initial negative reaction to the project, the Buddhists settled on a magnificent site in the Hacienda Hills overlooking Los Angeles. The Temple, a sprawling structure, was completed in just a few years. After initial doubts, the public embraced the Temple as an architectural masterpiece and important local site.
The Hsi Lai Temple has since become a beloved landmark of the area. It quickly became not only the most important Buddhist site in the United States but one of the most important in the world outside of the Far East. In 2011 it was featured as the starting site for the Amazing Race. Buddhists from all over America now travel to the shrine annually for its many important Buddhist ceremonies.
The Hsi Lai Temple is, simply put, one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the United States. Its Ming/Qing architecture is about the finest example of such construction in the Americas. The magnificent buildings aside, the most striking feature of the Temple exterior are its phenomenal gardens, which are a refreshing oasis from the chaos of nearby Los Angeles.
The Temple consists of several major shrines, including the Bodhisattva (honoring various Bodhisattvas), the Requiem Pagoda (honoring the dead), the Meditation Hall for studying, and the Main Shrine, which features a vast collection of statues, prayer neaches and artwork.
The Hsi Lai Temple is located on a the north slope of the La Habra Heights about a mile south of Hacienda Heights and about fifteen miles east of downtown Los Angeles. It is open daily from 9:00am-5:00pm. There is no cost of admission, but voluntary donations are encouraged. Web: www.hsilai.org (official website).
As the main center of Chinese Buddhism in the United States, Southern California is home to several other sites of related interest. Among these is the White Pagoda, the original temple in the United States, located in Maywood. Also nearby in Rosemead is the Buddhist Hsi Lai University.