SYNOPSIS: I resisted visiting the Chuang Yen Monastery for a long time. It seemed to me to be one of the first places that sprung up while doing an internet search for ‘things to do’ in Putnam County, and I tend to prefer undiscovered gems. When I finally went, what I found was a place that really was fascinating, and despite all the press the facility gets, nothing I have ever read about it made it sound nearly as interesting as it actually is.
APPROXIMATE TIME: You could be there 15 minutes, or all day long. A two hour visit should give you enough time to take in the scenery.
DIRECTIONS: From downtown Carmel, head west on Route 301 for 8.5 miles. The entrance to the monastery will be on the right.
THE VISIT: As you enter the grounds, the speed limit drops to 15mph so as not to hurt small animals. The general feeling of the property is quiet and serene.
From the parking area, we walked up the statue-lined, brick-paved path that leads to the Great Buddha Hall. This is the Bodhi Path, and is symbolic of the path to enlightenment. The 9 statues on each side of the path represent Arahants, great disciples of Buddha.
We took our shoes off to enter the hall. Inside, a 3-story high Buddha statue towers over the visitors. 10,000 small Buddhas surround the main statue. In one corner of the room, there was a lecture in session. In another corner, a table of books for sale. We walked around the Buddha statue, taking in the artwork and culture.
Next, we headed over to Kuan Yin Hall to get a glimpse of the 1000 year old statue inside. We tiptoed into a dimly lit room. People were seated along the walls meditating, and the smell of incense filled the air. Since I had my young kids with me, out of respect for the meditating folks we didn’t stay long because kids have a way of being naturally distracting.
Next, we took a stroll around the property. There are a series of trails that go through the garden and around Seven Jewel Lake. As we made a counterclockwise loop around the lake, there are a number of spots to just sit and relax, and the lake itself is teaming with fish, frogs and birds.
The Woo Ju Memorial Library was closed by the time we got there. We also missed the Thousand Lotus Memorial Terrace, where twice a year the ashes of the deceased are placed. On Sundays, they do vegetarian brunch that attracts many visitors. The Chuang Yen Monastery is well worth a visit – relaxing, picturesque, and maybe enlightening.
HISTORY: This facility is the headquarters of the Buddhist Association of the United States. Dr. C. T. Shen leased 125 acres to the Buddhist Association of the United State in November of 1975 for a cost of $1 per year. In 1981 he donated the land to them, and construction on the monastery started in March of 1981, and took eight years to build. The Tai Hsu Hall was built in 1990.
“Chuang Yen” means Majestically Adorned. The monastery property has expanded to be 225 acres today.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The monastery is located within the town of Kent, though the monastery’s website lists the mailing address as Carmel, and services like Mapquest also use a Carmel address of 2020 Route 301. The facility is generally open to visitors from 9am to 5pm, April through December. There is a lot of info on their website at www.baus.org, and info is available by calling 845/225-1819. Dogs are permitted (leashed and cleaned up after, of course).
-www.baus.org, accessed 7.19.13.
-Monetti, Rich. “Finding Your Zen“. Eventful Magazine – Putnam Edition. June 2011. Modern Media Publishing. Carmel, NY