Walking in Harmony along the Highway to Heaven

Photographer
Jane Marshall

Walking in Harmony along the Highway to Heaven

JANE MARSHALL

Searching for heaven? Pull on your shoes and walk down No. 5 Road in Richmond, BC. No wonder it’s been coined the Highway to Heaven—it’s home to more than 20 spiritual centres.

Tourism Richmond says it’s “one of the most remarkable places on the planet, for it is here that most of the world’s major religions manage to peacefully co-exist.” I flew from Edmonton to witness this harmonious expression.

Thrangu Monastery

I stayed at Thrangu Monastery, the first traditional Tibetan Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Pacific Northwest. At its centre is a vast shrine room with a gleaming 13-foot tall Buddha statue. The walls are lined with cubbies housing 1,000 gilt Medicine Buddhas, symbolic representations that remind us to take care of our physical health and any inner illnesses of jealousy and anger. Good mind medicine.

Photographer
Jane Marshall

A 13-foot tall Buddha statue is the centre of attention at the Thrangu Monastery in Richmond BC.

Tourism Richmond toured our small group to three spots along the famed road, starting at the Thrangu monastery.

Buddhist monk Tenzin Yonten explains that finding inner peace isn’t something others can give you. It comes from knowing your own mind and realizing the wisdom that already exists within. This comes through studying, contemplating, and meditating, which is why the monastery is an important part of Buddhist spirituality. It’s a serene place removed from the world where anyone can come to reflect.

It’s the seat of the great master Thrangu Rinpoche, who chose Canada as a place to build because of its peace-loving nature.

Richmond Jamea Mosque

The mosque’s prayer room is beautiful in its simplicity. A skylight shines above, lines on the carpet show you where to prostrate and sit, and there’s an alcove facing Mecca. People come up to five times daily to pray.

Photographer
Jane Marshall

The Thrangu Monastery of Richmond BC, keeps the interior simple to let people think and pray without interruption.

Abdel Azim Zumrawi, chairperson of the Richmond branch of the BC Muslim Association, says it’s one of the most mis-understood traditions in the world and that Islam can be translated as ‘peace.’

Islam is 1,500 years old and has no hierarchy; Abdel, a statistician by trade, says one can learn from scholars, but that people must choose what makes spiritual sense and reject what doesn’t. There’s no priesthood and the association is run by elections. Cool fact: We learned that China and Russia have huge Muslim populations.

International Buddhist Temple

Welcome to Imperial China. The temple is modelled after Beijing’s Forbidden City. Our guide Sharene Tay explains the founders wanted to build a temple so people of all faiths could experience Buddhism. There’s a scholar’s garden of bamboo and evergreens, still ponds, and winding paths. Each element has meaning and is meticulously tended by the abbot. You can imagine an emperor seated under the gazebo, gazing to the gardens for spiritual inspiration.

The grounds have a 10,000-arm statue of the Buddha of compassion. Tay reminds us that the statues are symbols reminding us of our own attributes.

Porcelain-tiled rooftops, Chinese calligraphy, large statues and serene alcoves show off traditional Chinese workmanship and it’s hard to believe we’re still in Kansas. I mean Richmond.

Tay cracks the massive wooden doors of the meditation hall. Inside is still. Hushed. She reminds us of the ‘three adjustments:’

  • Body

  • Breath

  • Mind

We turn our attention inward and dwell in silence.

Beyond Religion

The Highway to Heaven started in 1985 with the Gurdwara Nanak Niwas Sikh temple. Balwant Sanghera, Chairman of the Highway to Heaven Association, tells me it was a finalist in CBC’s 2007 Seven Wonders of Canada.

“I’d like to send one message,” he says. “In some places religion seems to be a problem. People fight. But here we have a good example that people from major world denominations can work together. All religions have a similar message—brotherhood, working together, and peace.”

Visitors are welcome to visit the buildings and are encouraged to phone first for tours.

For more information about the Highway to Heaven, contact Tourism Richmond at 604.271.8280