Extolling the Beauty of Religion

The Chung Tai World Museum
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2020 / October

Lee Shan Wei /photos courtesy of Kent Chuang /tr. by Phil Newell


The Chung Tai Museum opened in Puli, Nantou County in 2009, and in 2016 the Chung Tai World Museum was completed, with the original building serving as its Wood Sculpture Gallery. The museum’s collections are the result of more than 30 years of collecting and restoring religious art, based on the vision of the “Five Directions of Spreading Buddhism” of Venerable Master Wei Chueh, founder of the Chung Tai Chan Monastery. The items on display ex­emplify the power of religious art to purify the human spirit. More than nine hectares in size, the venue has magnificent buildings in the style of the ancient city of Chang’an, yet is equipped with cutting-edge technology. The museum and gallery exhibit more than 1500 religious artifacts from many parts of the world and many periods of history. They inspire believers to hold fast to their principles and to act with love and compassion. A highlight of the museum is its collection of rubbings of Buddhist steles from the Beilin Museum in China, one of only two such collections in the world.


The Buddhist universe of space and time

Entering by the enormous yet simple gateway, in an instant you are in the world of Buddhism. The glittering beauty that greets the eye contrasts starkly with the sober exterior walls. The main hall, more than nine meters high, offers a broad and open view. A towering stone sculpture of Tathāgata evokes a sense of dignity and compassion. In the dome above, the caisson ceiling, with a circle enclosed by a square, reflects Buddhist ideas of space and time.

“Our biggest difference from other museums is that we had the artifacts first, and then designed the exhibition space,” says museum director Venerable Jian Chen, who was involved throughout the museum’s planning process. “The museum is the final piece in the puzzle of Venerable Master Wei Chueh’s vision of the ‘Five Directions of Spreading Buddhism.’” (The “five directions” link Buddhism with academia, education, art, science, and daily life.)

“In fact the Chinese word for ‘world,’ shijie, comes from Buddhist sutras,” notes Jian Chen. Shi refers to time, and jie refers to space, which is to say the Buddhist notion of a universe of time and space (known as shi fang san shi—the “ten directions and three divisions of time), the universe of the Avatamsaka Sutra, which nurtures all living things.

To give museum visitors a novel sensory experience, the lighting has been specially designed, and exhibition rooms are themed in different colors inspired by the “Ten Mysteries” of the Avatamsaka Sutra. For example, the hall of Indian Buddhist sculptures, “Ancient Splendor from India,” is decor­ated in orange; the room of bronze sculptures, “Cast in Brilliance,” is done up in royal blue; and the exhibition space for offerings to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, “Jeweled Flower Hall,” is of a solemn purple color. A strong ­atmosphere of Chan (Zen) Buddhist ideas permeates the venue. The design gives visitors a feeling of interacting with the artifacts across time and space as they appreciate their artistry.

The Orientation Foyer and the brightly lit, pure white L-shaped covered walkway at the entrance lobby symbolize the transformation of space and time. In the multi­media ­theater, animations illustrate the compassionate “joyful giving” of Buddha’s disciple Sudhanakumāra. “Combining Eastern design with Western construction has always been the guiding principle at Chung Tai.” Using up-to-date technology to explain the traditional Dharma allows Chung Tai to get closer to people.

The main museum has 18 exhibition rooms and a collection of 1176 artworks. Based on the ideas of “carry­ing the Way with words,” “awakening the mind with images,” and “transmitting the Dharma through scriptures,” it testifies to the history of the eastward progress of Buddhism. The museum, which has been called “the Louvre of religion,” lays out a storyline of Buddhism that enables visitors to experience its evolution through the ages.

Benevolent protection

Venerable Jian Chen has invested enormous effort into the museum’s development and has witnessed its progress from humble beginnings. With a reverent and joyful spirit, he has brought lifeless metal and stone into the world of the living. Also, “because wood sculptures require special conservation methods and a specific exhibition environment, at the preparatory stage we planned a special gallery for wood sculpture.” The gallery has strict temperature and humidity controls, as well as fire prevention and insect control measures, protecting artifacts so that the treasures of past millennia can be passed on to future generations.

For artists and for scholars of Buddhist artifacts, the ­Chung Tai World Museum’s Wood Sculpture Gallery is a treasure house where they can not only appreciate the beauty of the works on display, but also conduct analysis and in-depth study. “You can tell where Buddhist statues are from and the period when they were made based on their style and the methods used in crafting them.” Gallery director Vener­able Jian Pai, who has a master’s degree in art restora­tion from the University of London, tells us lovingly about the 400 pieces in the gallery’s collection. Works can be as large as several meters tall or as small as a knucklebone, with dazzlingly intricate craftsmanship that leaves visitors impressed with the beauty of religious art.

On some statues, the paint has flaked off to reveal the under­lying wood, providing excellent material for ­archeo­logical research. In the process of conserving and restor­ing these works, Venerable Jian Pai has carefully studied the evolution of Buddhist statuary, and this knowledge informs the future vision of the museum as a place of education.

Looking at the detail of the statues’ faces, there is a gradual evolution from the large eyes and bushy eyebrows of South and Central Asian features to the thinner brows and narrower eyes of Chinese faces. Jian Pai says: “The Northern and Southern Dynasties period was a watershed in the sini­cization of Buddhist images. Buddhist statues in the Song Dynasty were far more refined and delicate than those of the Tang.” Song works share in common the reserved ­facial expressions, meticulously carved features, and smooth texture of materials characteristic of their era.

Rubbings from the Forest of Steles

Highlights of the museum include the Buddhist Stele Square and the “Millennia in Stone: Buddhist Steles and Rubbings” exhibition room. “The originals are in the Beilin Museum in Xi’an.” It took two years to complete two sets of 1273 rubbings from the museum’s “Forest of Steles.” Today one set is held by Beilin while the other is at Chung Tai.

The most famous stele, the “Emperor’s Preface to the Holy Tripitaka,” brings together prefaces to Buddhist scriptures from the Tang emperors Taizong and Gaozong with the calli­graphy of the great ancient calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303‡361 CE). There are 1904 characters on the stele, compiled from Wang’s authentic works as collected by the emperors. “Many calli­graphers come to see this, and not just for one visit.”

The works on display in the third-floor exhibition room “Spirit of the Brush: Calligraphy Rubbings Through the Ages” exemplify the broad historical coverage of the museum’s collection. The exhibit reveals the evolution of calli­graphic styles as practised by master calli­graphers down the centuries, and is a rarity not to be missed.

Return to purity

“Every statue embraces the deep meaning of the Dharma.” Buddhist artists have transformed the sutras into images in order to preserve them forever. If you cultivate a mind without attachment, anticipation, envy or greed, you will find in them life’s blessings and wisdom. “We have a duty to preserve the Dharma.” With this deep sense of purpose, Vener­able Jian Chen is leading the museum in linking up with the world. Whether briefly sampling its collection or studying the works in depth, people of different ages and backgrounds will come away with different understandings. “It only takes one experience to be forever on the right path.”

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弘揚宗教之美

中台世界博物館

文‧李珊瑋 圖‧莊坤儒

宗教之美,在博在精,在歷史文化,在心之所向。寶相莊嚴,啟迪藝術修為;禪堂遺風,淨化紛擾心靈。佛法在世間,不離世間覺。慈悲看世界,大千皆有情。

由2009年中台山博物館(今木雕分館)開館,到2016年中台世界博物館落成,在中台山開山方丈惟覺安公老和尚「佛法五化」願行下,自靈泉寺信眾護持開始,歷經逾半甲子的匯聚修復,體現宗教藝術化,淨化人心的教化功能。佔地逾九公頃的園區,仿古長安城宏偉建築外觀,搭配新穎科技設施,體現盛世綿延的恢宏。兩館合計1,500多件宗教珍藏,跨越千古,橫亙東西,皆是善德信眾發心護持,成就大愛。千年一拓的碑林真跡,海內外唯二珍藏,殊勝無上。


十方三世,佛法殿堂

走進古樸的碩大城門,瞬間進入佛法世界。迎面而來的耀目璀璨,與沉穩的嚴護法城外牆,形成強烈對比。挑高九米的恢宏大廳,視野遼闊開朗。迎面高聳的如來石雕,慈悲莊嚴。仰望穹頂,內圓外方的藻井,映現十方三世的時空意象。崁頂的三環精雕佛像,寓意過去、現在、未來。內有象徵中台,意蘊清淨佛性的蓮花圖案,外有水波粼粼的蓮瓣,層層相扣,緜緜擴散。有若諸佛海會,歡喜迎賓。日光匯聚蓮心,撒落清新蓮影,投射在光潔的大理石地面,如日晷般,環繞大佛移轉,饒富趣味。

「我們和其他博物館最大的不同,是先有文物,再來規劃展場。」全程參與博物館規劃設計的中台世界博物館館長見諶法師,娓娓道來該館興起的源頭。「博物館是老和尚五化願景的最後一塊拼圖。」彷彿因緣相應,散落在世界各地的佛像、經幢等珍貴佛教文物,歷經千年的流離顛沛,由中台世界博物館創辦人惟覺安公老和尚登高一呼,半甲子間,紛紛回歸佛門,安於定址。

世界時空,歸於心念

「其實世界這個名詞,是源自於佛教經典。」見諶法師指出,世,是指時間,界,則是空間,也就是佛法中所稱的十方三世,養護眾生的華嚴宇宙。這個時空主軸,貫穿整個博物館,由入口穹頂的設計,到展廳的分配規劃、路徑的安排,全都是時間與空間的轉換。

為了給參觀者截然不同的感受,不只燈光經過特別設計,還依據華嚴經「十玄門」概念發想,用色彩分野展廳。以橘色妝點「古道遺韻」廳的印度造像;以寶藍修潤「金剛實相」廳的金銅佛像;以紫色莊嚴「寶華供養」。用濃濃的禪意,薰陶每一吋氛圍。讓參觀者在賞心悅目的時空裡,和文物感應交流。

導覽大廳,潔白明亮的L型入口迴廊,象徵時空轉化。走進多媒體展室,最佳的欣賞位置是居中席地而坐,包裹在四面八方的影像投射中,讓人分不清虛實。以動畫手法,讓觀眾了悟「善財童子」的慈悲喜捨。「中式西建,是中台一貫的理念。」用最新科技闡釋傳統佛法,親近信眾。

中台世界博物館規劃18座展廳,館藏1,176件。以「文以載道」、「像以印心」、「經以傳法」,見證佛法東傳的千年歷程,收錄十分專精完整。許多國內外的藝術家、宗教研究者,都對館藏的完整性和精緻度十分肯定。被譽為宗教界的羅浮宮,依循館方規劃的「storyline」走一趟,就能親身體驗跨越千古的佛教演化史。

千古如恆,慈悲守護

佛教造相,以相表法,禮敬諸佛,啟迪法喜。「只要看著這些在寰宇間,歷經千年風塵,屹立不搖的佛像,就對佛法增添了一份信念。」投注無盡心力,見證博物館從無到有的歷程,見諶法師以恭敬心、歡喜心,讓無情金石,走入有情世界。「因為木雕需要特殊的保存和展示環境,在籌備時,便規劃以木雕為主題的專題館。」嚴格掌控溫濕度,防火防蟲等措施。中台世界博物館以文物守護者的使命,要讓千年珍寶,永世留傳。

對於藝術家和佛教文物研究者來說,中台世界博物館和木雕分館就像一座寶庫,不僅賞心悅目,更宜剖析深究。「由佛像的造型和工法,就可以分辨出地域和年代。」具有倫敦大學文物修護研究碩士學歷的木雕分館館長見排法師,對400件館藏如數家珍。大至數公尺,小至一個指節的佛像,細膩精巧,令人炫目,不由得讚嘆宗教之美。

由佛像的裝束、戴冠、耳璫、臂釧、瓔珞等配飾,到身型比例,毫無掩飾地洩漏年代和地域。見排法師指著一座木雕菩薩像,高髮髻、雲袖飛卷,歸類為遼代風格。「因為契丹是草原民族,飛揚的飄帶,顯現出在馬上奔馳的英姿。」

館藏的佛像中,有彩漆剝落顯露底襯的,是考古研究的活教材。「這對金代的木雕,是在木頭上先裱褙一層紙,再上彩,與晚期用布裱褙的方式不同。」顯現當時木雕彩繪工藝的多樣性,懂得運用不同的資材施作。見排法師在修護過程中,用心鑽研佛像的沿革和差異,這也是博物館未來教化的願景。

細細審視佛像的面龐,由西方人的濃眉大眼,逐漸趨近於中國人柳眉鳳眼的清秀五官。見排法師指出:「南北朝是佛像漢化的一個分水嶺。宋代的佛像,又比唐代精緻很多。」具有表情內斂,五官細緻,材質溫潤的朝代共性。「早期的佛像,大多都是由一塊原木雕出來的。」直到榫接結構成熟後,才出現巨型的拼接佛像。

「四大菩薩的座騎都不同呢!」由手持慧劍,騎乘青獅的文殊菩薩,到騎乘白象,寓意布施、持戒、忍辱、精進、禪定、慧智,六波羅蜜的普賢菩薩。觀音菩薩的朝天吼、地藏菩薩的諦聽,每個座騎都寓含教化。如入寶山,用心鑽研,處處都是學問。

碑林真跡,絕世拓本

一場殊勝因緣,成就碑林廣場暨「千載豐碑」與佛教碑拓展廳。「來源是西安碑林博物館的原件,號稱千年一拓。」因為每天下班後,才能把原件厚重的保護裝置卸下,「有些碑高達五米多」,必須集眾人之力進行拓件作業,隔天又要復原展出,週而復始,耗時兩年才完成1,273件碑拓。目前一套由西安碑林博物館典藏,一套保存在中台世界博物館。

最著名的《集王三藏聖教序碑》匯集唐太宗、唐高宗序記、王羲之書法,因此也稱為「三絕碑」。全碑共1904字,是由懷仁法師匯集全天下王字真跡而成。因碑上刻有七佛,又稱《七佛聖教序》,「很多書法家都來參觀,而且不只來一次。」

三樓展廳的歷代書法碑拓,再次以世界經緯的概念陳列,典藏嶧山刻石、曹全碑、顏氏家廟碑、淳化閣帖等真跡拓本,得以一覽書法名家的篆、隸、楷、行、草等書體的演化,也是不可錯失的瑰寶。

回歸初心,映照清淨自性

佇立寰宇,千年一瞬,慈眉低垂,度化眾生,應而不藏,萬法自生。「每一尊像,都蘊含佛法的深意。」禮佛之人,將佛教經典圖像化,以利雋永留存。不將不迎,不忮不求,人生福慧哲理,自在其中。「我們有守護佛法的責任。」見諶法師以強烈的使命感,領航博物館走向世界。「其實博物館是一座自由學習的場域。」無論是走馬看花,或是深入細究,不同的年紀,不同的閱歷,體悟自有不同,「一入眼根,永為道種。」

浸潤在諸佛圍繞的時空裡,體現佛法中「觀」的修行法門。潛移默化中,解讀宗教藝術的密碼。古禪堂幽遠的禪定意境,耳際「維那」棒喝凌空響起,警示我們在娑婆大千世界,不退菩提,反芻道心,重回這念心的樸拙清淨。

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