Venerable Miao Hsi poses for a portrait inside the main shrine at Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA. Hsi Lai is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the western hemisphere.

Venerable Miao Hsi

The Buddhist Monk

The idea for the Hsi Lai mountain monastery in Hacienda Heights, one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Western Hemisphere, was first planted in the late 1970s. That’s when Master Hsing Yun, the founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order in Taiwan, came to the U.S. and was asked by American supporters to build a monastery in Los Angeles. At first, the order bought an old church building and turned it into a pagoda they dubbed the Bai Ta (or White Pagoda) Temple in the city of Maywood. “Eventually, Master Hsing Yun felt we needed to build a more traditional Chinese temple in the architecture, at least,” says Venerable Miao Hsi, a monk who’s been at Hsi Lai since its very beginning, and has served as the temple’s director. “So we found this place on a little hill. A traditional Chinese temple would be on a hill or on a mountain, so we were like ‘OK, maybe this is the place for us.’” But the planning and construction of the fifteen-acre temple complex in the decade that followed would be rife with drama. Nearby communities in Hacienda Heights complained about the project being too big, and possibly bringing too much traffic and noise to the area. Over the past twenty years, though, opposition has diminished and the demographics of Hacienda Heights have changed considerably —Latino and Asian families now comprise the majority of residents. Hsi Lai is still a popular destination for Asian buddhists from throughout the region, but the temple also welcomes increasing numbers of non-Asian visitors. “Now we’re a combination of practically everyone,” says Miao Hsi. “Now we all get along.”