A simple and disciplined life

I took the high speed rail from Kaohsuing back to Taipei a couple days ago.

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This year, I had stayed at Fo Guang Shan for 11 days (vs just 5 last year). During these 11 days, I had learned to live a simple and disciplined life. My typical day on Fo Guang Shan was like this:

5:05am – Get up
5:35am – Head to the main shrine to attend the morning service
6:30am – Breakfast. Meals are served in “guo tung” style (see below).
7:00am – Back to my room. Change or shower as my t-shirt is usually soaked with sweat after the morning service.
7:25am – Walk to the Great Buddha Land to read or just walk around and enjoy the peacefulness of Fo Guang Shan.
8:30am – Back to my room. Get my stuff and head down to the bookstore near the entrance of the monastery to work on my volunteer project.
11:00am – Back to my room and get ready for lunch.
11:20am – Lunch is again served in “guo tung” style (see below).
12:00noon – Finished lunch.
12:10pm – Head to the “copy sutra hall” to copy the heart sutra. You’re not really copying the sutra because the words are already printed on the paper. You just have to write on top of it, sort of like colouring the words with black ink.
1:30pm – Head to the volunteer office or the bookstore and continue to work on my project.
5:40pm – Dinner time but since I don’t eat dinner, I continue to work.
7:50pm or so – Back to my room to shower, hand wash my clothes and hang them up to dry.
8:30pm – Read in bed.
9:00 – 9:30pm – Lights out.

At the Fo Guang Shan Monastery, meals are served in “guo tung” style. Here’s how it works:

Everyone line up in pairs outside the dining hall and walk orderly and silently into the hall. The dining hall at Fo Guang Shan is a “no talking zone”. The dining hall can accomodate up to 3000 people at one time and even with 3000 people in there, it’s very quiet. Once you are in the dining hall, you follow the line and get to your seat. You do a half bow, pull out your chair silently and then sit down.

Your bowls, plates, chopsticks and kleenex are already placed in front of you in a certain manner.

Once most people have entered the dining hall, we say a short prayer. During the prayer, the servers (some monastics and some laypeople) fill your bowls and plate with food. They’re so trained that they always finish when we’re done with prayer. On the first few days, we had close to 2000 people eating there at each meal. In the last few days, we had less… maybe close to 400 but they always managed to finish serving food on time. Amazing, eh?

Once the prayer is done, you pick up your chopsticks, move the plate closer to you (unless you want to return some of the veggie on the plate and in this case, you leave the plate untouched and someone will come and collect the food). Then you move the bowl of rice to the right side of the plate. After that you move the bowl of soup to the left side of the plate. Once you’ve moved your bowls and plate to the correct position, you can start eating quietly.


If you want more rice, put the bowl on your right to the upper left edge of your area and the servers will know you want more rice. If you want more soup, put the bowl on your left to the upper right. If you want water, put your bowl near the left corner of your plate. If you want more vegetable, move your plate to the edge of the table. Since the dining hall is a “no talking zone”, all of these are done silently.

Once you’re done eating, put the bowl on the right hand side on top of the bowl on the left hand side. Move the empty plate to the edge of the table in front of you. Move the 2 bowls to the left side of the empty plate. Slide your chopsticks between the bowls and the plate. Sit silently.

When most people are done, another short prayer will be said. Once the prayer is done, we leave the dining hall in pairs. Once you’re out, you walk back to your dormitory or go wherever you need to go.

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