The fragrance of sweet incense and flowers fills the air at Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.
Dating back to 1738, Taipei's oldest temple attracts local worshippers as well as tourists. Although Longshan is multidenominational, its main deities are Guanyin (goddess of mercy) and Mattsu (goddess of safe travel). Try to visit on the first and fifthteenth evening of each lunar month, when Buddhists and Taoists leave lucky offerings (food, paper money) for the gods.
There is so much to take in at the temple - marvel at the bronze dragon poles and incense burners, ornate wood carvings, carved stone columns, and various courtyards (including one with a waterfall). Outside the temple, visitors can get more of the flavor of local Taiwanese life - there are monks, street vendors, an underground market, souvenir stands and plenty of snack carts.
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Rolling Your Way to a Lucky Future
One of the aspects of temple life I found most interesting in Taipei was the Taiwanese obsession with luck and wishes. At almost every temple, one can find areas where the faithful leave their fondest wishes in the hopes that they will be granted. If seeing the future is of interest to you, try rolling the special divination blocks found at most temples, including Longshan. Simply think of your question, roll the divination blocks, and ask someone nearby to help interpret the results. Even if you aren’t a fervent believer, it’s still a great way to better understand the importance of Buddhism in Taiwan.
When visiting Taipei our guide took us into a Buddhist temple in the middle of the city. Many people stop by during the day to leave an offering of fruit, burn some incense sticks or ring the bells. These women are volunteers who come in every day and recite prayers. Visiting places where people are participating in their spiritual traditions have been some of the most moving and memorable experiences of my trips.