Who the Hell is "The Temple Guy"?


Here are my bona fides--a little background on how I became "The Temple Guy" (and how I have the nerve to call myself that!)

It all started on the shores of the Peaceful Ocean in the City of Angels on that magic day when the Magic Kingdom opened: July 17, 1955.

San Gabriel, my "neighborhood mission"
Growing up, I was always fascinated by large sacred buildings--or at least venerable ruins. The California missions were the first I remember encountering; although the oldest, San Diego, had been founded in 1769, the actual oldest building still standing in California is the Serra Chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano, built in 1783. I have bathed in the antiquity! (Small beans compared to America's East Coast--let alone China or Japan--I know, but still...)

Then, when I was around 15, and had started shooting a little Argus C3 camera and developing my own black and white film, we stopped on the way home from visiting family in Tucson to soak in the first major Native American ruin I ever recall seeing: the Casa Grande in Coolidge, Arizona, 45 miles or so southeast of Phoenix. The "Big House" for which it was named was abandoned sometime around 1450, over three centuries before the Serra Chapel was built. My appetite was further whetted by the fact that this amazing building--said to be "one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America" (park brochure)--was built by a historically unknown people (called "ancient Sonoran Desert people") for an unknown purpose. Kewl!

Casa Grande Ruin, Arizona--you never forget your first!

As time passed, I was to pursue more missions, pueblos, and ruins in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and even down into Baja California in Mexico. Before I was The Temple Guy, I was The Mission Guy!

Kiva, Alcove House, Bandelier National Monument

But then, in my early forties and out of a job, I went to Japan to teach English. After a couple of years making forays here and there, I got serious and completed all four of Japan's major pilgrimages (the Saigoku, Bando, Chichibu, and Shikoku), as well as a walk down its most famous ancient highway (the Tokaido), in just over two years' time.

Those four pilgrimages add up to 188 temples; by rough count then I must have been to at least 250 in total, as well as a handful of Shinto shrines, and castles.

Am I starting to look like The Temple Guy yet? No?

Just before setting out on my epic journey through Japan

Okay, so I went home to L.A. and completed the major coursework for a PhD in Buddhism, lacking only the dissertation and one language course. I also gave tours and edited texts in a place that claimed to be "the largest Buddhist temple in North America."

Then love called, and I was off to China!

That love didn't last more than a few months, but my love of temples did, and I stayed for over 11 years. Sadly, I discovered that China did not have organized pilgrimage routes like those in Japan. But by a twist of fate, in 2009 I discovered a list of 142 temples designated as "Key" by the Beijing government, and a few months later I was off again!

To date I have visited 132 of the 142, and am currently laying plans to go back to China (from my home in the Philippines) to complete the quest. Throw in the many non-listed Buddhist temples and dozens more folk temples I've visited, and I figure I've been to at least 200 temples in the mainland and Hong Kong.

With three of the monks I taught in China

Add to that the year I lived and worked in a temple in China, teaching monks the English terminology for Buddhist teachings; the speech I gave at the investiture of a new abbot (a former student); my presence on the dais at the (re-)opening of a new temple; my on-going friendships with monks; the series of temple articles I've written for a Chinese newspaper; and my intensive study of the lives and legends of the many figures typically found in Chinese temples, and I hope you'll agree:

I'm The Temple Guy!

Last updated Mar. 1, 2019

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