Many of the main buildings at Dharma Drum Mountain, seen from one of their many walking paths.

Dharma Drum Mountain is a shorthanded way of saying, “The Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education.” This is a large assemblage of buildings and activities in a beautiful setting in Jishan District, about an hour north of Taipei in northern Taiwan. “Dharma Drum Mountain” consists mostly of two monasteries (male and female), two Buddhist colleges, and a large ceremony hall. You can read much about this organization and its activities throughout the world on their website, or in the Wikipedia article on Dharma Drum.

Dharma Drum Mountain, or DDM, was founded by Master Sheng-yen, a Chinese Chan (meditation) master of great renown. His autobiography is an interesting and inspiring account of the major activities in his life (also, see the Wikipedia article on Master Shengyen). He passed away in 2009, after spending the last few decades teaching, transmitting, and spreading the Dharma throughout Taiwan and the west.

Here’s an attempt to photograph the whole complex from a nearby mountain trail:

Many of the buildings at DDM, including the main Buddha Hall, the most prominent in this photo.

DDM was build over many years, and sits in was it effectively a valley half-way up a mountain, embraced by two streams. The views from DDM of Jinshan district and the surrounding mountains are very lovely, and the whole complex is very still and quiet (most of the time.) DDM consists of the following primary structures: separate quarters for male and female monks, a Buddhist college, dormitory for college students, a Sangha university for new monastics, a Chan (meditation) hall, a large building with administrative and dining facilities, a large Buddhist library, their Grand Buddha Hall, the world’s largest Lotus Bell, and numerous additional buildings, trails, and sites. It is hard to describe the layout of the buildings, as everything is built on fairly steep slopes. Here’s a map of the complex, if this helps:

Area map of DDM, as was compiled for an upcoming conference here.

Dharma Drum has also put together a very nice video tour of the whole complex, which you can watch the first part – 8 minutes – here (links to the second and third parts will be found on Youtube if you click the video below):

While there is much I could say about DDM just from my own very limited experience, I actually do not know a whole lot about their organization. So, I would just suggest following the links above to find out more information if you are interested.

I will say, however, the Master Sheng-yen’s primary aspiration and vow, it seems, is to establish a strong and enduring presence of Chan practice in the world. “Chan” is an interesting word. It basically means “meditation,” and it is the Chinese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word for a profound meditation state (“dhayna”). The more-familiar word “Zen” is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character for “Chan.” What Chan practice means, in shorthand, is to have our lives ordered and infused with the spirit of Chan Buddhism, largely consisting of mindfulness, ethical behavior, and selfless service in daily life. Up until recent decades, the laity in Chinese Buddhism did not have much in the way of a ‘practice,’ other than supporting the temples and monasteries. The last half of the 20th century saw, through Buddhism’s persecution in China, the rise and development of many very eminent Chinese masters in Taiwan, Master Sheng-yen being one of them, who sought to invigorate and promote the practice and Buddhist education for both monastics and laity. DDM is, at the same time, a significant culmination and the basic beginnings of the fulfillment of Master Sheng-yens vows.

The final thing I’ll say about DDM regards their “Lotus Bell.” This is, for me, one of the most inspiring things I have seen. A lotus bell usually refers to a bell that has the entirity of the Lotus Sutra engraved on its surface. The Lotus Sutra, all 28 chapters, has over 69,000 characters. So, Lotus Bells are quite large.

DDM has the world’s largest Lotus Bell. It is close to 15′ high and weighs 25 tons (!!) has both the entire Lotus Sutra engraved into it, plus the great Compassion Mantra, which amounts to over 70,000 chinese characters. I greatly value and revere the Lotus Sutra, so seeing such a phenomenal representation and display of this important scripture is very moving personally. Here are a few photos I took on a drizzly day to try and give a sense of the bell:

Seen from below; the last set of stairs to the bell has 28 steps, representing the 28 chapters of the Lotus Sutra.

The bell, the phenomenal structure that houses it, and the Grand Buddha Hall in the background.

A few of the 70,000+ characters engraved on the bell. It was crafted over a couple of years in Japan for DDM. It is rung only a few times a year for special services.

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