This profile was last updated in 2003
Activities and Schedule
A Dharma Service in Chinese is held on Sundays from 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., followed by a vegetarian lunch. Dharma Services include sutra chanting, lectures, or repentance and meditation. The Lamp of Wisdom Merit blessing is held on the first Sunday of every month. A Dharma Service for English-speakers is also held on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Various classes and study groups are held on Saturday mornings and afternoons.
The Austin chapter of the International Buddhist Progress Society met in a small shop until construction could finally begin for the Xiang Yun Temple. The temple was constructed with a four-fold mission: 1) fostering talent through education, 2) propagating Buddha Dharma through cultural activities, 3) benefiting society through philanthropic programs, 4) purifying human hearts and minds through Buddhist practices. Venerable Master Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, visited the groundbreaking ceremony personally. The site for the temple is surrounded by rolling hills covered with cedar trees, which produce a fragrant smell. The nearby Colorado river produces a fog in the morning and the hills often stop the fog from dissipating. The fog and the cedar trees are what inspired Master Hsing Yun to name the temple “Xiang Yun” which means “fragrant clouds.” This term also alludes to clouds that surround the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas when their presences are honored. Ironically, the beautiful surrounding caused delays in constructing the temple. Environmentalism is given a very high priority by the city of Austin and there were many environmental concerns expressed by the city. It was ordered that the temple could not be visible above the tree line when seen from the highway. Fortunately, the large Maitreya Boddhisattva statue was allowed to be in public view, which helps newcomers to find the temple. Construction began in October 1995 and continued until June 19th, 1998. Materials were imported from all over the world including hand-painted, interior tiles from India and roofing tiles from Japan. Much of the construction, including all of the traditional Chinese carpentry, was done by volunteers. With construction completed, the next phase for Xiang Yun was to create a thriving cultural and religious center. More classes and events were organized in both religious and cultural subjects. Today, in addition to a place for worship and meditation, visitors to the Xiang Yun temple have a place where they can get a Chinese newspaper and read it the traditional tea room. The religious life of the temple is run by five nuns who are currently led by Venerable Abbess Yi Hong. Abbess Yi Hong arrived from Vancouver in September, 2002. Monks and nuns of the Fo Guang Shan order are made to transfer to different communities every few years. This practice serves to prevent attachment and encourages the learning of new skills. For Abbess Yi, being transferred to Austin meant brushing up on her English, which had not been needed in Vancouver.
People of all ages attend Xiang Yun temple. While most of the community is Chinese, there have been more and more Western visitors since the temple was completed. Large events such as the Buddha’s Birthday tend to bring visitors of all cultures. For English speakers who wish to attend services in Chinese, a headset system is available where a live interpreter can speak to you through an earpiece. Texts have also been transliterated for English speakers.
Xiang Yun was built on an 11 acre lot and has about 20,000 square feet of indoor space. It features offices, a dining hall, an information center, classrooms, a library, a meditation hall, and a traditional Chinese tea room. However, the temple’s greatest asset is the main prayer hall. The main prayer hall is called “the Precious Hall of the Great Hero”, referring to the heroic power of the Sakyamuni Buddha. All of the work for the prayer hall was done by members of the Xiang Yun temple. Inside are statues of the Amitabha Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha, and the Medicine Buddha. The text of the Diamond Sutra is inscribed on the wood paneling of the prayer hall. Outside the hall are brass sculptures of the Boddhisattvas Wei-Tuo and Qie Lan, both Dharma protectors. There is also a panel of Sakyamuni Buddha “twirling a flower and giving a subtle smile” at Vulture Peak. This event transmitted “the Mind Seal Dharma” to Mahakashyapa who became the first Indian Patriarch.
In addition to Dharma Services, Xiang Yun temple offers a wide variety of classes and study groups. One of the most important groups meets to translate Chinese texts into English. Translating religious and philosophical texts is especially challenging as it requires highly specialized vocabulary. There is also a study group for English speakers which covers Buddhist texts such as the Diamond Sutra, and a course in Ch’an Meditation. Xiang Yun also offers courses in a wide variety subjects relating to Chinese culture including Taiji, vegetarian cooking, healing massage, and acupuncture. For children, there is a course in abacus exercises, which promotes mental concentration and mathematical aptitude. There is also a summer program for children called the Buddha’s Light Summer School. Other activities include traditional weddings and major festivals such as the Buddha’s Birthday. The 2003 celebration of the Buddha’s Birthday featured performances and celebrations from numerous cultures including a traditional Lion Dance, a native Taiwanese dance, an Indian dance, and a Japanese drum team.