SAN FRANCISCO (RNS)--The Venerable Dharma Master Hsin-Tao got the idea for the Museum of World Religions in a graveyard.
Spend enough time among symbols of death and you come to realize thebasic unity of the world.
"It shows you very clearly where all human life will end, whetheryou are rich or poor," Hsin-Tao said. "You realize life and death areequal."
Hsin-Tao has chosen to spend much of the last 10 years of his lifedeveloping and financing the first museum devoted to revealing thewisdom of the world's faiths to mass audiences.
Next spring, the $66 million Museum of World Religions is scheduledto open in Taipei, Taiwan. The 86,000-square-foot museum, designed bythe firm that was commissioned to do the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,intends to combine religious symbols and artifacts with a spiritual experience that is respectful to all religions.
Almost a city block in width, the museum is designed to havevisitors spend two hours wandering through exhibits that both teach andallow them to experience aspects of religions both Western and Eastern.<>
The task was to produce harmony in an environment of intensediversity and allow visitors to go on a spiritual quest that would makethem think twice about issues that they may not normally think of atall, Appelbaum said.
The plan to disrupt the everyday sense of time and place begins witha slow-moving elevator up to the museum. When visitors enter the museum,they will hear the sound of rushing water. They can participate in apurification process by cleansing their hands in a curtain of water.
They will then encounter a special surface that retains theimpression of their handprints, evoking the rituals of ancient peopleswho left shadow images of their hands on stone cave walls.
Early on, visitors will enter a theater that depicts a series ofcreation accounts from different cultures. The show concludes with ababy crying, and then visitors enter an exhibit showing celebrations ofthe life cycle from birth to death among different religions.
An inaugural special exhibition will devote particular attention toBuddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism andTaoism. As they leave, visitors may receive a blessing from the dharmamaster.
Much of the funding for the museum is coming from followers ofHsin-Tao, but the Center for the Study of World Religions at HarvardDivinity School is among the institutions and museums offeringassistance in its development.
The museum said it has received the spiritual if not the financialblessing of many world religious leaders and has received gifts for itscollection from several sources, including the Dalai Lama. It plans tocharge an admission fee of about $7.50.
Hsin-Tao founded the Ru Huan Monastery in Ilan, Taiwan, and laterthe Ling-Jiou Mountin Wu Sheng Monastery.
Part of what spurred him to create the world religions museum washis concern that many people look at situations throughout the worldfrom Northern Ireland to the Middle East and see religion as a source ofconflict.
"Each religion is a good thing in itself, but we don't seem tounderstand the problems modern society sees in religion," he said in aninterview during a visit to San Francisco for a September meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association. "There is no place where religion can bepresented in a way that is encompassing and shows the good things aboutreligion."
Dressed in red and gold robes with a red head covering, Hsin-Taoconstantly smiles and touches people he meets as he discusses how loveis at the center of religion.
"Each religion has great potential to help humanity, and if thosepotentials shine together, the potential would be immense," he said,speaking through an interpreter.
He accepts the different approaches of the world's faiths asdifferent expressions of wisdom.
"For Buddhism, the whole world is seen as a world of wisdom," hesaid. "All the phenomena of the world are expressions of deep underlyingwisdom."
The goal of the museum is not to foster one world religion, but toencourage religious understanding and tolerance, organizers said.
"God sees us in our different places," Hsin-Tao said, "and gives uswhat we need in our specific places."