High upon the cloudy hills of Sha Tin New Territories, sits the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, one of Hong Kong’s most famous Buddhist temples and popular tourist attractions. While most have seen pictures of its stunning architecture, not many know the story behind its conception and construction.
For those that weren’t aware, the temple was founded by the Reverend Yuet Kai. He was born into a wealthy family in Kunming, in 1878. He studied philosophy at one of China’s leading universities, and was a talented poet.
At 19 years old, he chose the path of Buddhism, and has gone through extremes to prove his faith. It is said that he used his own flesh, cut from two of his fingers, to light forty-eight oil lamps in front of the Buddha to demonstrate his commitment to the faith.
In 1933, Yuet Kai moved to Hong Kong to preach Buddhism and soon found many followers. His original plan was to establish a Buddhist college, using an estate donated by a wealthy Buddhist, but eventually decided upon a monastery, and thus construction of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery began in 1949. During the process of construction, Yuet Kai and his disciples helped carry materials from the foot of the mountain all the way to the top.
The monastery was completed in 1957, but it took an additional ten years to finish the 13,000 miniature Buddha statues, displayed around the walls of the temple.
Reverend Yuet Kai died on 24th April, 1965 at the age of 87. After being buried for eight months in a coffin, his body was exhumed, still in perfect condition. As per his wishes, the corpse was embalmed with Chinese lacquer, painted with gold leaf, draped with robes and put on display. In a glass case in front of the altar, one can find his corpse seated in the lotus position, the display is titled "The Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi".
The architecture of the monastery is built over two levels and occupies over eight hectares of area. It consists of five temples, four pavilions, one verandah and a pagoda. One has to climb 431 steps in order to reach it. The upward path is lined with 500 life-size gilded Arhan statues on either side.