With shiny roasted ducks hanging in restaurant windows, bank signs boasting both English and Hanzi lettering and tai chi practitioners and mahjong players filling the parks, a jaunt through Chinatown feels like a travel adventure. But perhaps nowhere in the neighborhood transports you to a uniquely Chinatown experience as much as stepping through the doors of the Mahayana Buddhist Temple at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge.
The façade of Chinatown’s biggest Buddhist temple is an interesting mixture of boring, flat-faced concrete building and embellishments like a trio of pagoda roofs, red lacquer doors and two distinctly Asian golden lions.
Inside the temple, you are immediately overcome by the presence of a mammoth, 16-foot-high golden Buddha perched on a lotus flower and framed by a glowing neon blue halo. Unlike the more austere and elegant space that might come to mind when one thinks of a Buddhist temple, Mahayana has a colorful, almost kitsch feel to it; red and gold gilding are the mainstays of a motif detailed with elaborate dragon reliefs, banquet hall-style chandeliers, gongs and altars laden with flowers and fresh fruit (a token that parishioners leave to honor those dear to them who have passed). The story of the Buddha is depicted in a series of 32 wall hangings.
Amidst the over-the-top décor, though, is a sense of serenity, due in part to the scent of handfuls of incense burning in a bowl near the entrance. Services are open to the public on weekends. For a $1 donation, you can receive your fortune in a rolled scroll, and if you want to bring a bit of the experience home, there is a great gift shop upstairs with colorful Buddhas, incense, teapots and other trinkets, all at inexpensive prices.
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