Top

Where to Shop for a New Religion

On the sixth and seventh floors of the Pacific Department Store in Yungho City, Taiwan, about 40 minutes from the city of Taipei, is a unique kind of shopping experience. Called the Museum of World Religions, it is the brainchild of Master Hsin Tao, a Buddhist monk from Myanmar who renounced the world for more than 10 years and lived in a cemetery pagoda and a cave on a remote and desolate mountain. He emerged with a goal of relieving suffering in people’s minds and hearts by building a spiritual supermarket, where people could shop for a religion they wanted to follow. He decided to build it in Taiwan, a bastion of capitalism and for-profit living.

“We share our space with the dead,” says my guide, explaining the Taiwanese religion. “Over here is a person with flesh and over there is a ghost with no flesh. Do you know what a ghost is? A person who dies with a legal heir becomes an ancestor. But a person who dies without family becomes a ghost.”

He leads me to a room with a large video screen, where religious leaders, from the Grand Mufti of Bosnia to a Vipassana Buddhist, adeptly describe their spiritual awakening. “I had ego, short-temperedness, and psychosomatic illness,” says the Buddhist. “I took a 10-day Vipassana course, and I felt love — pure love — and compassion.” The words of the interviewees are inscribed on the walls surrounding the screen.

Down the hall is an area devoted to funerals and the afterlife. One can sit quietly and watch intimate footage of pudu — a Taiwanese ceremony to release souls from purgatory—or be a fly on the wall at funerals in India or Israel.

If you’ve wondered what certain faraway houses of worship are like, there are large models of the thirteenth-century Jewish Altneuschul in Prague, Chartres Cathedral, the second-century Shinto temple of Ise Jingu, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. You can walk around them and then, by pressing a button, illuminate the insides so you “feel” the sacred architecture and what it is like to worship there.

The museum is constructed with an eye to the future — the displays are interactive. While waiting to visit the museum, you can leave messages online about your own miraculous experiences (go to http://www.mwr.org.tw/en-library/en.htm and choose “Community”). The environment is acoustically alive with rhythmic religious music that helps the mind and spirit soar toward heaven, as you leave the bustling world outside.

Master Hsin Tao believes that today’s tech-savvy kids are not interested in dusty cultural artifacts. They want technologically sophisticated displays that allow them to experience all the religions of the world and feel the concept of universal love.