Every year for my birthday I choose a place or activity I’ve never been to or done and make an adventure out of the day. This year I choose to go visit the Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit. The Buddhist temple started construction in 1992 after the land was donated to Fo Gaung Shan, who started the monastery. The temple is about 30 minute’s drive from Pretoria East and easily accessible from the highway, but you could very well miss it when you zip past the small town of Bronkhorstspruit on your way to Witbank.
The temple is tucked away in a little dip on the quieter side of town and once you drive through the big arched gates you feel like you are far away from the dusty town and highway. The attention to detail and craftsmanship that must have gone into creating the temple is spectacular and the size of both the exterior and interior takes your breath away.
It is completely free to visit the Temple however, donations are welcome and once you are inside the main shrine you can opt to purchase some trinkets. I felt like I had stepped into Mulan the movie (one of my favourites obviously) as we walked into the huge main square with its carved white stone lions and intricate copper and ceramic pots.
The peace and tranquillity you feel when stepping into each of the beautiful shrines are amazing. I felt like I could have spent all day there and by being there all the wrongs in the world would be righted. It definitely is a spiritual experience and even if you are not a spiritual person the Nan Hua Temple leaves you with a sense of calm which I have only felt in some of those big old churches in Europe.
There are three shrines inside the temple. The first is at at the entrance and called Guan Yin or the Great Compassion Shrine. The second is the Ksitigarbha Shrine of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva of Great Vows riding on a mythical creature called a shanting. He carries the wish-fulfilling pearl and according to legend, Ksitigarbha made a vow that as long as there are people on earth he would not become a Buddha so as to lead people to enlightenment. In some ways, his story resembles that of Jesus dying for the sins of humans to lead them to heaven. The third and biggest shrine is the Main Shrine. It is huge and beautiful and smells of vagrant incense which is how I hope heaven will smell one day. The Main Shrine was only opened in 2005 and houses the Triple Gem Buddha. The Buddha’s represent Light, Joy and Health individually. They are carved out of solid pieces of wood and stand about 6 meters tall (this is just an estimate cause they looked much bigger to me). These Buddha’s are magnificent and make you feel small in the presence of their beauty. I wish I had a photo of them but out of respect, you aren’t allowed to take photos in the shrines. You will simply have to go see for yourself!
You will however not find monks walking around cleaning the floors and beautiful buildings, this service seems to have been outsourced to yet another cleaning service company. It was slightly unsettling to see these people walk around the temple grounds and in the shrines with very little respect for the place. We even found a dirty, wet mop propped in a corner of one of the shrine, in plain sight of everyone, and you wonder, what’s the use of us needing to take off our shoes in the shrines when these cleaners defile the spaces in this way.
Despite the buildings and shrines being in immaculate condition, the grounds and what was once gardens, around the temple are in complete disarray. There are weeds coming up through the paving in the main square and building material strewn all over the place on the sides of the temple. It’s not clear whether this is because the temple doesn’t have the money or because of a lack of caring and maintenance but it does leave you with a sour taste after the beautiful tranquillity you just experienced.
Once done in the temple you can cross the road to the original Guest House building, which was the first building built on the site after receiving the land. There is a museum with a beautiful calligraphy exhibition and, the final shrine, Pu Hsien Shrine where services are held. You can enjoy traditional Chinese High Mountain Tea or opt for a less traditional coffee or cappuccino at The Dew Drop Inn Tea House to end off your day.
Visiting the Nan Hua Temple is a wonderful activity for the weekend. It’s a great way to experience the Buddhist culture in the peaceful environment the religion is known for, but at the same time not feel too out of your comfort zone. No matter your religious beliefs or views visiting the Nan Hua Temple offers visitors a wonderful calming experience of beautiful architecture, art, and wonderful smells. Definitely one to put on your Free things to do in Gauteng list.