Friday, November 06, 2009

Space at the Lingyin Temple Hangzhou

The scent of a place lodges in some primeval part of the brain. I remember reading about it once - for me then the memory of my first few days in China is laid down between the petals of the Sweet Osmanthus.

The Osmanthus lined the path to the Lingyin Temple. Its peachy scent wafted between the call of a bird flute (played by a girl in the doorway of the single shop)

and the touch of rocks

rubbed dark

by the hands of the many pilgrims who climb

and pose.

The Buddha laughs

as well he might.

It is a strange thing that all at once the great religions of the China (and the rest of the world) suddenly evolved around 500 years BCE. However Buddha, Confucius, Tao just gave advice for good living, and considered themselves philosophers rather than gods. But, just as every man sees a face in the moon so he also has a natural inclination to make gods of men who have gone before him, as an explanation of why life goes wrong... or right.

It may be a bronze man

or a bronze woman

who need to be pacified with incense

and fires

and temples

each curving roof (upturned to divert the raindrops) festooned with animals of specified number.

In 328AD Master Huili came by horse

and established this temple 'opposite the Peak Flying from Afar', 'west of the West Lake' of Hangzhou with 'North Peak' as background and surrounded by woods. Here there many pavillions halls and rooms, and once 3000 monks discussing Zen. Since 1949 the temple has been renovated and rebuilt, and was the first temple 'open to the outside' in 1978. Now, each day, there are visitors as well as monks. There is little time for meditation except in the brief few moments it takes to waft around incense and arrange three sticks - past, present and future - in the sand.

People mill around, chatter, pray but do not contemplate. The world is now too crowded and there is too much to do. But behind the temple I discovered a lane.

And as my guide sheltered under an Osmanthus, I took a few steps along it on my own. Soon the voices died away and I knew at last it was possible, even in a nation of 1.3 billion people, to find a place alone and think: what am I doing with my life? Why am I here? Where do I go now?


Anonymous kimbofo said...

Your pictures are wonderful!!

The scent of a place does lodge in the brain somewhere: I get the first whiff of eucalyptus and I feel like I am at home.

It completely threw me when I went to Madeira last year and arrived very late at night to be greeted by the smell of eucalyptus in the air. Turns out most of the island is covered in gum trees. It made me HUGELY homesick!

Fri Nov 06, 10:28:00 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

The three incense sticks - "past, present, and future" - intrigue me. I'd like to hear more about that.

Sat Nov 07, 12:05:00 am  
Blogger Kay said...

This is beautiful. It brings back pieces of Japan to me as well strangely enough ... the same peachy flower was growing there, and the temples, the chatter, incense, the statues ... I love how you have served it back to us and explained. It is like a draught of green tea - soothing, pure and clear. Thanks Clare.

Sat Nov 07, 12:49:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Kim! I didn't know that about Madeira - how strange for it to smell so strongly of home and yet be on the other side of the world.

Susan: I think the idea with the three sticks is something like to give thanks for yesterday, blessings for today and prayers for the futures. That's all I was told - three often seems to have a special significance in religions, doesn't it? Even at the most basic shamanic level there is the underworld, the world we inhabit and the world above. I wonder if it comes from that.

Thank you Kay: I expect it was the same flower! We were lucky to catch it, I think. Japan is so close and yet in many ways quite different - from your descriptions. It's so great we have this way to compare experiences.

Sat Nov 07, 09:39:00 am  
Blogger Jud said...

I really enjoy the way you tell stories, Clare, melding the photos and the text.

Mon Nov 09, 03:27:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Jud - and thanks very much for visiting.

Mon Nov 09, 07:54:00 pm  

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