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In Mandarin, Poh Ern Shih means 报恩寺 (Temple of Gratitude), reflecting the foundation on which the temple was built: showing compassion to all beings and filial piety. 

Built in 1954 in Singapore by banker and philanthropist Mr Lee Choon Seng (1888 - 1966), Poh Ern Shih is dedicated to the teachings of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (地藏王菩萨), who vows to save all beings in the underworld before attaining Buddhahood; and espouses the constant strive to purify one's own karmic debt, righteous living, respect for all (living or otherwise) and taking care of one's own parents. 

Originally built
as a memorial to victims of World War II


The Battle of Pasir Panjang in 1941 was one of the bloodiest wartime incidents in Singapore's history. Countless lives were lost, rendering the area heavy with resentment and wrath.

To restore peace and provide lost souls a smooth passage into the afterlife, Lee Choon Seng first registered Poh Ern Shih as Singapore's 9th charity organisation in 1950. Then in 1954, the temple doors were opened on Chwee Chian Road, off Pasir Panjang Road. 

Open to anyone regardless of ethnicity or faith, Poh Ern Shih served as a safe haven not just for the deceased, but also for the living who had nowhere to go. This included many elderly parents who were unfortunately abandoned by their children during the Japanese Occupation.

Expansion to become Singapore's
first eco-friendly temple

After almost 50 years of serving the public, Lee Choon Seng's descendant, Mr Lee Boon Siong, decided to expand the temple compound in 2003 to serve more and serve better. Spanning 8 years in two phases, Poh Ern Shih was reconstructed to its modern day grandeur. 

The first phase (2003 - 2007) saw the addition of several features that are friendly to the environment, such as: 

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  • Solar panels to generate power for heated water and lighting

  • Wind generators to produce electricity out of air movements

  • Hydroelectric generator to produce power from gravity as rainwater collected from the roof flows downwards. Collected rainwater is then purified to make it potable, and is also used to water plants on the compound. 

Staying true to its roots in filial piety, many elderly friendly features were also added, including:

  • Driveways that are gently inclined

  • Bathroom faucets that can be activated by simple wrist movements, providing convenience for individuals with hand mobility issues

  • Bathroom doors that can be opened from the outside using a 20 cent coin. This facilitates quick assistance in the event an elderly suffers a mishap while using the toilet. 


Lee Choon Seng's efforts in building
Singapore's Buddhist community

Born in Fujian in 1888, Lee moved to Malaya when he was just 17 to help expand his family business. Soon after, he became actively involved in the affairs of the local Chinese community. 

From serving as Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry's General-Secretary and then President, to opening a series of local banks to better serve local Chinese businessmen (which he eventually helped merge into the present-day OCBC Bank), Lee Choon Seng's contributions to the community also opened many doors for him to propagate Buddhism in Singapore. 

Other than Poh Ern Shih, Lee was also one of the founding members of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge in 1943. Then in 1949, he helped establish the Singapore Buddhist Federation so that all local Buddhist groups could have an overarching organisation to consolidate efforts in fund raising, welfare provision and overall development direction. The Federation went on to achieve many significant milestones, including having Vesak Day gazetted as a public holiday in 1955. 

Lee Choon Seng's benefactions weren't limited to Singapore. He was also known for welfare projects back in China and in 1939 helped Venerable Teh Yue restore an 8th century Chinese temple in Sarnath India. The temple was built by a Tang Dynasty emperor and remains standing today. 

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