Seated peacefully atop a lotus flower, the Tian Tan Buddha dominates the valley on Lantau Island. Although its size is average compared to some of the world’s most massive Buddhas, the Tian Tan Buddha holds the distinction of being the largest seated bronze Buddha in the world.
Ignoring its size completely, the statue seems more impressive due to its location, in a valley surrounded by densely forested peaks. At 112 feet high, the Buddha can even be seen through the mountains from nearby Macau on a clear day. With eyes closed and right hand raised, the Buddha’s calm and wise appearance seems to control the energy of the valley. Yet beneath his tranquil gaze is a fearsome cult of consumerism.
Constructed between 1990-1993, the Buddha is a money-making machine. Adventure-seekers climb the 268 steps to the Buddha’s feet, but the monastery does not discriminate; a ramped path makes the trip up to Buddha’s pedestal accessible for families and the handicapped. Once everyone makes it up to the Buddha’s seat, the costs begin.
Although access to the site is free, entrance to the Buddha costs money, and many pilgrims cannot stop themselves at simply walking up to the peaceful figure. Besides that, the inside of the Buddha allegedly holds the cremated remains of the Buddha inside a relic, but even a quick view is going to cost you.
Despite its impressive construction and beautiful location, as a modern marvel the Buddha dangerously straddles a line between religious praise and religious tourism.