Hsu Chin-huan is the Buddhist priestess who promotes the Great Way of Maitreya, a modern, simplified form of Zen Buddhism. She has been living in Bucharest for 10 years and, although she hasn’t succeeded so far, she wishes she had more Romanian friends in her community. She invited us to attend the religious ceremony that takes place every time there’s a full moon, and that’s how we reached the temple at the end of tram line 21, on Dascalului 57.
The Great Way of Maitreya is relatively new – 100 years old – and exists in 64 countries in the world. It operates globally as an ecological movement. It promotes vegetarianism, militates for the health of the planet, physical and spiritual improvement by dance, movement etc. Although in Asia or, more recently, in America, the followers are numerous and the movement is very active, Romania hasn’t followed the same path. The temple is mostly visited by the Chinese citizens of Bucharest who come to pray for prosperity, peace and health.
Those who live in such temples perform ceremonies three times per day, and on the 1st and the 15th of the agricultural calendar, which are mass days, kind of like Sundays for Christians. On Sundays there are lessons for those who wish to understand Buddhism more, and when there is full moon, there are special ceremonies. During the ceremony, incense is burned and offerings are brought to Buddha Maitreya, the supreme goal being global peace. The ideal of this Buddhist movement is to make a much better world on the Earth – a terrestrial paradise. “We wish to see heaven on Earth, not in the afterlife. It’s very difficult, but it’s done gradually, step by step,” the priestess says.
While many Chinese people from the neighborhood were coming to leave a small donation for the temple and take a bag of fruit prepared for them, Hsu Chin-huan was explaining her philosophy:
“Fundamentally speaking, we must give a task to our heart and understand what goes on with this world; the carnal body is just an instrument; only when we have a thought we can have a movement. What we get to know is very little, the heart and the thought at the same time are rather restrained, we cannot see far enough. Generally speaking, we only see what’s before our eyes, what happens in our homes. Attached to our carnal body there is a spirit called Ling, a spirit that God gave us and that is our nucleus, our root. The goal for coming to the temple is to receive the Way. Slowly, we advance in our knowledge, and the mind lights up and expands; then, we can improve ourselves, but most of all, we can positively influence those around us. By initiation we open our third eye, which helps us understand things better and find out our goal on Earth.
The movement is a new branch of Buddhism; it is not the Zen Buddhism where they practice medication; it’s a slightly simplified and modernized Buddhism, although the props are the same; there are no meditation exercises and generally the attitude is devotional; there are prayers for the entire planet; they start from the entire planet and narrow the circle to a more restrained community. Anybody is welcome in the temple, regardless of confession or nationality. Moreover, if you come to the temple and get initiation, you can return to your original religion at any time.
Most of the believers are Chinese citizens, from the fair, the Red Dragon. Some of them have a more superficial approach – they pray for the prosperity of their families, for themselves – it’s normal for everybody to wish to live in peace, health, to have food on their tables – while others look for a more profound path. Only those who seek with honesty can reach their freedom.
The temple has existed since 2000, when it operated in a rented building in Fundeni. In 2007, the temple moved to Colentina where it operates today, in its own building. Hsu came to Romania for the first time in 2003 and spent only two months here. She began the procedures for the establishment of the religious association, and in 2006 she moved here, receiving permanent residence with annual expansion. She purchased the estate in Colentina and achieved stability. She hopes to create a community and have more locals visit the temple, including Romanians. The adepts of the movement believe that the entire planet is one single family, so they do not differentiate among nationalities. “It’s about helping; those who come here can help others. In general, religions teach people to be better, but that’s not enough. Is it enough to be good in order to reach heaven? There are terrible things happening on this earth – scientists agree. The negative influence of climate change is enormous. That’s because we are not careful enough with our world, with the earth. These are disasters caused by people, they don’t come from above,” says the priestess.
Hsu says she hasn’t succeeded in truly integrating in Bucharest; for her, integration would mean cooperation, have Romanians come here, for her to go have activities with Romanians. For now, there is no constant interaction and collaboration; she has few Romanian friends.
From her point of view, there are positive aspects in Bucharest, one of them being the air. For a capital city, the air is clean here, she says. Moreover, there have been positive changes since 2006, such as the street where the temple is not even being paved five years ago.
The daily life of the priestess is rather isolated, just like the rest of the Chinese community in Bucharest. Hsu says Chinese citizens are not enjoying a very good status in Bucharest, especially now and especially financially. There have been very many controls in the Red Dragon; it’s normal to apply the law, she says, but it’s somehow too violent; it doesn’t help anybody if you close a shop for two months; you should let if live. There are more and more Chinese people returning to China. The trend is to return.