simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Big Buddha
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Thursday, 4 September 2008

Big Buddha

If you are looking for surprises, head to Manhattan's Chinatown, generally considered the largest or one of the largest (depending on whose counting and how) outside China. The main attractions here are primarily restaurants, indoor and outdoor food vendors and shops carrying Chinese tourist items and heavily discounted consumer goods including copies of brand name merchandise.
So I was quite startled while walking by the ticket office to the Fung Wah bus company to find the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, an enormous place with a faux pagoda front and lions, prominently located at 133 Canal Street and the Bowery - in no way an out of the way location. Yet I have been by the intersection hundreds of times and never noticed this place. 
Whimsically, I entered the place with no expectations. I was even more surprised to find a huge room with this 16 foot tall Buddha, the largest in the city.
Until 1995, this building was occupied by the Rosemary Theater. In 1996 it was converted to the Mahayana Buddhist Temple by Annie Ying, who established the first storefront temples on the East Coast and a temple/retreat on a 114 acre site in South Cairo, New York. Her husband, James Ying, operated a chain of gift shops in Chinatown and the neighboring suburbs.
But the most interesting twist is that their son, Dr. Nelson Ying who runs the temple, has a PhD in nuclear physics and is adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida. He was the first Buddhist preacher to perform Buddhist weddings in New York State. He is not a priest, however, as he does not meet the requirements of being vegetarian or unmarried. He and his parents hail from Shanghai, which they left in 1955 to come to this country. Only in New York ...


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