Ven. Dharma Master Hsin Tao

No Ordinary Monk

Hsin Tao
Photo courtesy the Museum of World Religions

His followers say that he predicted the Sept. 11 attacks long before that day, but Ven. Dharma Master Hsin Tao, 54, denies the claims of his clairvoyance.

“We didn’t choose that day deliberately; it was a coincidence,” said the Zen Buddhist monk, referring to the opening date of the Museum of World Religions, his decade-long dream:  Nov. 9, 2001, or 11/9—the reverse of 9/11. “But I do believe it means that we have a mission.”

Conceived by American architect Ralph Applebaum, best known for designing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the US$66-million Museum of World Religions, located in Yonghe, Taipei County, Taiwan, contains exhibits designed by scholars from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, as well as religious artifacts from around the world. The museum’s stated mission is to promote understanding and tolerance among the world’s religions, and to stand as a symbol of love, devotion, and service—qualities Hsin Tao believes are all the more imperative after the tragedy of Sept. 11.

Born in Burma to ethnic Chinese parents, Hsin Tao was introduced early on to life’s hardships, tragedies, and the sting of human brutality. At the age of 4, he became an orphan. At 10, he was recruited into a Burmese guerrilla force. In 1960, as a young teenager, he escaped to Taiwan on the tails of the Chinese Kuomintang (Nationalist) army, which retreated from Burma after its failed invasion.

In Taiwan, Hsin Tao found himself drawn to Buddhism and the monastic life. For two years, he cloistered himself in a cave overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Taipei County and meditated on the questions of life and death. When he emerged—skeletal from the fasting but enlightened—he founded the Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society and, with the help and donations of followers and volunteers, built a monastery on Taiwan’s craggy northeastern coast. Generous donations from his 100,000 followers enabled Hsin Tao to finance the construction of the museum, he says.

Of his unique project, the dharma master wrote on the museum’s Web site, “I hope that...the museum is a first step in propagating the ideals of love and peace to all corners of the world that will enable every person in this time of discord and disturbance to rediscover the tranquility of their inner spirit.”

For his pivotal work, the dharma master was formally invited to join the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders’ international advisory board by Secretary-General Bawa Jain in April 2001.