From the outside looking in: Longshan Temple, Taipei, Taiwan

From what little I know of the Buddha, he was not much of a capitalist. Perhaps, then, he might be somewhat appalled by Longshan Temple. But then again, perhaps not; like so much of what I’ve seen today – my first day in Taipei – it is an unselfconscious blending of two concepts Westerners like myself typically perceive as incongruous; in this case, the sacred and the commercial.

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A sign near the entrance provided me with useful instructions: light 7 sticks of incense, and at each of the seven prayer stations say your name, address, birthdate, and pray for what you wish, after which one deposits a single incense stick into a cauldron. A pamphlet on a nearby counter provided me with not only a map of this outdoor temple but also the sequence of each station. On the opposite side of a walkway the temple sold incense in bundles of 7, which I purchased then lit.

I suspect that the ‘pray for what you wish’ (I paraphrase; I don’t recall the exact wording) is an accident of translation. I know precisely 6 Buddhists, and have rarely engaged in conversations focused around their practice so clearly I am neither an expert nor an informed novice. However the tiny sliver of knowledge I do possess about Buddhism leads me to understand that this religion is based on the process of gaining wisdom. Being wise isn’t binary and isn’t discrete – it’s definitely a process.

The temple was crowded, it drizzled steadily, and the air was heavy with incense smoke. I dutifully followed the procedure at each station and hoped for the best. After thus performing the first few , I decided that always asking for something feels rather narcissistic so I added that I am grateful Taiwan extends a welcome to visitors like myself.

The air was thick with smoke and my hair and cardigan smell like sandalwood even hours later. The scent reminds me that I am indeed grateful, a fortunate soul to peacefully tread on foreign soil.

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