As the Zeedijk undulates from Prins Hendrikkade (Prince Hendrik Quay) in the north to Nieuwmarkt square in the southeast, it's hard to see what awaits on each sharp bend in the street, a row of restaurants, bars and cafes, toko's (non-Europen supermarkets) and boutiques. Despite the diversity of the street, visitors are often surprised to stumble on the He Hua Buddhist Temple, located on a bow in the tortuous road, and whose traditional Chinese palace architecture towers over the narrow street. What is the story of this temple, which stands in stark contrast to the typical Dutch architecture of the historic street?
The He Hua Buddist Temple, whose name translates to "Lotus Flower", opened its doors in 2000 as a center for Humanistic Buddhism, which seeks to weave Buddhist spirituality into the everyday lives of its practitioners. The Chinese name also echoes the temple's mission to educate the Dutch public about Buddhism, as the first syllable in "He Hua" is the same as in "He Lan", the Chinese name for Holland. To this end, the temple is free to enter, and volunteers are on hand to offer tours and provide information to curious minds of any nationality.
The entrance to the temple complex is a series of three adjacent arches, a number that has a rich symbolism for Buddhists; the central one is traditionally reserved for use by monks and nuns, the two smaller ones for laymen. Overhead, the brilliant roof tiles and animal statues, which represent the Chinese zodiac, are the product of Chinese artistry; the tiles, however, have not fared so well in the Dutch climate, and are now wrapped in net to catch any debris that chips off. The hybrid facades on either side of the temple proper are used to ease the transition from the lavish palace architecture back to Dutch row houses, and blend elements from both sides of the spectrum.
The entrance at the top of the stone stairs leads visitors into the central shrine, devoted to Kuan Yin (sometimes referred to as the "Goddess of Mercy"), one of the chief bodhisattvas of East Asian Buddhism; on either side of her are the dharma protectors Wei Tuo and and Qie Lan. The Śākyamuni shrine is dedicated to Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha; just as the likeness of Kuan Yin is echoed in the wall reliefs of the main shrine, so is the likeness of the Buddha in the scores of identical statues in the Śākyamuni shrine, a repetition that is meant to evoke the omnipresence of the "universal Buddha nature", a major tenet of East Asian Buddhism. Devotees offer incense or fruit to the two deities, and the scent of incense permeates the shrines.
Visitors are invited to explore the temple at their own pace, or can avail themselves of the half-hour tours offered on Saturdays at 3, 4 and 5 p.m. In addition, the temple puts on special events and activities for the public all year round, both in the temple itself and on the nearby Nieuwmarkt square; these include the celebration of Vesākha - the "Buddha's Birthday" - whose date on the lunar calendar usually falls in May. See the Activities section of the He Hua Buddhist Temple web site for a list of what's on.
He Hua Buddhist Temple Visitor Information:
He Hua Buddhist Temple Location
Zeedijk 106 - 118
- Tues. - Sat. 12 - 5 p.m.
- Sun. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Closed Mon and January 1.
- By foot - From the south side of Amsterdam Central Station, follow Prins Hendrikkade eastward until it branches off into Zeedijk; the temple is on the west side of the street.