Since the guided tour on Day 2 proved to be so informative and productive, I opted for a tour on Day 3 as well, this time to Lantau island, the largest of the islands that comprise Hong Kong.
I was keen on visiting Lantau because it plays home to the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, and normally, when I visit a place and I know there’s a Hindu temple there, I like to go visit. Hindus anyway believe you can pray and worship anywhere since god is omnipresent, but there’s a nice feeling I get when I make a special visit to a temple that’s not in Chennai or near Gainesville, more so when I make the trip on my own. Because Buddhism stemmed from Hinduism and some Hindus consider Buddha an incarnation of Vishnu, I thought as both a tourist and a Hindu, this was worth seeing.
Driving from Kowloon to Lantau, we passed numerous container vessels strewn across Hong Kong’s port. My tour guide said it’s the third busiest port in terms of container traffic, with Singapore and Shanghai being the first two.
Once in Lantau, to get to the Tian Tan Buddha, very devout followers or nature enthusiasts can hike a long, paved trail over several rolling hills and up 268 steps to the statue. But for those of us looking for a less arduous and more picturesque experience the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car is worth standing in line for (Although, if you book a tour in advance, you can avoid the long line).
The cable car ride spans more then 5 kilometers and takes about 20 minutes or so. You get a great view of some of Lantau’s hillsides and the South China Sea.
The Tian Tan Buddha, at 34 meters, is currently the largest seated bronze Buddha in the world. However, my tour guide said an even larger seated Buddha is expected to be built in Kushinagar, India, and it will be Buddha in the Maitreya form, or Buddha of the future. The Buddha displayed in Lantau is the Gautama version, said to be of this lifetime.
I was intrigued by the idea of a “future” Buddha, because it’s similar to the Kalki avatar in Hinduism, the tenth major avatar of Vishnu. It’s believed that this avatar has yet to take shape but will descend on earth when there’s just too much evil in the world. The name “Maitreya” sounded familiar to me, too, because I’ve heard the Sanskrit word “maitrim” in a patriotic Indian song about world peace. As I found out later, just as the Sanskit word hints, the Maitreya form of Buddha then is the embodiment of loving kindness, according to the Maitreya Project, which aims to provide a social service to the impoverished communities around the world by providing them education, health-care and employment opportunities.
“The Maitreya Buddha statue will provide the world with a much-needed and enduring 21st century monument to universal spiritual and humanitarian values. According to Buddhist tradition, sacred objects such as statues provide a uniquely powerful means by which we can bring to mind the positive attitudes that are essential to the development of loving-kindness.” – The Maitreya Project
I made a mental note to one day visit the Maitreya Buddha when it’s finally completed, hopefully with my family. But for the time being, I focused on the Buddha displayed in front of me, the Gautama version.
The statue is made up of 202 bronze pieces. The Buddha’s raised right hands showers blessings of fearlessness, while his downward-facing left hand spreads virtue. Inside the Buddha is a gallery of artwork by Sri Lankan monks, depicting the different phases of the Gautama Buddha’s life. The statue also contains a relic fragment of bone, allegedly from the Buddha’s neck. The relic, about the size of a grain of rice, is encased in multiple glass cases, several feet away from where visitors can stand, so those who can actually make out the shape of the relic are said to be quite lucky.
I’m not such a firm believer in luck than I am in karma, and I had a feeling the Buddha would agree.