Big­gest temple in town still waits to be found

It’s five acres un­der one roof, but has very few con­gre­gants

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL WILSON

If there is a larger church or temple in all of Canada, we’d like to hear about it.

This one hides in plain sight in the mid­dle of Hamil­ton.

The Fah Hoy Bud­dhist Temple is just south of Barton, just east of Gage, on a runt of a street called Lin­den.

It’s five acres un­der one roof, a con­verted fac­tory, and is home to one man. Ging Mark lives in the temple with some dogs that be­long here, and squir­rels and mice that don’t. (No traps — the Bud­dhist way is to harm no liv­ing thing, not even a fly.)

Like a monk, Mark lives fru­gally and thought­fully, med­i­ta­tion at the core of his life. But he prefers the term non-or­dained seeker. “Nir­vana is still far away,” he says. Mark was born in China 66 years ago. He came to Canada at 18, earned a com­puter de­gree from Mon­treal’s Con­cor­dia Univer­sity. About 20 years ago, he re­tired from a suc­cess­ful ca­reer

as a soft­ware en­gi­neer. Some of his work was re­lated to space ex­plo­ration.

But he wanted to go higher, to the heav­ens. So he de­voted him­self to Bud­dhism. It is more a way of liv­ing than a religion. Peace of mind can be yours.

The fac­tory that be­came a temple is old. Kraft Con­tain­ers opened this vast plant in 1936. Later known as Consolidated-Bathurst, it could turn out 37 kilo­me­tres of cor­ru­gated card­board in an eighthour shift.

They shut it down in 1983. The build­ing was empty when the Bud­dhist As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada came by in the late 1990s. The sprawl­ing mother temple in Toronto — which clearly isn’t strapped for cash — was in ex­pan­sion mode. They de­cided to build a show­piece in Ni­a­gara Falls, right on River Road. It’s an at­trac­tion that draws tour buses to the door.

In Hamil­ton, the Bud­dhists bought the old con­tainer build­ing for about $3 mil­lion. Mark, our ac­com­mo­dat­ing guide, ex­plains it was im­por­tant to make the fac­tory look like a temple. So in 2002 they spent $600,000 for a new fa­cade, with tall pil­lars, arched doors, and two lions on guard. (They look iden­ti­cal, but care­ful ob­servers will note that one is def­i­nitely a male.)

They spent $2 mil­lion on new roof­ing. Add in im­prove­ments like a full com­mer­cial kitchen and a large cedar-lined med­i­ta­tion room, and to­tal in­vest­ment in the prop­erty ap­proaches $10 mil­lion.

Vis­i­tors step into a ca­nary-yel­low lobby, with stat­ues and flow­ers and in­cense. Beyond that, through a se­ries of doors, are dim­lit cav­erns — each the size of a cathe­dral.

In the Hall of the Dis­ci­ples, there are 500 stat­ues. Each is dif­fer­ent, each weighs hundreds of pounds, put in place with a fork­lift. An­other room, big­ger yet, has 900 stat­ues.

There are large and in­tri­cate stat­ues of Bud­dha. One, made of wood, has a thou­sand eyes, a thou­sand hands. The eyes to see suf­fer­ing, the hands to help it.

“We see Bud­dha as a teacher,” Mark says. “We don’t see him as a god.”

Through­out these spa­ces, soft chant­ing is heard. But it comes from speak­ers.

And now, a hard truth. This enor­mous king­dom has nearly no sub­jects.

There is one ser­vice a week, at 10 o’clock on Satur­day morn­ings. It’s in Chi­nese, but open to all. Some days there are 20 peo­ple here. Other Satur­days, less than half that. The con­gre­ga­tion is no larger now than when the build­ing opened some 20 years ago.

And the temple is reg­u­larly un­der siege. The steel doors have been re­in­forced, but van­dals still break in, smash win­dows, dam­age walls.

All that money spent to plant the flag. Was this a gi­ant mis­take?

“We never feel that way in Bud­dhism,” Mark says. “We just put in the ef­fort and we never ques­tion the re­sult …

“We needed to re­fur­bish this build­ing for the peo­ple of Hamil­ton. This is not just for us. It’s avail­able, it’s wait­ing. Some­times the next level is very hard.”

Ging Mark with stat­ues of some of Bud­dha’s 500 dis­ci­ples at the Fah Hoy Bud­dhist Temple, just south of Barton and east of Gage.

Ging Mark, the lone res­i­dent at the Fah Hoy Bud­dhist Temple, in a med­i­ta­tive pose with stat­ues of Bud­dha’s dis­ci­ples.

“We needed to re­fur­bish this build­ing for the peo­ple of Hamil­ton,” says Ging Mark, left.

A shrine at the back of the temple.

The Kraft Con­tainer plant opened in 1936 at what is now the temple site. It later be­came Consolidated-Bathurst.

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