Also known as the Big Buddha or Giant Buddha, this huge statue is located across from the Po Lin Monastery. It is the largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha in the world and was built in 1989 through fundraising efforts by the monastery. Standing 26m high and weighing 202 tons, it sits on a pedestal in the shape of a sacred lotus flower. There is no charge to climb the 268 stairs to see the statue, but a visit to the three-story museum underneath the pedestal will cost HK$23, including tea. Museum admission is also included in the price of a vegetarian lunch at the monastery (HK$60 or HK$100 per person).
The Buddha is seated in a Lotus meditation pose and has shoulder-length ear lobes meant to represent wisdom and happiness. Unlike most of the other larger-sized Buddhas in China, which face the south, this one faces the northeast, towards Beijing. This was done to recognize China as the home country, because Hong Kong was still under British rule when the Buddha was constructed. The base of the Buddha is a model of Tianten, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, hence the Buddha’s name. Near the foot of the stairs is a large bronze cauldron that was created in 1997 to commemorate Hong Kong’s independence from Britain after 165 years.
Opposite the Buddha are six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana. Recently, some visitors have tried to toss coins into the hands of these devas for good luck; however, this is considered disrespectful and not appreciated.
Underneath the Buddha pedestal is a three-storey building that houses the Merit Hall, Dharmadhatu Hall, and Memorial Hall, basically a museum with pictures, exhibits, and information on Buddhists and their faith. The walls are covered with pictures of Buddhists. I overheard a tour guide telling his group that the size of the picture was in direct proportion to the amount they had donated to the monastery.
Filled with colourful orchids and lights shaped like a lotus flower, the Merit Hall is the first hall you enter. A statue of Ksitigarbha, a Bodhisattva, sits in pride of place near the curved stairs and was carved out of a piece of nanmu wood that had been aged over 500 years. The second-floor focal point is a painting of 160 Bodhisattvas listening to a teaching, and it took the artist 7 years to complete the painting. The third floor, closed during our visit, houses tiny rice grained-size relics of Buddha’s body. Legend says that these crystal-like pieces were found where he had been cremated. Currently, only China and Sri Lanka have these relics.
The Buddha is open from 10am to 5:30pm daily. I think an independent visit here is your best bet, since it is very common for the Buddha to be enveloped in clouds or fog in the early morning. Rather than the unfortunate souls who couldn’t wait for the weather to clear up before boarding the tour bus for their next stop, we were able to wait for the fog to dissipate and rewarded with clear views of the Buddha.