Tranquility Base: Fo Shou Temple in Philadelphia's Chinatown
07-24-2018    Philadelphia City Paper
<DIV align=center><STRONG><BR>Fo Shou&nbsp;<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;Temple</SPAN></STRONG></DIV>

<DIV align=center>&nbsp;</DIV>

<DIV align=center><BR><SPAN lang=EN-US><STRONG>Interior of Fo Shou&nbsp;<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;Temple &nbsp;</SPAN><SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;(photo by </SPAN>Michael T. Regan)</STRONG></SPAN></DIV>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Kevin Plunkett, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Philadelphia</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">City</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> Paper</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Philadelphia, USA -- On a late summer Sunday morning in a narrow room in a row home in the heart of Chinatown, two dozen people stand in brown and black smocks and raise their voices to pray. As metal and wooden gongs are struck and handbells rung, burning incense imbues the close warm air. Sunlight pours in through a sliding glass door. The hypnotic chanting of Buddhism's ancient, sacred texts has begun and will continue on, only briefly interrupted, for the next several hours.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>For many generations, Buddhist temples in <st1:place w:st="on">Chinatown</st1:place> were notable by their absence. There were always ancestral altars within the business, merchant and freemason affiliations, such as the Hop Sing Association on <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Race Street</st1:address></st1:Street>, where families gathered to burn incense and say prayers for dead ancestors on New Year's Day -- but that was about it. In the last 15 years, Buddhist temples began sprouting up across the city. In <st1:place w:st="on">Chinatown</st1:place> the Pu Men Temple on <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Race Street</st1:address></st1:Street> and the Chua Quan Am on <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Ridge Avenue</st1:address></st1:Street> both opened their doors. Both are open to the public on weekends.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>In all likelihood it is Fo Shou Temple, with its flying eaves and scarlet columns of coiling dragons, located across from a Chinese kosher restaurant on <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Cherry Street</st1:address></st1:Street>, that is the 136-year-old district's first seven-days-a-week Buddhist temple. More than 100 congregants are led by master -- or sifu -- Xian Can, 44, a native of <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region>'s <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Fujian</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">Province</st1:PlaceType></st1:place>. Can hopes to provide an oasis of respite amid the bustling streets of <st1:place w:st="on">Chinatown</st1:place>.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Born into a religious family, Can grew up during the Cultural Revolution, after the revolution's demise, Can, already a vegetarian at 17, met a Buddhist master who encouraged her to shave her head and become a monk at his temple. Can entered a rigorous, monastic world of predawn prayer and -- as is the custom in some temples in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> -- was forbidden to ever see her family again. Yet she found spiritual peace and, eventually, dreamed of one day opening a temple herself.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>In 1996, Can immigrated to New York City and then in 1998 moved to Philadelphia with the ambition of building a temple that would "serve the entire Chinese community" of Chinatown -- a temple open every day of the year, complete with, as the Chinese say, san bao, or the three treasures: the Buddha, the sutras and a full-time master to interpret those sutras. She operates Fo Shou as a relatively rare female sifu with an assistant monk, Yuan Can.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Inside the temple, three larger-than-life golden Buddhas are seated on lotus fronds on the far wall above a communal altar lined with offerings of apples, papayas, oranges and Asian pears and a metal statue of Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Throughout the un-air-conditioned room are oscillating wall fans and rows of tables draped in saffron fabric. Resting on them are sutra stands. Near the sliding glass door as you walk into the temple is a glass-enclosed shrine -- inside is the Medicine Buddha, who is prayed to for the sake of the ill and suffering.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Fo Shou practices the most popular Chinese form of Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism -- or Amidism -- a devotional branch of Mahayana.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Historically, the Chinese have practiced Confucianism and ancestor worship along with Buddhism, and the temple's upper floor is also an ancestral shrine. On Sept. 6, the white-walled temple completed a marathon monthlong chanting of the Ullambana (deliverance from suffering) Sutra honoring dead ancestors and souls in the underworld.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>A majority of Fo Shou's members are female and from <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region>, but regular attendees also include natives of <st1:country-region w:st="on">Vietnam</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Malaysia</st1:country-region> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Thailand</st1:country-region></st1:place>. The chanting of sutras is in phonetic Mandarin. Members come to the temple to pray for the health of family, marriage and community and -- as Buddhism calls for -- world peace, and to focus the mind and nourish the spirit.</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>But there is an added cultural dimension. Neighborhood temples like Fo Shou offer recent immigrants like Dong Qiao Ling, who manages the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:PlaceName w:st="on">Ming</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType w:st="on">River</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> restaurant underneath the Chinatown Arch, strong bonds of connection in a new land. Dong comes to pray, she says, because "it is what I have always done." "Religion is just embedded," says longtime <st1:place w:st="on">Chinatown</st1:place> resident and founder of Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation Cecilia Moy Yep of Chinese immigrants like Dong. "It's a way of life."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>Can says the harried pace of life in the <st1:country-region w:st="on">United States</st1:country-region> makes practicing Buddhism more difficult here than in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>. That's one reason she chose Chinatown's center to locate the temple so that anyone -- devout Buddhist and curious passer-by alike -- can come in after a meal or shopping and spend a few tranquil moments "talking to the Buddha."</SPAN></P>

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<P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN lang=EN-US>"We welcome everyone," she says with cheerful emphasis -- even tourists snapping photos of the burly Buddhas. Every Sunday, the temple's busiest day, Fo Shou offers a free vegetarian lunch at noon. This sometimes brings back return visitors who come to pray, Can says. "It's very delicious," she laughs.</SPAN></P>
Editor: Wang Xinyu
   
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