One does not simply travel to Việt Nam and not visit at least one pagoda. Chùa Linh Phước is about 10km (20 minutes on motorbike/taxi) from the center of Đà Lạt and sees hundreds of visitors on a daily basis. Take QL 20 east out of the city. It’s a pretty straight shot. Turn right to stay on QL 20 at the roundabout with the sign saying “Chùa Linh Phước 1km.” Look for a large mosaic arch on the roadside to direct you to the temple’s entrance. It’s infamous for its recycled construction. Thousands of broken ceramic vases were assembled together into colorful mosaics, including a 7 meter tall dragon.
Don’t forget your modest dress for sacred places: covered shoulders, knees, chest, and back. Take your shoes off before entering shrines.
Buddha is not for sale
Though there are lots of visitors at the pagoda, do not forget it’s still a spiritual, religious place. Have respect. Keep your voices low, cell phones on silence, and tread lightly. It saddens me, and I am hypocritically a part of the problem, that tourists have turned this pagoda (and many other religious sites) into an attraction rather than a peace of solitude, worship, and practice. There will be people selling selfie-sticks, Buddha trinkets, and strawberries (?) in front of the pagoda. Buddhism is all about minimalism, self-sufficiency, and detachment. Putting a price on enlightenment seems so backwards. Sorry – I’ll get off my pedestal and stop ranting now. 🙂
Up the Bell Tower
In the central building, walk past the guardians and up the spiral staircases and see different Buddhas on each level. If you want, stop in front of each one, put your hands together in prayer near your heart, silently say some words of prayer before bowing your head. You can go one step further and light an incense before you begin your prayer. As you walk around in amazement of the construction, notice the broken China in all of the architecture.
There are many buildings to get lost in. Don’t worry about where you wander. Just take your time and take it all in! Remember, these are all old bowls, vases, and pots! They’re currently fundraising to build a 50m Buddha statue within the next year, so maybe I’ll have to come back and check it out!
There are hundreds of golden bodhisattvas lining the prayer hall on the right side. A bodhisattva is one who reaches nirvana or enlightenment by understanding, compassion of pain of those who are suffering. On your way there, don’t forget to bow in awe at the large, maybe 25m tall Buddha constructed of live flowers.
At the bottom of the prayer hall, there is a set of stairs leading underground. There are two levels, the first is a large show room displaying handicrafts. Beautifully crafted tables, chairs, and sculptures of all sorts carved out of wood, jade, lined with gold, and mother of pearl.
There’s a room filled with jade Buddhas in a faux forest with wax figurines of monks sitting in meditation around a Bodhi tree. They’re so realistic that I thought real people were there! These sculptures remind me of my time in Thailand because of their pointy nature.
To Hell and Back
In the corner, you’ll find a set of stairs guarded by two centaurs. This is the gate to hell. The underworld. Whatever you call it, the place you go for eternal suffering after you die in this life for punishment for the sins you committed. Enter at your own risk.
Though the construction is more like a middle-school art project with paper maché than a haunted house that is designed to look realistic, the fear (for me at least) stems more from questioning our life decisions. I vaguely remember the 18 sins of Buddhism from my childhood. There was one chamber for each sin; each one showing humans being tortured in various ways depending on what they committed.
I’ve never enjoyed horror films, haunted houses, or even Halloween to some degree, because of my aversion to demons and gore. Though by all means not realistic, I was more than happy to exit the dark, light-flashing, voice-filled, cavern. Negative vibes like that definitely make it harder to stay optimistic. It’s interesting to see what others believe in, but I don’t believe fear is the right way to scare people into living better lives… I truly believe in intrinsic motivation if you’re interested in altering your way of life! Maybe start with sitting in silence and doing nothing for 5 minutes a day. 🙂