Drum roll, please. After three weeks and nine proceeding numbers, we have at last arrived at the number one reason to go to China (according to me at this moment in time): the Temples.
I first got into temples when I visited Japan, and then I got a nice introduction to the more ancient style ones when I visited Cambodia. There’s something about temples that I find extremely peaceful and spiritually fulfilling. I think it’s because they’re generally quite organic – a lot of trees and colour and open spaces. A bit different from the churches that I grew up in and which are scattered over Europe like pimples on a sixteen year-old’s face.
I went to China with some preconceptions about religious freedom, and so I was a little bit worried that the temples I visited would merely be tourist attractions. A couple of them practically were, the Lama Temple in Beijing for example, but I was surprised by the amount of religious practice that was going on. Even though people weren’t allowed to light incense inside buildings, and there appeared to be very few monks about, Chinese Buddhists still manage to practice their religion (or philosophy or whatever you want to call it).
The Lama Temple, though touristy, was a pretty special place to go. It’s the ‘home’ of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama (prodigal sons I suppose), and there were special seats assigned to them in the main prayer hall which they would use when they lead meditations. Knowing what I did about the situation, it had a bit of a museum feel about it, not unlike visiting abandoned Jewish Synagogues in Poland. I allowed myself a small flight of fancy and imagined the day when the Dalai Lama would again sit in his chair.
The best Temple I visited was definitely the Louguantai Temple near Xian. It’s the Temple where Lao Tzu, the ‘Father of Taoism’ is supposed to have written the Tao Te Ching, basically your Bible, Torah or Koran of both Chinese Buddhism and Taosim. That’s a really bad comparison actually, but there isn’t really anything to compare it to. The title loosely translates as The Scripture of the Path and the Power (though that’s open to interpretation), and contains nice little passages such as this one:
- Knowing others is wisdom;
- Knowing the self is enlightenment.
- Mastering others requires force;
- Mastering the self requires strength;
- He who knows he has enough is rich.
- Perseverance is a sign of will power.
- He who stays where he is endures.
- To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.
Anyway, that temple complex and the mountain it was on were absolutely amazing, and if someone gave me a free ride to China tomorrow, I’d probably go back and spend a lot more time at Louguantai than the few hours we were able to. There was a lot more walking up and down the hills that could have been done.