Happy Year of the Monkey!!
I absolutely LOVE Chinese New Year! There is something so festive about it, something that really resonates with me and my love of fresh starts and new beginnings. Based in a culture where good fortune is always the coveted prize, rituals and traditions of this celebration always reflect the optimism of hope that a new year brings. What better way to celebrate Chinese New Year in Southern California than to visit the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, what was known to be the largest temple in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Hsi Lai Temple- A center for spiritual and cultural development
Hsi Lai Temple is located approximately 20 miles east of Los Angeles and sits on a 15 acre site overlooking the community of Hacienda Heights. It is part of the International Buddhist Progress Society, based out of Taiwan. The name is translated to mean “coming west” and serves as a center for Buddhism along with the spiritual practices, and Chinese culture. The temple serves as an outreach for Buddhism practices which are geared toward not only personal enlightenment, but into community outreach. No matter what religion or belief system you hold, it is easy to enjoy all that the temple has to offer, as its peaceful and serene atmosphere accompanied by welcoming hosts make it a relaxing place to visit. If you want to immerse yourself and learn about another culture, then Hsi Lai needs to be on your bucket list of places to visit. There are many celebrations held throughout the year, Chinese New Year being only one of the many that are celebrated. Classes are also held on a regular basis. You can learn about Buddhism, meditation, and yoga, or even take Chinese language courses. There are plenty of programs for children as well, including scout programs. For a full list of classes, click here. The home page on the website is also a great resource for seeing upcoming events. For a quick link, click here.
A Brief Explanation of Chinese New Year
Now, I am not an expert on the Chinese cultural traditions, however I find it necessary to have a basic understanding of this fascinating celebration. Because the holiday falls on different days each year, sometimes Westerners can have a hard time keeping up just when the celebrations begin. It is based on the lunar cycle, and the new year begins on the new moon between January 20th and February 20th, sometimes causing the holiday to be referred to as Lunar New Year. The first 15 days of the new year are celebrated, ending it with the lantern festival. Each year is represented by an animal, rotating through 12 animals. 2016 is the year of the red monkey, and it began on February 8th. Celebrations will end on February 22nd. For the New Years schedule, click here. They run from 9am to 8:30pm from the 7th to the 22nd. I recommend visiting both day and night if possible, since the feel at night is very different when all the lanterns are lit up.
Visiting the Temple
Hsi Lai Temple is located at 3456 Glenmark Dr., Hacienda Heights, CA 91745. Glenmark Dr. is directly off of Hacienda Blvd. Once turning onto Glenmark Dr., the temple gates to the entrance are on the right side, and will be open during regular hours, generally 9am to 5pm, unless there is a special evening event. There should be plenty of parking most days, only requiring shuttle service from remote locations during the peak times, generally the first days of new year. See website for shuttle information, however I have never needed this service and always found plenty of parking through the years. Please be mindful of certain rules that apply, such as no animals, no smoking, dress appropriately, and no meat is to be brought onto the premises.
To enter, go up the stairs and enter through the Bodhisattva Hall. Upon entering, turn right and head through a doorway, that will lead you to a hallway. Go left down the hall. At the end of the hallway, you will enter the main courtyard area. It is absolutely breathtaking the first time, so be prepared to be amazed. This is a beautiful place. Enjoy exploring the grounds! Here are a few of points of interest to see:
This is the first thing you will see when first driving into the property. It is a very majestic looking structure that will prepare you for what you are about to see. There are stairs leading to the bottom if you choose to walk down to see other decorations or view it from another angle. It is on the same level as the lower level parking lot. From the top, you can see beautiful views of the valley.
This is the first building that you will walk into when entering the temple area from the parking lot. Photography is not allowed indoors, so this picture shows what the building looks like when approaching it. There are 5 statues in this hall. Also there are many people there welcoming visitors and offering items for sale. There is no charge or check in, so feel free to walk past the commotion and head straight for the hallway that will take you to the main courtyard. Upon walking inside the Bodhisattva Hall, turn right and head to the doorway, which will lead you to the hallway that takes you to the main courtyard.
After walking down the hallway, you end up in the most beautiful courtyard. If this is your first time, or have no idea what to expect, you will be absolutely amazed at the architecture that is before you. It is as if you are transported to another land. There are plenty of decorations celebrating the unique year and the animal that is representing it. Have fun exploring all the fun displays that are set up all around, including the Wishing Tree, where you can throw up your red ribbon in hopes that your wish will come true. There will be lots of great opportunities to take some fun and unique photos.
This is the largest building and perhaps the most impressive of them all. This grand hall has 3 statues and its walls are made up of tiny little lit up boxes of statues. There is a grand sense of beauty when walking into this shrine. You can sit for awhile in peace, meditate, pray, as it is conducive to all spiritual practices. Photography is not allowed inside.
Tea Room, Bookstore, Dining Hall, and Art Gallery
These rooms are located on the lower level of the east wing of the property. The tea room and bookstore are located in the same room, offering light fare and literary materials. Just next to it is the dining hall, where a vegetarian buffet is served daily from 11:30 to 1:30 and till 2:30 on weekends. It is open to the public. Just down the hall from these 2 rooms is the art gallery. It is free, however small donations are accepted. It is a beautiful display of Buddhist and Chinese artifacts and hosts an impressive collection.
On the east side there is a garden of 18 Arhats, which are disciples of Buddha. Not only is it a beautiful garden to look at, but you can have fun tossing coins to them, like a carnival style wishing well.
The serene waters and tucked away locations make this one of the more enchanting places to see. The statues represent Bodhisattva with her attendants and kings. These kings are from the 4 directions, all standing as guardians who protect the devout from troubles.
Visiting Hsi Lai Temple at New Years has been an annual tradition for many years now. Even if you miss the new years festivities, there are other celebrations and events to participate in throughout the year. This spring, I will be taking classes there, something I have been wanting to do for a long time. I really appreciate cultural relevance in all things and am excited to dig deeper learning new ideas and philosophies. In every experience I have had, the people working there have been incredibly open and friendly. I have always felt so warm and comforted by their genuine hospitality. Below is a link to the temples main page.