The Philippines is known to be a predominantly Catholic nation. But as visitors would realize, the country is an interesting mosaic of different religions, cultures and beliefs from all over the world. Case in point: you can find one of the Philippines’ largest Buddhist temples in the predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao.
We visited the Longhua Buddhist Temple, also known as Lon Wa on a Sunday, two days after the Chinese New Year. Located along J.P. Cabaguio Avenue, the temple was surprisingly replete of guests when we arrived. No one was around save for a cheery guard who greeted us at his station on the left side of the entrance gate.
The Longhua Buddhist Temple is a convent for monks and nuns of Philippine Academy of Sakya, a Buddhist movement. It serves as a place for worship for Chinese residents and visitors, as well as a popular tourist attraction in Davao City. The guard, who as it turned out was also the tour guide, told me at the Longhua Buddhist Temple is currently the sixth most visited attraction in the city.
Visitors are welcomed by a Fortune Buddha sitting in the middle of a lily pond. The smiling statue is said to grant wishes, especially if you manage to aim a coin to its lap without it falling into the water after. I tried thrice to no avail but our guide merrily said that Buddha might still be in a good mood after the Chinese New Year.
Longhua Buddhist Temple’s architecture is quite interesting. From outside it looks as grand as one can expect any Chinese temple to be. The sweeping staircase leading to the main temple is guarded by a male and female lion on each side. The manicured grounds are laden with palms, shrubs, stone statues of monks, and a monument to the temple’s founder which contains his ashes.
The interior is quite a contrast to the façade. Save for the Italian marble slabs and ornate wood carvings along the walls, the temple’s design is simplistic, a testament to the Buddhist teaching of simplicity. Visitors are allowed to enter the main prayer hall and take photos as long as you take off your footwear. We were told that visitors need to go barefoot in areas where the flooring is polished wood.
To the right of the main prayer hall is an office (perhaps of the chief monk) and a souvenir shop where you can buy prayer beads and Buddha replicas. On the upper landing is the temple of the Thousand-Armed Kuan Yina, the goddess of compassion and mercy. Our guide taught us how to properly pray to the goddess: light three joss sticks, say a prayer or make a wish, take the two pieces of kidney-shaped wood over the smoke and drop them to the floor facing the golden statue. If one falls face up and the other face down, the goddess will grant your prayers. I can happily say that according to that ritual, my wish will come true!
The tour was over before we knew it but I got curious about the room behind the founder’s monument. The guard/guide gladly led me to a smaller room which apparently is a reliquary of sorts. Ashes of dead Chinese residents are kept in small wooden coffins inside the room until they are either taken to China or scattered in the sea. Inside was also a statue of the Buddhist equivalent to St. Peter (as my guide put it) and photos of departed Chinese members of the temple inserted into golden prayer frames. This room is not part of the customary tour so you may have to ask the guard if you also want to see it.
Tours around the temple are for free though you can give the jolly guard any amount for his time and effort in showing you around. The temple is open every day from 9AM to 4:30PM. Best come in modest attire as a show of respect to the monks and nuns.
HOW TO GET THERE
-Take a Route 10 jeepney to Cabaguio Avenue and ask the driver to drop you off at Longhua Buddhist Temple. Fare is P8 from the city center.
-Take a taxi to the temple. Flag down rate is P40 with increments of P3.50 for every succeeding kilometer.