Buddhist weirdness at one of Hong Kong’s strangest sights
A preacher’s paradise
Imagine a place perched on a hill. A mystical place where ten thousand buddhas, all golden and praying for hair transplants, overlook the town below. A place of pavilions and pagodas four hundred steps up, where incense swirls and life-sized statues welcome you to their sleepy retreat. Well, get yourself to Sha Tin when you next have the chance, and you can see for yourself just that.
Located just a short walk from Sha Tin MTR station, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (萬佛寺) is one of the more out-of-the-way Hong Kong tourist attractions, and also one of the more peculiar.
Founded in 1949 by the Reverend Yuet Kai, a Buddhist preacher originally from China, the main buildings took eight years to complete, with the thousands of miniature Buddhas that line the walls of the main hall taking a further ten years after that. It is even said that Yuet Kai helped carry the building materials up the mountain himself, despite his advancing years.
Yuet Kai died in 1965 at the age of 87, but his embalmed and gold-painted body, complete with ceremonial robes, can still be seen (allegedly), seated in front of the altar inside the main temple building, surrounded by the thousands of Buddha figures from which the site takes its name.
Sanctuary of the strange
Indeed, there are a couple of thousand more Buddhas inside the Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall than the ten thousand advertised, while around five hundred or so larger statues line the path up from the foot of the hill. Each of these statues has his own unique character, each with his own often bizarre expression. Some look shocked; some look suspiciously serene. Pretty much all of them look in some way strange. But it is the statues, more than anything, that give the Ten Thousand Buddhas experience its peculiar character.
The architecture, however, should not be overlooked. The main Ten Thousand Buddha temple and the nine-storey, red pagoda in the courtyard facing it are both Grade III listed buildings, with the pagoda even featured on Hong Kong’s $100 note some years back. The courtyard features statues of various deities, including the white statue of Kwun Yum, the Goddess of Mercy, to whom visitors can pay their respects. There’s a white elephant, a blue lion, and a terrace of 18 more statues representing the Buddha’s most revered students. And that’s just the lower level.
Follow the steps to the upper level of the complex and you will find four more halls each dedicated to one of the four bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara, Ksitigarbha, Cundi and Amitabha, as well as the Jade Emperor Hall and Yuexi Pavilion. There’s even a vegetarian restaurant next to the main hall should you suddenly find yourself overcome by hunger amidst all the statuey excitement.
You shouldn’t arrive at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery expecting any kind of spiritual experience. The monastery isn’t actually a monastery at all. There are no resident monks to be found at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Rather, the name denotes the collection of buildings and all of those statues that constitute the whole.
This isn’t a monastery of the kind you might find elsewhere in China, where chanting monks cast shadows across incense-shrouded halls and gongs echo across hillsides. This is, after all, Hong Kong we are talking about, and there is, undoubtedly, something more than a little kitsch about the whole affair. But despite all this, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is definitely worth a visit. It’s something different. And if you are just visiting Hong Kong, it’s something a little further off the usual tourist path to say you’ve seen.
The Monastery is open from 9am to 5:30pm daily
Admission is free
Related Posts: If you still have time and feel in the mood for another temple, why not check out Che Kung Temple just down the road in Tai Wai. Or, if it’s hiking you want, Amah Rock is also close by and well worth a visit.
How to get to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
The best way to reach the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is to get the MTR to Sha Tin and walk up the hill from there. Or, you can get the bus. Bus 170 runs from Hong Kong island through Causeway Bay and Kowloon before reaching Sha Tin station. Check out the Hong Kong buses website for further information.
Whether you travel by bus or by MTR, when you reach Sha Tin station, you will need to navigate your way from there. The monastery is signposted, and it isn’t far from the station to the start of the steps, but the signs are hardly numerous and they don’t exactly jump out at you. Best to follow these directions instead:
- Take exit B from Sha Tin station. Head left when you exit and walk down the ramp.
- After the football pitch on your left, take a left down Pai Tau Street. Then take the first right and walk to the end of the road in front of the Sha Tin Government Offices. You should see a sign or a passageway at the end of the street on the left hand side. Follow this and you will be able to join the path up to the monastery.
- You can also enter via a short passage behind the Sha Tin Government Offices. If you do, be careful not to enter the crematorium; it’s not as fun. Instead, you should see a small sign pointing down a passage directly behind the Government Offices building. Follow this passage to the end and join the route from there.