Inside the Temple
At the mouth of the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, where the roads of SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown converge in a mad rush hour mess, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple sits in the delta of commuters and looks out over the steel spires of the bridge to Brooklyn. It is a huge sandy concrete block, a former YMCA converted in the 1962, and its giant red capital letters, like the name of a restaurant or a real estate firm, stare out blankly onto the open air of the overpass, the sky crowded with steel. There is no other external decoration. Sometimes you can see monks entering or leaving in the saffron robes. They come and go along with the commuters. The windows are few. It is a black box at the mouth of the city.
Inside are red velvet rooms with Golden Buddhas, meditation halls, quiet visitors. There are school groups and a gift shop. For a dollar donation, you can choose your fortune from a basket of them wrapped like candy. Somewhere inside is a cast-iron bell the size of a car with a swinging battering ram to beat it. Several times a day a monk swings the ram and the bell rings.
The temple is the last building before the bridge. There are many beautiful things inside. But on the outside it’s just a gray box, ugly as sin.