A Prayer for Peace

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Note to readers: I was able to see the site and post the following from our current hotel in Chongqing. But your comments are definitely being blocked. Keep ’em coming and I’ll read them when I get back.


Beijing, Oct. 18

Something comes over me in Buddhist and Daoist temples. I find that they make me reverent and unaccountably prayerful. It first happened in Vietnam and Cambodia almost two years ago—a feeling deep within me that I was surrounded by spirit and that I could be a part of that spirit. This has never happened to me in a Christian church—one reason that I have not been a Christian since my youth. In recent years, as a Unitarian Universalist, I have strengthened my relationship to my fellow humans and to the Earth. But once again this morning, at the 800-year-old Dongyue Temple, I felt the pull. There is no other way to describe it—the pull.

I’m a tourist, not a pilgrim, and sometimes there’s a lot of static from the guides and the crowds. I haven’t felt the pull in every religious site we’ve visited, but at the Beijing Lamasery and again today, the signal was clearly there. I receive it for just seconds at a time, and then I go back to being a visitor, an outsider with a camera. I encounter this feeling as one might encounter a stranger on the street, with a glance and an nod. Still, I wonder what it might be like to embrace the stranger, to wrap myself in such a spirit for an hour or a day or a lifetime. It’s a powerful thing, and I’m not sure I can handle it; but when it comes, there is momentary peace.

I also have a strong urge to participate. At the Lamasery, I wanted to buy incense and follow the ritual: palms together, bow three times. Instead, I merely touched my palms in the style of a Cambodian greeting, lifting them to my forehead to acknowledge the Buddha. “Hello, Buddha,” I say to myself. “It’s Jeff.”

At Dongyue, I took the further step of buying a talisman. Daoists come here to pray for various benefits in their lives—health, longevity, many children (tough with the one-child policy), happiness, harmony, and peace. Each of these blessings requires a different talisman, and I chose one for peace. After a false start at one of the several statue-filled chapels, the temple guide directed me to the correct altar, where I stood quietly, trying to feel the pull amid the noise around me. The group was being hustled to the bus. People were pouring in and out of the temple behind me. By concentrating hard, I got centered; I felt the pull for a few seconds and hung my talisman on the rail before the altar. I knew I was asking for a lot—not peace within myself, but world peace, universal peace. “The peace which passeth all understanding,” as Christians say.

What a fool I am. Moments later, we were on the bus to the airport. All through this trip, I’ve been yanked away from things I want to spend some time with—one of the downsides of group travel. But I shouldn’t complain; I am so grateful to be here. If I were a Buddhist, these desires would mean nothing. Every time I feel the pull, I know it a little better. I must make time to explore it, I think … but now we’re off to the Yangzi River and another adventure.

In my next post, I’ll give you some overall impressions of Beijing, including a look at the subway system, the railway station, and Mao’s mausoleum. None of these were on the tour, but sometimes you just have to get off the bus. Meanwhile, here are some photos of Dongyue.

Exterior contrast

The Dongyue Daoist Temple was built in the 13th Century. Since the economic reforms of the early 1980s, the Chinese have relaxed restrictions on religious practice, and the temple has once again become a center for worship and community activity. But one of our guides made a clear distinction between “real” religions and “cults like Falun Gong,” which are “very bad.” Religion is OK as long as it does not stray across the line into politics.

Dongyue Gate

The temple takes its name from the Dongyue Gate across the street. It is one of the few remaining gates of the old walled Inner City.


Inside is an island of peace, with beautiful courtyards and old trees.


Confucian gods guard the way to the important altars. Each altar and god is representative of an aspiration or hope such as happiness, longevity, health, and harmony.


Another of the guards is a little more fierce.


At each altar, worshipers and supplicants have left bright red talisman that our guide said would be here “forever.” I have to doubt that. This place is 800 years old, and I didn’t seen any of these bright red, tassled talisman that were of that vintage.


Here are more talisman, hung on a railing along one of the exterior paths.

Peace Talisman

I chose this talisman—for peace. I signed the back with my own symbolic signature: Yin-yang, Sun-Moon, Male-Female, Love, Infinity.

My Signature


5 responses to “A Prayer for Peace

  1. I wish you had been able to say to the tour guide that Falun Gong is not a cult and infact Falun Gong is very good . You have all been brainwashed to believe that, The biggest cult is the Ccp and the reason why they persecute Falun Gong or any one for that matter is they (Ccp) are afraid of losing control and their power.

    Of course you would have been trundled off to the nearest interrogation centre and you and your luggage would have been searched and then you would have been deported back to your country of origin or lost in in some slave labour camop for 3-4 years.

  2. Jana,
    I had that exact conversation with one of our tour guides. Not the fatuous one who made the Falun Gong comment, on whom the distinction between a cult and a religion would have been lost, but another guide, who I shall not name. This guide agreed that the CCP’s problem with Falun Gong was that FG had crossed the line from religion into politics. The CCP will leave religion alone and allow people to practice it as long as the spiritual and the political don’t mix. Of course, this is impossible—as we have just seen in Burma, which the CCP supports. Wonder why?

    We haven’t been brainwashed. We recognize that despite the “capitalist” economic boom that is sweeping China, this is still a repressive and tightly controlled society. I happen to belong to one of the smallest, most liberal religious sects in the United States. Is it a cult? To some Bible-believing evangelicals, it probably is. We need to cherish the religious freedom that is at the heart of American history and try to show other societies—including China—that our pluralism and tolerance are great strengths.

  3. I love this entry. The pull, indeed, I understand this well.

    When you get home, please remind me to share with you a thread from a Backstreets forum (The Boss, of course) in which an invitation from a Unitarian Universalist minister (who was speaking about Bruce at his service in Massachusetts that Sunday and was extending an open invitation to all to attend) led to a great, extended and heated debate about whether or not UU was a “cult.” Classic stuff, I can’t do it justice in summary form.

    Enjoy your travels. Take time for that pull if you can.

  4. HI JL,

    Falun Gong practitioners are not political as you well may know and understand. We became outspoken when the Genocide of Falun Gong became known.

    People can call us political and we don’t mind because we know that out starting point is different from any politician and that is we wish to save lives of good innocent people in China and abroad.

    Don’t know if you are aware of the recent reports of forced Organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners organs for sale and transplant to overseas markets.

    Here is the link http://investigation.go.saveinter.net/

    CIPFG is the Coalition to investigate the persecution of Falun Gong in China.
    Here is their web
    and they have organised a Global Human Rights Torch relay travelling to 5 continents 100 cities here is the link to that too.
    Please help where you can thank you

  5. I have felt the “pull” strongly twice. Once in Santiago de Compostella in Spain when I placed my hand on a cathedral pillar where thousands of pilgrims dating back to the Middle Ages had done the same leaving a hand print that made one feel in touch with humanity thru the ages. The other was when attending a church service in a high mountain village in the French alps where the priest sang the Mass. In both cases a great sense of peace and connection came over me that had nothing to do with theology. Thanks for sharing your experience. Joan

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