Most people come to the area to visit the Tian Tan Buddha, but the monastery is also worth a visit. Po Lin was built in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty, and the current Abbot, Chor Wai, is only the fifth abbot in the monastery’s history. Originally known as The Big Hut, the original construction was bamboo and wood. In 1924 the name was changed to Po Lin – or Precious Lotus. In 1928, the Hall of Perfect Enlightenment, the Abbot’s room, and the guests’ room were completed. Since then, the monastery has expanded to include the Welto Temple and Hall of Great Hero, as well as a pagoda at the front and back of the mountain. In 1937, a large bronze bell was brought to the monastery, and in 1938 a white jade Buddha was placed in the Hall of Perfect Enlightenment.
In the late 1970s and '80s, the monastery raised funds to construct The Tian Tan Big Buddha. Although the Buddha is Po Lin’s most recognized sight, the monastery also uses its funds for building many lesser-known places, including almost 200 schools throughout poverty stricken areas in China. In order to pay for upkeep of the monastery and the Buddha, as well as carrying out their missionary work, they ask for donations, and no matter what temple or room of the monastery we entered, there were donation boxes visible throughout. There was no pressure, though, either to make a donation or to convert to Buddhism, and our time wandering through Po Lin was peaceful and relaxing.
The monastery grounds are quite extensive with temples and buildings spread throughout. Large Buddhist scriptures hang from the walls inside the temples and the scent of incense is prevalent. One of the most colourful sights is an altar with a trio of bronze statues representing Buddha in his past, present, and future lives. The Tei Tan, circular pavilion, and stone gate at the front of the monastery are also impressive.
Another big draw at Po Lin is the vegetarian meal service, which is offered between 11:30am and 5pm. We opted for the basic meal which cost 60HKD per person and included entrance to the museum at the Tian Tan Buddha. We entered a huge hall set with large tables and presided over by a host of servers. There was already quite a large crowd, so it was a noisy and busy place. An orange-robed woman brought us a large bowl of chunky vegetable soup and a pot of Jasmine tea. There was quite a bit of time lapse after this first course, and we started to wonder if we’d paid 60 simply for a bowl of soup, even though it was tasty. Just as we were ready to leave, another waiter wheeled a cart to the table and unloaded the rest of our lunch – four separate dishes, as well as a big pot of rice. We eagerly dug into two fat egg rolls stuffed with chopped vegetables and rice, a colorful assortment of mixed vegetables heavily flavoured with ginger, steamed oyster mushrooms with bok choy, and a type of stew made with tofu, sweet corn, and peas. The food was very good although it was a challenge for us to eat soft tofu with chop sticks.
There is a deluxe lunch available for $100HKD per person, and it looked like there was an extra dish included with fruit. Frankly, we couldn’t eat all that had been provided, so I can’t imagine trying to get through even more food.
Po Lin is open to visitors from 9am to 6pm daily. There is no charge to enter the monastery or the grounds. No pictures are allowed within the monastery temples.