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For centuries, Hawaii’s natural beauty has stirred up deep thoughts and powerful feelings in its residents and visitors alike. The ancient Hawaiians responded by building heiau (outdoor stone temples) for prayer and safety. In more recent centuries, island residents have continued to create inspirational structures in compelling landscapes, symbolizing their wide-ranging religious and cultural traditions.
The following Hawaii temples present a lovely respite from active vacations in the tropics, whether clients want to learn about the past, admire the architecture or simply meditate in peaceful surroundings.
Byodo-In Temple, OahuPresided over by the 2,000-foot-tall Koolau mountains, this Buddhist temple on Oahu’s windward side replicates a revered temple in Japan. Made entirely without nails, it opened in 1968, timed with the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
Gardens, waterfalls, koi ponds, small bridges, tropical blossoms and wild peacocks grace the grounds, which have served as a sensational backdrop for television shows such as “Hawaii Five-0.” Before entering the temple, clients can ring the 5-foot-tall, 3-ton brass bell for good luck. Inside, an 18-foot-tall, gold leaf-covered Buddha awaits guests, who can light incense and take a few moments to relax and reflect.
Hindu Monastery, KauaiFounded in 1970, this 363-acre monastery on Kauai’s east side looks and feels like a slice of nirvana. Here, amid waterfalls, rivers, rainbows and flowers, 18 monks from six countries live, meditate and serve. At the heart of the estate stands a tranquil temple and an awe-inspiring, 12-foot-tall black granite statue of a Hindu god. Nearby, workers are constructing a second, larger temple out of hand-carved granite from India.
Rather than promoting itself as a tourist stop, the monastery welcomes modestly clad guests who take spiritual matters seriously. It’s open in the mornings for self-guided tours, with guided tours once a week.
Laie Hawaii Temple, OahuIn ancient times, Laie was considered a place of refuge for fugitives and transgressors. People of Mormon faith still think of the tidy North Shore Oahu town as a haven, and they built a magnificent temple there in 1919 to demonstrate their devotion. Today, as visitors drive along Kamehameha Highway, they get a dramatic view of the gleaming white shrine.
While non-Mormons can’t go inside the temple — the first of its kind outside of the U.S. mainland — they can join public tours of the grounds, notable for its gardens, palm trees and reflecting pools. They can also spend time in the visitor center to learn more about the religion and its roots in Hawaii.
Mu Ryang Sa Temple, OahuEmbraced by steep ridges above Honolulu, this 1.5-acre compound is the largest Korean Buddhist temple outside of Korea. Home to a group of monks who live, chant, meditate and study, it provides an idyllic alternative to the bustle of the city and a sweet spot to take a breather.
A stroll around the spread leads to eye-catching features such as a staircase where 1,080 miniature disciple figures watch over the landscape; the Peace Pagoda, a replica of a significant pagoda in South Korea; a bell tower with a colorfully painted roof; and the five-story main structure, completed in 2005. The temple is open daily for self-guided, contemplative walks.
Wo Hing Temple & Museum, MauiHolding forth in the center of lively Lahaina, this distinctive landmark pays tribute to China’s vast influence on Hawaii. Erected in 1912 and restored in 1983, the two-story building was a social hub for Chinese immigrants who came to the islands as sugar plantation workers.
Wo Hing greets contemporary travelers with a monument to Sun Yat-sen — aka the father of modern China — and statues of ceremonial lions. Inside, the early 20th century comes to life through old photos, historic keepsakes and fascinating silent films. Upstairs is the temple, which lays claim to the only public Taoist altar on Maui. It’s a sublime place to pause and appreciate Hawaii’s multicultural heritage.