Large numbers of Singaporean faithfuls flock to Buddhist temples in Johor to pay homage, pray and make donations, and these donations have expedited the development of temples there.
Thanks to the contribution of a Singaporean collector who is also a devout Buddhist, thousands of ancient Buddha statues as well as time-honoured stone, wooden and copper statues have been placed at the Fa Yu Chan Si temple in Ulu Tiram. These relics include 500 Luo Han statues, thousand-year-old stone tortoise statue, statues of Bodhidharma and the God of Mercy, among others. Such a rich collection has made the temple look like an ancient temples teeming with ancient ruins.
Penang in the northern part of the country is renowned for its Kek Lok Si temple, and now in the country's southern gateway Johor, a garden-style temple with hundreds of stone, wooden and copper statues as well as epitaphs, the Fa Yu Chan Si temple is fast taking shape.
Built on a 3-acre site about 2km from the town of Ulu Tiram, the temple is currently abboted by Master Shi Zhen Guan. Construction works started around 2001 and its basic structure was completed only in 2007. The temple then decided to open its doors for public worship. As the temple has been built in the woods, it offers an excellent haven for religious retreats.
Other than the Sakyamuni Valuable Palace, the God of Prosperity Hall, Di Zhan Dian Cinerarium Pavilion and the Hall of Spirit Tablets which have been completed within the compound of the Fa Yu Chan Si temple, the remaining buildings such as the Buddhist Relics Hall, Cultural Relics Hall and the Bodhidharma Pavilion are currently under construction.
Even though Fa Yu Chan Si is still undergoing beautification, renovation and further development at this moment, once you step inside the temple, you will be able to find countless stone statues of Buddha. Other than the most notable Big Buddha's Head and half-body Buddha statues, the most eye-catching relics are the Buddhist columns and pagoda. These masterfully crafted carvings have created an atmosphere of a thousand-year-old ancient temple.
In addition, rows of intricately carved Buddha statues have been neatly placed on both sides of the pagoda and Buddhist Columns.
The Cultural Relics Hall, meanwhile, looks like a relic site full of inscribed texts, stone statues of Buddha, etc, the most outstanding being the 500 Luo Han statues in different postures, costumes, and names. There are also relics from the Tang, Yuan and Han dynasties.
In an exclusive interview with Guang Ming Daily, the temple's administrative secretary Ms Chen Yi Ping said there are currently many different kinds of relics in the temple, and the most notable include the Crystal Sarira Pagoda containing the sarira of Buddha and and other Buddhist masters, relief carved with the Heart Sutra, the dragon statue said to be the incarnation of Bu Dong Ming Wang, the thousand-year stone tortoise, the five hundred Luo Han, the statue of Bodhidharma made of thousand-year old Longan wood, Buddhist pagodas, etc.
She also disclosed that there is a special statue of the God of Mercy in the temple. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, the statue is not yet ready for public viewing.
Age of statues yet to be verified
Chen said many of the stone carvings in the temple have been inscribed with the years of manufacture, including the stone tortoise, which is almost a thousand years old. According to findings, it is within the period of the Tang Dynasty and it contains thousands of years of history. However, she said as these relics have not been verified by specialists, the temple is unable to ascertain the authencity of these historical items.
She said since the historical backgrounds of these stone carvings have yet to be verified, she advised the public to view these carvings just as works of art.
Devotee from land-scarce Singapore builds temple across the Causeway
Land is a scarce commodity in Singapore. Other than existing temples, there isn't much land to build new ones in the city-state. As a result, Buddhist devotees and monks have built new temples on this side of the Causeway, or contribute towards the expansion of existing temples in Johor.
The abbot of the temple Master Shi Zhen Guan told Guan Ming Daily the thousands of Buddha statues and artworks in the temple have been contributed by a Singaporean Buddhist cum collector.
"By chance I came to know this collector. Originally I only intended to buy from him the statues of Hua Yian Shan Shen (Three Sages), i.e. Buddha, Manjuri Bodhisattra and Pu Virtuous Bodhisattva for display at the Sakyamuni Valuable Palace for the purpose of veneration. I never expected that after knowing about my concept of developing the temple, he kindly contributed his collection to Fa Yu Chan Si."
"To me, these relics are invaluable, and their market value is not important to me because the owner's offering came when we were going through the toughest time constructing the temple. Nothing can replace his generosity and I truly appreciate his kind contribution."
Public viewing welcome
Master Shi Zhen Guan said initially he felt that many devoted Buddhists gave up their faith when they got old. So he had a vision to build this Buddhist enclave to provide a quiet retreat for these people.
"Although the temple has already been given a large number of cultural relics, due to insufficient funds, we have problem fulfilling the concept of a Buddhist enclave. However, it will remain the focus of our future development."
The Master said he hoped to develop the temple to something similar to the renowned Kek Lok Si temple in Penang. While encouraging Buddhist devotees to study the Doctrine and retreat there, he also hoped to open the temple for public viewing so that more people could appreciate the relics of great artistic values.
Founder of Fa Yu Chan Si, the 38-year-old Master Shi Zhen Guan became a monk when he was only 19. A Malaysian, he used to pursue his religious studies at Guan Yin Shan in Bukit Timah, Singapore. He moved back to Johor after he made up his mind to build a Buddhist enclave.
He said, "We encountered a lot of problems initially, such as the sudden suspension of work due to insufficient funds. Nevertheless, the public have given us their generous support and assistance so that the temple could eventually be completed."
As for the origins of the thousands of stone and wooden carvings in the temple, the Master said he could not be sure whether the collection included those which were hundred or thousand years old.
"The Singaporean collector offering us the relics did not reveal the origins of these carvings. Therefore I cannot confirm the values of these items."
Fa Yu Chan Si
Address: Lot 380
Jalan Sungai Tiram
Batu 133/4 Kampong Sungai Tiram
81800 Ulu Tiram, Johor
Contact: 016-717 9633 (Ms Chen Yi Ping)
(Translated by LIM LIY EE/Guang Ming Daily)