So, we don’t always go to see the world’s largest stuff (you knew this was coming, right?). There are many huge, gigantic, sizeable, immense, jumbo, mammoth, BIG attractions out there to love, even if they fall short of the title. That’s why we’ve created a “Biggish” category where we can share information about intriguing BIG sites which are still worth a visit.
Where we went, and who was coerced into going:
Hey, we don’t limit ourselves to just the quirky, “ball of twine”- caliber attractions either! Occasionally, we have the need for some highbrow culture and enrichment. We just do it on a BIG scale.
So on a sunny but crisp fall afternoon, I took The Boy for an outing to the tranquil Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY, home of the largest Buddha statue in the western hemisphere. My son only had a half-day of school, and would rather have been parked in front of the Wii all afternoon. Unfortunately, he was cursed with a mother who can find a “teachable moment” at Jiffy Lube. And so, off to learn and explore…
He was eight years old at the time, and mature for his age, so I knew he would behave properly. The Girl was at daycare, and I know now that she probably would not have done well there.
WHY did you go there, exactly?
It’s true what they say about not appreciating what’s in your own backyard. I knew that the Buddha was located in our neighboring county, but it was years before I made the (literally) 20-minute trip go see it. It takes me longer to drive to B.J.’s to get The Girl’s Pull-Ups.
Time was of the essence, because the grounds are only open to the public April through December, and it was already November.
Okay, what was so cool about it?
The monastery’s collection of seven Asian-style buildings seems out of place in this New York suburb, but lovely nonetheless. We followed the stone path lined with statues of Buddha’s chubby, bald disciples up to the Great Buddha Hall. This took some time, as The Boy wanted to get a better look as several of them, which were positioned at eye level. Each had an open outstretched palm or other nooks in which to leave coins and small gifts.
We reached the hall, and removed our shoes. We entered, looked up, and gaped. At 37-feet tall, the “Great Buddha Vairocana” sits serenely in lotus pose, commanding the silent respect of the 10,000 small Buddha statues encircling him. Filled with the brilliant light of a late fall day, the spacious hall provided an unobstructed, pillar-free view — an architectural homage to the Tang Dynasty.
We two sat in a space designed for 2,000. The hall was empty, except for a lone employee, polishing the dark lacquered wood of a side altar. I was proud of The Boy’s respectful conduct. Looking all around at the murals, altars, and up at Buddha himself, he stared in calm reverence. Later he told me he felt all his worries float away in that space. I’m not sure how much an eight-year old has to worry about, but I’m glad Buddha was able to help.
We availed ourselves of the free literature in the back of the room, leaving a small donation. The Boy was thrilled with his colorful Chinese bookmarks, and even took a small book about Buddhism so he could learn more about it.
A little background info about the place:
The monastery is run by monks belonging to the Buddhist Association of the United States (BAUS). Retreats and workshops are offered to the general public, as well as an inexpensive, communal vegetarian meal on weekends.
How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):
This site is a solid 7. Going there offers an amazing opportunity to expose children to a different culture, religion and philosophy, and to get a conversation started about the Buddhist principles of wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline.
So, just where is the world’s largest Buddha? That depends. The Leshan Giant Buddha in China, at 233 feet tall is the largest carved stone Buddha, and is seated. The Monywa Buddha of Burma reclines, and stretches to 294 feet. And the bronze Ushiku Buddha of Japan stands at 394 feet.
Hey YOU! Go BIG:
Chuang Yen Monastery, 2020 Route 301, Carmel, NY. 845-225-1819
Epilogue: After a visit with the large-bellied one, you can head west into the riverside village of Cold Spring for lunch or dinner. You may be tempted by the antiques and gift shops, but chances are, your kids won’t. Take them to Whistling Willies’ American Grill for American comfort food, the Silver Spoon Restaurant for their popular “Big Daddy Burger,” or to the Cold Spring Depot if you’d like to eat outdoors and watch trains speed by.