If you are ever in Taipei, do not pass up the chance to visit the unique Museum of World Religions. You will have to leave the comfort of the English-friendly subway system and take a shuttle bus from an unmarked-in-English bus stop to the mall where it resides. My Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring promised that it would have depictions of ten of the world’s most influential religions, but with a street-front entrance attached to the side of a mall, the museum did not look like much. I had faith in my yellow bible, and I’ll-be-damned if it wasn’t right.
The museum begins with a glass-pane waterfall and description of the concept of purification in various religions. Next is the Pilgrim’s Way with philosophical questions (in Chinese and English) projected on the walls:
What is consciousness?
What was I before I was born?
Why is there memory?
Who am I?
The Way (…or Dao) ends in the Golden Lobby where the museum has created a combined cosmology on the floor. The cosmograph is a labyrinth of symbols and colours held sacred by various religions. I was hoping that the gift shop would have had a depiction of it—otherwise I would have taken notes and/or photographs. Unfortunately, no gifts resembled the remarkable wheel.
The museum’s other highlights are a short film of creation myths; a collection of religious artefacts and replicas; stunning models of famous temples; detailed descriptions of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Ancient Egyptian, Christianity, Shinto, Mayan, Daoism, Sikhism, and Hinduism; a meditation gallery; and a room with video clips of famous religious leaders discussing their faiths. Jane Goodall talked about chimps and their waterfall rituals which look like the beginning of Animism; a Hindu said—quite rightly—that the question is not “Who am I?” but “What am I becoming?”; and another Hindu had an intriguing idea about the mind as energy. Because we are composed of atoms and subatomic particles constantly giving and receiving energy, he argued that consciousness is ancient and the mind (as energy) is indestructible. “No other entertainment is necessary when watching one’s own consciousness. To be in the state of a smile, love, peace, and awareness. It’s all about knowing yourself.” The Buddhist creator of the museum also spoke on the video, as did a First Nation’s Canadian who talked about the “other world” he has seen when communing with the Grandfather Tree in the forest.
The museum did a splendid job of showing the similarities between religions and the value to be found in spiritual faith (although I still believe it all comes back to philosophy—all the god nonsense can be cut out). I feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon that exquisite museum of tolerance. As the Golden Lobby’s pillars say (in fourteen different languages):
Love is Our Shared Truth
Peace is Our Eternal Hope