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Fo Guang Shan

Summary and Keywords

Fo Guang Shan is a transnational Buddhist organization that rose to prominence in the late 20th century. Founded in 1967 by the charismatic monk Hsing Yun, who remains the face of the organization, Fo Guang Shan’s main temple and headquarters are in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The temple has become a major tourist attraction that welcomes millions of visitors annually. Starting in the 1980s, Fo Guang Shan began building other large branch temples around the world, the first of which is Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California. Hsi Lai Temple, like the main Fo Guang Shan campus, has become a popular tourist destination. Fo Guang Shan, Hsi Lai Temple, and the other branches serve their communities with regular services, retreats, festivals, and youth programming that promote Buddhism as well as traditional Chinese culture. The rise of Fo Guang Shan and other Buddhist organizations in Taiwan occurred alongside the economic rise of Taiwan and its citizens. As it continued to grow, the organization developed its own schools and universities, a television station, and a publishing house in order to further spread the teachings of the Buddha.

Keywords: Fo Guang Shan, Hsing Yun, Hsi Lai Temple, Taiwan, humanistic Buddhism, Buddha’s Light International Association

The Structure of Fo Guang Shan

Starting in the late 1960s, Fo Guang Shan 佛光山‎ has grown into one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the world. Buddha’s Light International Association 國際佛光會‎ (BLIA), the lay and monastic membership of Fo Guang Shan, supports over 200 Fo Guang Shan affiliate branches around the world. BLIA is headquartered in Hacienda Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles, in the Hsi Lai Temple 西来寺‎, the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in North America. Master Hsing Yun 星云大师‎ (b. 1927; Pinyin: Xingyun) founded Fo Guang Shan in 1967 and has overseen its rise in Taiwan and around the world. This section includes an overview of the structure of Fo Guang Shan and BLIA.

Institutional Structure of Fo Guang Shan

Fo Guang Shan is headquartered at its main monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Hsing Yun has lived at the monastery since its construction, and served as the head abbot, the de facto president of the organization until 1985. Four head abbots, all males, have followed Hsing Yun, each serving around a decade. The current head abbot is Hsin Bao 心保‎, who took over in 2013. Although each of the subsequent head abbots have been popular teachers and leaders, none have been able to match the venerated status of Hsing Yun, who remains the face and heart of Fo Guang Shan.

Unfortunately, most research on the institutional structure of Fo Guang Shan is quite dated, as it appeared in the early 2000s. Stuart Chandler provides a detailed examination of the 1997 election for the Religious Affairs Committee (RAC), the ultimate governing body of Fo Guang Shan.1 The Committee is made up of nine members, usually highly respected senior monastics, who are responsible for policymaking for the institution. Another major RAC responsibility is the election of the committee chair, who also serves as the head abbot of Fo Guang Shan.2 Hsing Yun sees two benefits to the RAC elections: however, Fo Guang Shan gets to demonstrate that it is an advocate for and practitioner of democracy, an especially important value for Hsing Yun and, on the other, it is clear that Hsing Yun heavily influenced the RAC elections, giving strong hints to voters about his preferred candidates.3 Due to Hsing Yun’s advanced age, poor health, and the fact that no other Fo Guang Shan leader has emerged to take his position, it is likely that the RAC election process has become more democratic. The second reason that Hsing Yun espoused the democratic election for the RAC is so that the institution would remain up to date with the times as younger candidates were elected to the committee.

Research on Fo Guang Shan often points out that females dominantly outnumber males, both in total monastics and lay members. In a somewhat dated chapter on Fo Guang Shan, André Laliberté notes that the monastic community includes 1,000 nuns to only 300 monks.4 A more recent article goes even further in its claim that about 90 percent of Fo Guang Shan monastics are female, and also indicates that it is likely that women lay members outnumber men.5 Thus, it is no surprise that nuns do serve on the RAC and other positions of power (i.e., administrative and management roles) within the organization; however, no woman has ever served as the head abbot of Fo Guang Shan. At the same time, Fo Guang Shan has removed many of the traditional patriarchal monastic codes for nuns (e.g., nuns do not have to bow to monks of equal rank), and Hsing Yun has supported and promoted many nuns throughout his tenure with Fo Guang Shan.6 Nevertheless, it remains notable that the RAC has never elected a female head abbot, especially given the first female president of the Republic of China, Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文‎, was elected in 2016.

Buddha’s Light International Association

Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) is Fo Guang Shan’s voluntary lay organization. BLIA gives lay members opportunities to serve alongside Fo Guang Shan monastics, and helps decide and plan the future programs and services Fo Guang Shan offers. Hsing Yun founded BLIA in 1992, and three years later claimed that the membership had reached one million members.7 More recent estimates have suggested around six million members within the total Fo Guang Shan community.8 BLIA is currently headquartered at Hsi Lai Temple, and there are more than 200 chapters around the world.9 The United Nations officially recognized BLIA as a non-governmental organization in 2003.

Although BLIA is intended as a lay organization, it is common that Fo Guang Shan monastics serve in positions of power. According to at least one BLIA member who is officially recognized as a “Dharma Teacher” (i.e., allowed to give sermons at Fo Guang Shan temples), lay members clearly remain subordinate to monastics within the organization.10 However, when looking at the members of the sixteen standing committees, it appears that lay members are very active participants.11 There are thirty-three lay members on the sixteen different standing committees to just nine monastics. Including lay and monastics, there are twenty-seven women and fifteen men serving on the committees which range in topics from social charity, scholarship, and international outreach, to committees on the arts, children’s education, and BLIA Scouts (a similar organization to the Boy Scouts of America). The organization holds an annual World Congress, and over 2,000 BLIA members attended in 2018 from nearly a hundred countries.12

Fo Guang Shan and BLIA are quick to advertise their global membership, but it is likely that far majority of BLIA members are located in Taiwan.13 Because BLIA has not released any exact numbers, it is hard to determine exact totals and demographics of their members, but it is assumed that the largest BLIA chapter outside Taiwan is in Los Angeles and based out of Hsi Lai. That region accounts for twenty-three sub-chapters totaling around 1,800 BLIA members, the majority of which are Taiwanese Americans.14

According to the January 2019 BLIA Bulletin, worldwide entry fees for BLIA members are standardized at US$20, which includes a membership card and member handbook.15 Each chapter determines their own annual dues, however, based on their own financial contexts. There are many FAQ pages for various BLIA chapters online, and all promote the BLIA mission to globalize the Dharma, practice humaneness and compassion, and increase members’ wisdom of Buddhist teachings. In addition, BLIA members receive privileges including special functions or rituals for birthdays, funerals, and weddings, and they may apply to reside on the main Fo Guang Shan campus to volunteer, or apply for financial aid during periods of hardship.16

Fo Guang Shan Properties

Fo Guang Shan boasts an impressive global network of temples and properties that places it among the largest Buddhist organizations in the world. There are over 200 temples, education centers, hostels, and monastic retreats around the globe in the Fo Guang Shan network. The organization is represented on every continent save Antarctica. The headquarters remain the main Fo Guang Shan campus in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where leaders and the rest of the community regularly return for meetings, conferences, and retreats. This section will take a closer look at the main campus of Fo Guang Shan and its first chief temple in North America, Hsi Lai Temple.

Fo Guang Shan Main Campus

Fo Guang Shan monastery is a sprawling property that features a wide array of religious buildings and offices providing services to support the monastery’s humanistic missions. The monastery sponsors or operates schools, lodges and dormitories, retirement communities, columbariums, medical clinics, and more both on and off its main campus. However, given its status as a working monastery, the majority of buildings are dedicated to facilitating the Fo Guang Shan monastics or hosting guests on retreat. Hsing Yun’s own personal residence and office are also on the main campus. The main monastery began construction in 1967 in a rural area outside Kaohsiung, near where Hsing Yun had been working since his move to Taiwan. The land (originally close to seventy-five acres) he purchased for the project was completely undeveloped, and its hilly, densely overgrown landscape made the construction doubly difficult. In the fifty-plus years since then, the main campus of Fo Guang Shan has seen continual development to house its thousands of monastics and entertain its millions of visitors.

The main campus features several attractions to welcome visitors. Hsing Yun wants guests to experience the grounds as if they were a pure land on earth. Among its many shrines featuring a number of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, the most notable for many tourists is the Great Buddha Land (Dafo cheng 大佛城‎). Four hundred and eighty life-size Buddha statues surround a 130-foot statue of a golden Amitabha. The statue faces the main highway leading to Fo Guang Shan and welcomes guests and blesses them as they travel past the monastery. It was completed in 1975, and was the largest standing Amitabha statue in the world at that time, though it has since been surpassed. Nevertheless, the statue was a central tourist attraction for Fo Guang Shan and Taiwan for decades. Like many notable Buddha icons, the statue features in several miraculous tales that demonstrate its auspiciousness. The Pure Land Cave (jingtu dongku淨土洞窟‎) is another long-lasting tourist attraction that has welcomed and entertained guests since its opening in 1981. The human-made “cave” treats guests to a show in which Buddhas and bodhisattvas welcome them to Amitabha’s Pure Land, and illustrates the blessings they will receive upon their rebirth there. It is said that Hsing Yun’s experience of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride inspired the attraction, which mimics its campy appeal.17

Although the Fo Guang Shan main campus became a tourist destination that brought development and tourist income into the region, the monastery and local area have not always had a positive relationship. Local residents have claimed that Fo Guang Shan is not as generous as they should be, while Fo Guang Shan has criticized residents for not being grateful for the services they provide to the area.18 These tense relations came to a head in 1997 when Hsing Yun decided to close the monastery to outside guests. This decision was at least in part a result of the failed presidential campaign of Chen Lüan 陳履安‎, an outsider candidate that Fo Guang Shan openly supported. The organization’s support rankled many Taiwanese, and Fo Guang Shan faced significant backlash after the 1996 election.19 In addition, the shuttering of the monastery reminded both the public and the Fo Guang Shan monastics that the grounds were first and foremost a working monastery, perhaps a message that had been forgotten or made secondary in the three decades it had been welcoming tourists and local residents. Fo Guang Shan slowly reopened to the public three years later in 2000, when it claims Taiwan’s then president, Chen Shui-bian 陳水扁‎, on behalf of Taiwan’s citizens, requested the monastery to reopen.20 It was likely during this time that Hsing Yun began to envision a separate space that would allow the monastery to thrive while also welcoming tourists.

In 1998, a group of exiled Tibetan Buddhists gave Hsing Yun a tooth relic of the Buddha in thanks and celebration of Fo Guang Shan’s efforts to spread the dharma. A series of massive celebrations welcomed the tooth relic to Taiwan and raised the profile of Hsing Yun and Fo Guang Shan even higher. Irritated by the connection of Taiwan and the Tibetan Buddhists, Chinese authorities tried to undermine the authenticity of the relic. In response, Fo Guang Shan disassociated the gift from any connection with the Dalai Lama.21 Undaunted, Hsing Yun wanted to create a special place to house the relic, and initially considered constructing a large stupa in Yilan County.22 It was ultimately decided to build a large museum and tourist center directly behind the main campus of Fo Guang Shan. The groundbreaking took place in 2003 and the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum opened fully in 2011. Since then, a major tourism campaign has directed guests to the museum, allowing the monastery more space to operate, though guests may still visit the grounds. According to the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan, over 7.4 million people visited the Fo Guang Shan main campus in 2017, significantly more than any other Buddhist site in Taiwan.23 Despite over fifty years of existence, Fo Guang Shan remains a top tourist destination.

In true Fo Guang Shan fashion, the Buddha Museum is much more than a standard museum. In addition to housing the tooth relic and other Buddhist artifacts in its main hall, there are eight large pagodas on the grounds that lead guests toward the Fo Guang Big Buddha (foguang dafo 佛光大佛‎). The bronze Gautama Buddha sits on a lotus throne, and at over 350 feet, it easily surpasses the height of the original Amitabha statue on the main campus. There are also forty-eight “underground palaces” that Hsing Yun has envisioned as time capsules that store religious and culture relics. Guests can peruse the grounds and relax at one of the teahouses and pavilions all while learning about Buddhism. In a Taiwan Today feature on the museum’s inauguration, Miao Kai 妙開‎, a notable master in the Fo Guang Shan community, suggests “Visiting the center is the equivalent of reading a book on Buddhism and its development.”24

The main campus in Kaohsiung is the heartbeat of Fo Guang Shan. The majority of its monastic population reside on the main campus, and many within its global community were trained there or visit regularly. The material resources that Fo Guang Shan has poured into its development are evident to any visitor. As Hsing Yun and Fo Guang Shan rapidly expanded in the latter half of the 20th century, however, a global ambition to spread the dharma emerged. Hsing Yun began to envision a truly transnational Fo Guang Shan that not only served the Chinese diaspora around the world, but also served and welcomed all humans.

Hsi Lai Temple

Hsing Yun first came to the United States as it celebrated its bicentennial in 1976. While spending time in California, Chinese immigrants who had settled in the area requested that he build a Fo Guang Shan branch there. Although initially reluctant, Hsing Yun decided to move forward and selected a group of monastics to search for property. They eventually purchased a church as the first meeting place for the California Fo Guang Shan community. Shortly after, however, Fo Guang Shan purchased fourteen acres in Hacienda Heights, an eastern suburb of Los Angeles.

As the land was cleared, and architects began to process Hsing Yun’s vision for the temple, the project gained attention in the local community. After the locals expressed concern about the project, the local government held a number of public hearings and negotiations to allow representatives for the temple to answer questions and introduce themselves to the community. Local concerns about the project mostly stemmed from xenophobic fears about a foreign Buddhist community building a temple in a traditional Chinese architectural style. The home of one Hsi Lai nun was firebombed within a year of the temple’s opening in 1988.25

During temple construction, the growing Hsi Lai community tried to maintain a low profile in the community with the exception of a public relations campaign that sought to win over the locals. Hsing Yun went to work on a charm offensive that targeted local, state, and national political leaders. He was successful in this endeavor as he was welcomed to perform purifying rituals at the opening of the December 1988 California legislature session, and President Reagan sent representatives to official opening of Hsi Lai Temple that same year. Hsing Yun’s contacts with national political leaders came into the spotlight after Hsi Lai Temple hosted a fundraiser for Al Gore while he was running for president in 1996. What Hsing Yun viewed as politics as usual based on his experiences in Taiwan came under intense scrutiny in the United States. Due to Hsi Lai’s status as a tax-exempt religious organization, the fundraiser was deemed to have violated campaign finance laws. Moreover, an investigation performed by the United States Department of Justice debated whether the People’s Republic of China was trying to influence US elections through events like the Hsi Lai fundraiser, which was ultimately inconclusive. Hsing Yun, Hsi Lai Temple, and Al Gore all denied any wrongdoing. The story received widespread media attention, and still emerges as a top result on internet searches for “Hsi Lai Temple.”

The construction of the temple reportedly cost USD 30 Million. The design of the temple emulated Fo Guang Shan’s classic Chinese architectural style. Although some locals remained suspicious of the temple after its opening, it soon became a tourist attraction that economically benefited the area, not unlike the original Fo Guang Shan temple in Kaohsiung. The temple remains among the largest Buddhist temples in North America, and welcomes hundreds of thousands visitors annually. Like Fo Guang Shan, Hsi Lai Temple has many points of interest. Its notable gateway welcomes visitors as they enter the property. The Arhat and Avalokitesvara Gardens are reminiscent of the Great Buddha Land and Pure Land Cave on the Fo Guang Shan campus. There are also similar shrines, halls, meditation centers, and teahouses on the property.

Hsi Lai, which translates as “Coming [to the] West” has succeeded in bringing Hsing Yun’s humanistic Buddhism to North America. In addition to Hsi Lai, there are more than twenty other branches of Fo Guang Shan in North America. As of 2019, Hsi Lai Temple claims it has around 12,000 members and the temple offers a variety of programming to accommodate its membership.26 Like temples throughout Asia, Hsi Lai is busiest during the Lunar New Year, when families visit en masse to participate in the numerous services the temple hosts. According to the temple, over 230,000 guests visit Hsi Lai each year. Although temple visitors come from all backgrounds, the majority of the members are first generation immigrants who speak Mandarin.27 One Hsi Lai official estimated that 90 percent of their members speak Chinese, indicating that the temple is largely supported by the robust Asian-American community in Hacienda Heights and the surrounding area.28

Increasingly, Fo Guang Shan branch temples like Hsi Lai are growing more diverse than the temples in Taiwan. Although the majority of these branch temples are Taiwanese, increasingly emigrants from other nations are joining Fo Guang Shan. Chinese from the People’s Republic of China are the second-largest group of members at Hsi Lai, and their numbers continue to rise in other Fo Guang Shan branches.29 The rise of PRC Chinese membership might be a result of Hsing Yun’s friendly affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party and controversial statements that seem to suggest reunification of Taiwan and China. Despite the political tension between Taiwan and China, these diaspora communities choose to put aside those differences in the temple setting.

Lay members of Hsi Lai participate in the community through social community outreach programs and volunteering at the temple. Many of the largest services and rituals happen during weekends, and around a hundred volunteers help operate the temple, suggesting a strong base of relatively affluent members. Many of these members appreciate the “orthodoxy” of Fo Guang Shan temples in contrast to folk religious practices that both the early Kuomintang (KMT) and Communist Party of China (CPC) often labeled as superstition.30

Fo Guang Shan has emulated the success of Hsi Lai Temple on other continents. Two other notable chief temples that serve as the continental headquarters for Fo Guang Shan and their affiliated BLIA groups are Nan Tien Temple 南天寺‎ in Wollongong, Australia, and Nan Hua Temple 南華寺‎ in Bronkhorstspruit, South Africa, which features more lay members from China than Taiwan.31 Nan Tien opened in 1995 and Nan Hua opened a decade later. Like Hsi Lai Temple, the construction costs for these temples were well into the tens of millions of dollars. Their locations—just outside major destination cities—and traditional Chinese architectural designs have ensured their status as tourist landmarks that attract large crowds. These temples, including Hsi Lai, enjoy strong reputations on online tourism sites like Tripadvisor that encourages and perpetuates more tourism.

Education Endeavors and Technology

Education, technology, and entertainment are three main methods that Fo Guang Shan has focused on in order to expand their reach in Taiwan and abroad. It is no coincidence that Fo Guang Shan uses these methods: many of Hsing Yun’s early jobs on the mainland and in Taiwan positioned him in schools as an educator or administrator. He was also among the first monastics to accept and use many of the emerging technologies during his lifetime. As a result, educational facilities and media outlets make up a significant portion of the Fo Guang Shan empire.


Fo Guang Shan supports or operates educational facilities at every level of education, from primary to graduate studies. Many of its primary schools are located in Taiwan, though it is also common for the chief temples to be affiliated with a primary school that offers elementary through high school education. For example, Buddha’s Light Hsi Lai High School is an affiliate of Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights. Although these schools have secular curricula, many of the schools supplement it with afterschool programs that focus on traditional Chinese and Buddhist culture. Even where there are no Fo Guang Shan affiliated schools, branch temples often offer these afterschool services or youth groups that are attractive to Chinese immigrants in that community who want their children to be exposed to their ancestral cultures. It is also common for schools and temples to host traditional Chinese festivals and summer camps that attract the local community and encourages them to support additional temple and school programming.

Hsi Lai University, Fo Guang Shan’s first university, opened in 1990, just a few years after the opening of Hsi Lai Temple. In 2004, its name was changed to the University of the West. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges granted the university accreditation in 2006. The university campus eventually settled in Rosemead, California, nearby Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, where its first courses were held. Hsing Yun served as president of the university for several years after its opening, before eventually passing on the title to traditionally qualified candidates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the enrollment for the college is often below 500 students, and a significant number of those students are Fo Guang Shan monastics seeking to gain an education.32 Two reports published by the University of the West indicate that the graduate student population outnumbers the undergraduate population, and that over 70 percent of graduate students are of Asian ethnicity.33

University of the West is part of the Fo Guang Shan University Consortium which is the collective body of all Fo Guang Shan institutions of higher learning. The Consortium consists of four other colleges in addition to University of the West: Fo Guang University in Yilan County in northern Taiwan, Nan Hua University in Chiayi County in central Taiwan, Guan Ming College in Manila of The Philippines, and Nan Tien Graduate Institute in Wollongong, Australia. Like University of the West, the Nan Tien Graduate Institute is affiliated with the chief temple in the Oceania region. Guan Ming College opened in 2014 and offers free tuition to students who want to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Studies or a Bachelor of Performing Arts in Dance or Theater. Despite being the eponymous university, Fo Guang University opened in 2000, four years after Nan Hua University in 1996. Nan Hua’s enrollment—reportedly around 5,500 students—outpaces FGU by close to 2,000 students, and accordingly offers more degrees to its larger student body.34

Fo Guang Shan also operates a number of monastic academies for monastics who want serious training and preparation for joining the Fo Guang Shan Monastic community and rising up its monastic ranks. Like monastic life, these academies separate monks and nuns. In addition to their highly organized and demanding monastic education, academy students often have chores around campus or the affiliated temples and monasteries. As a result, attrition is somewhat common, the quality of the education is sometimes questioned, and critics have suggested that the academies exploit student labor.35

Entertainment and Technology

Hsing Yun and many of the branch temples of Fo Guang Shan have a significant presence on the internet and various social media platforms. Even a cursory review of the online posts of these institutions would reveal that there are a number of entertaining festivals and shows that the local community hosts in order to bring in both members and visitors. Throughout Fo Guang Shan history, Hsing Yun has often combined entertainment with the latest technologies in order to propagate the dharma and increase membership.

Fo Guang Shan owns and operates a media empire that instantly connects its global membership. Even before the rise of digital and instant media, Hsing Yun was an early adopter of media platforms in order to spread his message. He frequently appeared on radio programs during his early days in Taiwan. In addition to his radio presence, he was a prolific author. From 1994 to 2013, he commonly authored multiple books each year, several of these books have been translated into multiple languages to serve Fo Guang Shan’s global community. Fo Guang Shan’s own publishing houses release these books, often run out of the major temples. Hsi Lai Temple hosts Buddha’s Light Publications in the United States, which produces Fo Guang Shan literature in English. Buddhist reference works including encyclopedias and dictionaries are published regularly. Hsing Yun has launched a number of periodicals as well. Universal Gate (pumen 普门‎) began in 1980 and features scholarly work about Buddhism. The Merit Times (renjian fubao 人間福報‎) is a daily newspaper that updates Fo Guang Shan members on the most recent happenings around the global community. Several different kinds of literature are featured in the Fo Guang Publishing House offerings from scholarly translations and commentaries of Buddhist scriptures to comic books and children’s literature.

Fo Guang Shan’s media output is not limited to print media, however. Hsing Yun began Buddha’s Light TV in 1997, a station dedicated to propagating the dharma to its television audience. The station was renamed Beautiful Live TV (renjian weishi人間衛視‎) in 2002. The programming consists of uplifting news programming, recordings of dharma talks, and even features a digitally-animated child monk (who strongly resembles Hsing Yun) cartoon to entertain its younger viewers. Although the station only airs in Taiwan, it is increasingly available due to satellite and internet capability. Much of the programming has been available on the station’s app, iBLTV, which was released in December 2017. Another phone app is Fo Guang Go!, an augmented reality app that visitors to Fo Guang Shan can use to tour and interact with the main campus. The app features the digitally animated child monk from the cartoon who guides users around Fo Guang Shan while giving them facts about each stop along the tour.

Like their physical facilities, Fo Guang Shan’s media output is impressive in scale. Not all of Fo Guang Shan’s entertainment programming uses technology, however. Youth and community choirs are a common feature at many Fo Guang Shan temples. Their performances are a staple at many of the festivals hosted at the temples. In one notable case, members of the Fo Guang Shan temple in Manila created and performed a musical based on Hsing Yun’s biography of the Buddha entitled Siddhartha: A Musical Journey to Enlightenment. Like many religious communities, the Fo Guang Shan community engages its members and attracts visitors using entertainment, though the degree to which Fo Guang Shan produces entertainment through its publishing house, cable-satellite channel, phone apps, and seasonal festivals is far beyond the capabilities of many religious communities.

Review of the Literature

Several scholarly studies of Fo Guang Shan were released in the early 2000s, but very few have been published since then. The recent scarcity is likely due to the wide scope and high quality of studies released during that earlier period. Many of the studies profile Fo Guang Shan as a central part of the Buddhist revival in the late 20th century. Others note the organization’s connection to the nation-state as it negotiated tense relations with the mainland. There are only a couple of ethnographic accounts of Fo Guang Shan, which provide the most complete study of Fo Guang Shan to date. This section will briefly review these scholarly contributions.

Stuart Chandler has conducted the most thorough research on Fo Guang Shan. His work emerged out of his ethnographic research that took place in the mid-1990s, an especially booming period for Fo Guang Shan. He conducted dozens of interviews and used them to create the seminal work on the organization, Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization. The book was a major information source for this entry, and provides great detail on many of the points mentioned. Chandler has authored a few articles on Fo Guang Shan as well, though they are mostly woven into his book. In a 2018 article, “Sacred Secularities: Ritual and Social Engagement in a Global Buddhist China,” Jens Reinke shares his ethnographic research of Hsi Lai Temple. The article highlights how the temple’s ritual service and social programming connect the Chinese diaspora community it serves.

Richard Madsen profiles Fo Guang Shan comparatively alongside the other Buddhist organizations that emerged in Taiwan in the mid-20th century. In the third chapter of his book, Democracy’s Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan, he notes how Fo Guang Shan helped contribute a civic cultural identity to the emerging nation-state through its popular programs and temples. Echoing Max Weber, Madsen notes how Fo Guang Shan has grown and expanded in conjunction with the growth of the Taiwan’s new middle class. This reciprocal relationship supplies both the organization and the people with economic and spiritual needs, respectively, and how that relationship benefits Taiwan as a whole. The strength of Madsen’s work is his contextualization of Fo Guang Shan amid the other Buddhist groups that emerged in Taiwan over the same period.

In the same vein to Madsen’s point about how organizations like Fo Guang Shan interact with the state, other researchers have highlighted that connection. André Laliberté’s work considers how the politics of Buddhist organizations including Fo Guang Shan aligns or contrasts with the state. Laliberté suggests that these moments of dissent with the government are remonstrant demonstrations. Although Hsing Yun has mostly sided with the KMT since his time in Taiwan, there have been a few notable instances where opposed their candidates for political office. Charles B. Jones provided one of the earliest profiles of Fo Guang Shan in his Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the State, 1660–1990. He focuses on the interactions between Fo Guang Shan and the Buddhist Association of the Republic of China (BAROC), a conservative group of Buddhists in Taiwan that sometimes clashed with Hsing Yun’s progressive humanistic Buddhism. Although scholarly studies of Fo Guang Shan are currently adequate, several are beginning to show their age. It will soon be necessary to revisit and initiate new studies of the organization. Their growth has slowed significantly since the 2000s, which is likely due to the recent global recession as well as Hsing Yun’s advancing age. As Hsing Yun nears the end of his life and Fo Guang Shan moves on after his passing, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the organization. It will be necessary for scholars to highlight that transitional phase and document the changes likely to take place. The Reform and Opening of mainland China has led many scholars to study modern religion there, resulting in far more research on Chinese Buddhism that profile mainland sects. However, given Taiwan’s quick economic rise and recent stagnation, studies that chronicle how organizations like Fo Guang Shan have handled the last two decades would be welcomed.

Primary Sources

As noted in the main essay, Hsing Yun’s catalog is prolific, and many of his works have been translated in various languages. The majority of these are available in libraries and on Amazon. This section highlights three selections from Hsing Yun’s recent publications. The first introduces the reader to Buddhist thought as taught and understood by Hsing Yun. The next book is a beginner’s guide to practicing Buddhism. The last book sees Hsing Yun modeling Thich Nhat Hanh’s style, in which Buddhism is disguised as a self-help book for those seeking a more fulfilling life. Lastly, Hsing Yun’s biography published through the official Fo Guang Shan organ is essential reading. Additionally, anyone interested in the Fo Guang Shan published print materials should visit the University of the West Library.

Hsing Yun. The Core Teachings. Hacienda Heights, CA: Buddha’s Light Publishing, 2016.Find this resource:

    Hsing Yun. For All Living Beings: A Guide to Buddhist Practice. Hacienda Heights, CA: Buddha’s Light Publishing, 2010.Find this resource:

      Hsing Yun. The Carefree Life. Hacienda Heights, CA: Buddha’s Light Publishing, 2004.Find this resource:

        Fu Chi-ying. Handing Down the Light: The Biography of Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Translated by Amy Lui-ma. Hacienda Heights, CA: Buddha’s Light Publishing, 2003.Find this resource:

          FoGuangPedia is a digital archive for resources associated with Fo Guang Shan. The site grants access to the latest news and publications from Fo Guang Shan. It also hosts a relevant wiki that users can edit, learn, and share. Additionally, the site collects translated excerpts of many of Hsing Yun’s works.

          Further Reading

          Chandler, Stuart. Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.Find this resource:

            Clart, Philip, and Charles B. Jones. Religion in Modern Taiwan: Tradition and Innovation in a Changing Society. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003.Find this resource:

              Chung, Oscar. “Buddha’s Light Shines Brighter.” Taiwan Today, April 1, 2012.Find this resource:

                Johnson, Ian. “Is a Buddhist Group Changing China? Or is China Changing It?” The New York Times, June 24, 2017.Find this resource:

                  Jones, Charles B. Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the State, 1660–1990. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                    Kuo, Cheng-Tian. Religion and Democracy in Taiwan. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                      Laliberté, André. The Politics of Buddhist Organizations in Taiwan: 1989–2003. New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004.Find this resource:

                        Madsen, Richard. Democracy’s Dharma: Religious Renaissance and Political Development in Taiwan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                          Reinke, Jens. “Sacred Secularities: Ritual and Social Engagement in a Global Buddhist China.” Religions 9.11 (2018): 338.Find this resource:

                            Yao, Yu-Shuang, and Richard Gombrich. “Christianity as Model and Analogue in the Formation of the ‘Humanistic’ Buddhism of Tai Xu and Hsing Yun.” Buddhist Studies Review 34.2 (2017): 205–237.Find this resource:


                              (2.) Chandler, Pure Land, 213.

                              (3.) Chandler, Pure Land, 217–218.

                              (6.) Laliberté, Buddhist Organizations, 84.

                              (7.) Laliberté, Buddhist Organizations, 82.

                              (8.) Yao and Gombrich, “Christianity as Model”: 215.

                              (13.) Laliberté, Buddhist Organizations, 82.

                              (16.) Chandler, Pure Land, 193.

                              (17.) Chandler, Pure Land, 11.

                              (18.) Chandler, Pure Land, 18–20.

                              (19.) Laliberté, Buddhist Organizations, 75–77.

                              (20.) Laliberté, Buddhist Organizations, 71.

                              (21.) Zhenggao Su 蘇正國‎, “‘兩岸‎’ 星雲大師:佛牙源自貢噶多傑‎” (“‘Two coasts’ Master Hsing Yun: Buddha tooth came from Kunga Rinpoche”). 新新聞‎ (The Journalist). August 17, 2011.

                              (23.) Tourism Bureau MOTC Republic of China, “106年1至12月國內主要觀光遊憩據點遊客人數統計‎” (“2017 January–December visitors to main scenic spots in Taiwan”).

                              (25.) Los Angeles Times, “Local: Buddhist Priest Home Fire-Bombed,” July 3, 1989.

                              (26.) Email correspondence with Hsi Lai Clergy. April 2019.

                              (27.) Reinke, “Sacred Secularities,” 3.

                              (28.) Email correspondence with Hsi Lai Clergy. April 2019.

                              (29.) Reinke, “Sacred Secularities,” 3.

                              (30.) Reinke, “Sacred Secularities,” 7–8.

                              (31.) Reinke, “Sacred Secularities,” 10.

                              (34.) Nanhua University. Fo Guang University. “近 5 年學校學生人數與變動趨勢圖‎” (“Five year student enrollment trends report”).

                              (35.) Chandler, Pure Land, 122–123.