Traveling by the Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles: Hsi Lai Temple
Follow along: Page 451 of the Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles. (The Guidebook publishes in late November, but you can pre-order your copy here.)
Few think of Los Angeles as a destination for mountaintop monasteries, but maybe that’s a shame. The Hsi Lai Temple in the Puente Hills of Hacienda Heights certainly makes a case. The North American headquarters of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order, Hsi Lai is one of the largest and oldest Buddhist temples in the country. At over 15 mindfully utilized acres, its architecture and statuary are an odic and elegant tribute to the Ming and Qing dynasty styles of Chinese monasteries.
From the upcoming Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles:
Hsi Lai Temple 1988 • 3456 Glenmark Dr., Hacienda Heights. Hsi Lai (“Going West”) represents the Fo Guang Shan discipline of Buddhism that originates in Taiwan. The temple is arguably the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere. There is an exceptional variety of imaginative building and space throughout the temple; this is one of the great public spaces in the region.
More compelling than its size or age, though, is the very nature of its origin. A piece of its mother temple in Taiwan, Hsi Lai’s name translates to “Coming to the West.” The temple is said to represent the concept of “Pure Land,” or an uncorrupt place or state, re-born on another plane. But the structure’s own physical birth wasn’t without some local friction. Its original two location bids in South Bay and Alhambra were unsuccessful, and the residents of Hacienda Heights organized to block its construction for the better part of the 1980s. A 1993 Los Angeles Times article called the attempt to block the building “a bitter and emotional fight,” and pointed to underlying racism as a motive.
Nevertheless, in the time since its construction, the spirit of Pure Land has triumphed. Local residents now consider Hsi Lai a good neighbor for reasons more meaningful than its good fences. The temple’s dedicated charity work and public events have redistricted Pure Land to extend past the immediate radius of temple grounds and into the greater Hacienda Heights community.
See for yourself: Hsi Lai and its two shrines, gardens, and greater property are open between the hours of 9AM to 5PM Monday through Sunday. Prayer can be practiced in multiple meditation rooms, at the prayer fountain, or at the prayer tree. The temple also has a library, gift shop, and buffet. Entry is free, but visitors are encouraged to donate to the organization. A calendar of events can be found here.
Based on Gebhard and Winter's An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles.
This fresh look at the Hsi Lai Temple was written for Angel City Press by Martha Avtandilian.