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