Construction of the Great Compassion shrine commenced on December 15th, 1968. It covers an area of 800 square meters and is 20 meters in height. Within the shrine stands a six-meter high image of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan Yin) in white, who gazes upon all living beings with eyes of love and compassion.
The Thousand-hand-thousand-eye Great Compassion Heart Dharani Sutra states that Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva has already attained Buddhahoodcountless eons ago, and is known as Saddharmaprabasa Tathagata, the Buddha of True Dharma Light. Because of deep mercy and compassion for the living beings of the Saha world, Avalokitesvara made vows to overcome the sufferings and pain of all living beings, and thus manifests countless transformation bodies to heed the cries of this world and liberate all. Thus she is known as the great compassionate one.
The four walls of the Great Compassion shrine are replete with many smaller images of Avalokitesvara in the style of the Dunhuang Caves. It is Taiwan’s first shrine to be built in the “palace hall” style. Outside the shrine are the coupled verses:
Filling the Saha world,
The countless transformation bodies of the thousand hands, thousand eyes one.
Traveling through every nation,
Liberating Limitless living beings, with great kindness and great compassion.
It describes the loving and merciful spirit of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, who responds to every cry, and never abandons a single life. The outer walkway on four sides depicts twelve deeds of Avalokitesvara as recorded in the Universal Gate Chapter of the Lotus sutra. The beauty and splendor let one feel as though they were truly within a Buddha Land.
While under construction, in front of the shrine was the dormitory of Tsung Lin University, and the eastern wing was built up from rock and earth to a height of some 30 feet. At the time, construction materials were poor and difficult to access, especially when typhoons struck. However, Venerable Master Hsing Yun and all the disciples of Fo Guang Shan were fearless and never gave up. In April 1971, Fo Guang Shan’s first shrine hall was finally completed.