The Telegraph
Sunday , July 20 , 2014
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Eat, pray and learn

Nun Ven Miao Ze shows how to copy Sutra calligraphy, characters from Hridaya Sutra, depicting the word po ruey, meaning prajnya or wisdom

It is a temple for foodies, in the truest sense. And while you are there, you can also dabble in a bit of Chinese calligraphy or find answers to all questions Chinese. Welcome to the Fo Guang Shan Calcutta Buddhist Centre in Tangra.

Fo Guang Shan is a Buddha temple run by a Taiwan-based organisation, Buddha’s Light International Society. Built in 1998, the temple has a prayer hall, a tea house and a library along with classrooms to teach lifeskills and tenets of Mahayana Buddhism to local children.

The best part of the temple is its atmosphere of inclusion. Anybody from any religion is welcome. There are devotees, many of them homemakers in Chinese households across the city, who have been going to the temple since its inception. Some of these homemakers get together at the temple on weekends and cook for visitors.

Park yourself in the tea house, open from 11am to 6pm on weekends, and time will fly as you sip a cuppa of Zhen Zhu Nai Cha (Bubble Milk Tea) and snack on a variety of vegetarian Chinese, Indonesian and Taiwanese delicacies such as Fried Wantons, Crispy Chilli Babycorn, Steamed Veg Baos, Gado-Gado Salad, Pineapple Cakes and more. The best time to visit is between 4pm and 6pm.

A devotee at the Buddha’s Light stall at City Centre Salt Lake as part of a Chinese food festival last month

“We do it for charity. The proceeds from the tea house sales go to old age homes, children’s homes and other charitable institutions,” said Yang Thau Jang, a long-time devotee.

Charity or “implementation of human compassion in the world” is one of the four principles followed by the organisation. Hence, to raise money for the needy, the nuns of the organisation have on offer an array of knick-knacks that a visitor can take in exchange of donation.

One can find intricately designed China cups and teapots, bags of High Mountain Tea imported from Taiwan, Chinese lanterns, cute China clay dolls, wall decor items made of Chinese knot-work in bright colours, CDs of Buddhist hymns and music and sundry other items at the tea house.

In the library upstairs, one can attend a class of Chinese calligraphy, absolutely free! “It is almost like meditation. You need to focus on the design of the characters and keep practising,” said Ven Ru Hong, a nun at the temple.

High Mountain Tea with traditional Chinese cups and teapot

Finally, while leaving the temple, don’t forget to ask the secret about the bubbles in the bubble tea!

Fo Guang Shan Calcutta Buddhist Centre

Where: 8 New Tangra Road (go straight, leaving Big Boss restaurant to your right, and take the lane, next to Sing Cheung Sauce Factory)

Established by: Master Hsing Yun in 1998

Best time to visit: Friday to Sunday, 11am to 1pm and 3pm to 6pm.

Menu: Not fixed. It depends on what devotees prepare for the day.

This series, called Novice Monks, replicates daily chores done by children at the monastic training house