Meditation Builds Faith Museum; Ultramodern Effort Spotlights World's Religions and Their Effects on Believers

Article excerpt


TAIPEI, Taiwan - If you ever think that sitting in a cave staring at a wall for two years is a bad way to start a business, think again.

The merit, social prestige and credit you accumulate during your withdrawal from the world will act like flypaper on wealthy donors, whose very hard cash you can use to spread the important messages of peace and love, as well as build a state-of-the-art Museum of World Religions for $66 million.

That is what Dharma Master Hsin Tao Shin has done, and the result is an ultramodern museum that encompasses such a collision of ideas, theories and cultural trends that it would take a lucid semiotician to untangle the web.

As one ascends to the museum's entrance on the seventh floor, the light in the elevator's glass walls grows stronger. A long corridor settles senses overheated by the urban bustle on the street below, while existential questions flashing on pillars set the tone for the experience:

"What is the meaning of life?"

"Who created the universe?"

Don't forget to note the texture of the 23-layer floor: As you approach the entrance, rough pebbles give way to a surface as smooth as marble.

In the past few decades, Taiwan's economic miracle has provided for some well-endowed Buddhist societies on the island.

The largest and richest the Foguang Shan Society, which hosted the infamous fund-raising lunch for Al Gore has its own daily newspaper and since 1996 has operated Hsilai University in Rosemead, Calif. Others run hospitals and charities.

With its Museum of World Religions, the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society, founded by Dharma Master Hsin, has created its own special niche in this cutthroat, lucrative, burgeoning marketplace for spiritual solace and enlightenment.

"It's like a department store: You can choose your own religion," said Evelyn Kuo, media supervisor at the museum. Designed by the architect Ralph Appelbaum, who also planned the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Museum of World Religions, located on top of a Sogo department store in Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is much more than an old-fashioned depository for rare artifacts.

It is the latest in museum fashion: a "conceptual museum" that aims to provide a "total experience" and draws inspiration from such different pioneers as the Museum of Horror in London and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. …