In Buddhist scripts, Maitreya is the Buddha of the future, an enlightened being (bodhisattva) prophesied to descend to Earth and reintroduce true dharma. One Buddhist sect worshipping and awaiting Maitreya is the Taiwan-based Maitreya Realm of Omniverse.
Maitreya Emperor Mr 陳金龍 Chen Jinlong's following is about 35.000 people strong and an officially recognized religion. One of their temples is the Guanyinshan Jade Buddha Temple in Dakeng, an area in Taichung's Beitun district. It sits on top of 南觀音山 Nanguanyinshan, a hill of 318 meters which is featured on Taiwan's 小百岳 list of 100 minor peaks which is how it has entered my radar.
Dakeng is a hilly area, known for its 10 Dakeng Hiking trails. After visiting one of them, I plan to climb Nanguanyinshan to end my day. While making my way to the trailhead I spot a large golden statue on top of the hill. It makes me curious about what to expect on top.
The area looks inconspicuous at first. I walk past restaurants, convenience stores and old residential houses. Suddenly my eyes fall on a golden sculpture of a hand, easily taller than myself, next to a set of concrete stairs leading into a patch of forest. This must be the starting point.
After the first flight of stairs, the trail becomes a dirt path meandering up the hill. At some point, it splits up, bypassing a tree on both its left and right sides. I ponder the symbolism of which path to choose and whether I should use the other one on my way back down.
I break into a sweat, climbing the final stairs to the temple. Another giant golden hand marks the end of the trail. After taking the obligatory “summit” photo, I look around.
Fiercely looking stone sculptures protect the temple. Golden statues overlook the area from the top of one of the buildings. A tower structure on the far side of the complex has walls filled with various Buddhist artefacts. I climb to the top for a better view. The green hills of Dakeng invite further exploration. The sounds of Taichung can be heard in the distance.
The most intriguing find of my visit to the Maitreya temple is a colorful sculpture standing next to the temple entrance. It's blue, pink and gold with a characteristic third eye on the forehead. For the uninitiated, it might look slightly out of place; it just doesn't fit any preconceived notion of how a Buddhist artefact is “supposed” to look. It makes sense later, when I learn that Maitreya Emperor Chen Jinlong is also an artist. He has created multiple versions of this sculpture he calls Mi-Di or Alien Baby.
“With a funny expression and a kind heart hidden, she will accompany you every day and let more good things happen to you.” it says on the church's webpage.
Chen Jinlong's main body of art is his paintings, though. I find his abstract, colourful acrylic work eye-catching and intriguing. They are the kind of paintings I can see myself meditating over, pondering the balance between structure and randomness. They are on display in his museum in Taipei; I decide to go visit it someday.
For today, I fare goodbye to Mi-Di and head back down to Taichung to catch a train home.