Asia | China | Sichuan Province | Chengdu | Azure City Mountains – Fortune telling
Prayer songs echoed in the valley and I walked toward it. It turned out that the Buddhist monks in Baiyun Temple, at the peak of the hill, were having their morning lesson with the help of a tape of chanting tunes playing in the stereo.
I made it to the temple just when the lesson ended. Devotees were already lining up in the main hall to overwhelm the jushis, a group of retirees who helped out at the temple in exchange for free room and board, and of course, enlightenment. A middle aged monk with a stern face answered with slight irritation when another monk came to ask him to breakfast,’What breakfast? Look at all these people here, and you see no monks and only jushis!’
I nodded to him when he finally walked into the cafeteria, and he told me a bit about the temple’s history and that there was a Taoist temple that’s even older on Yinghua Peak, about a 2 hour walk away on the old narrow trail. I got lost a couple times on the way, and ran into a local farmer who lived in the town at the foot of the hill, and within 20 minutes he had told me the story of his life, such as how his wife left 20 years ago and now his daughters couldn’t find themselves a boyfriend that he could approve. He also told me that the only Taoist monk in the temple was really good at fortune telling, and I had to find him to predict my future.
The path finally meandered its way from the base of Yinghua Peak to its top. The temple looked like a farm house from afar. It had no sourvenir shops nor lines of devotees waiting to kowtow in front of hte statues, but had an excellent view of hte surrounding hills and the snow-capped peaks of Erping Mountains further to the west. No one was in, so I self-toured through its dark rooms, each housing plater statues of Taiost deities. The thin mats on the floor and the simple bedroom and kitchen added some holiness to the shabby halls, as hilarious as sight of a rooster standing on the prayer table pecking at a bowl of noodles used for consecration was.
I was a bit scared of the dogs barking at me from the locked backyard, and left without waiting for the all-knowing monk to come back and tell my fortune. On the way back to Baiyun Temple, I started appreciating the ongoing chants that reverberated in the hills through the microphone because without it I would have been lost again.
A younger monk named Zhengyun kindly offered me a zongzi, and we chatted about fortune-telling and Iching. I told him that I’d rather live out my life wihtout knowing what wil happen in its course, but he convinced me to see one of the three jushis who have a fortune-telling table in the temple. I did it, just for fun. I wanted to hear what others could bs about my life. He told me that I was destined to get a divorce and become a computer tycoon by the time I turn 32. I recalled my abhorance for all the computer classes I’ve taken and my failure to garner any wealth at all so far, and told him that I’d give him half of my riches in case that ever happens.
Zhenyun and I continued our conversation on Buddhism, philosophy, Chinese culture, personalities for hours. I could help but laugh at his frank confession that like many other monks in the temple, he couldn’t stick to a vegetarian diet, was a chain smoker, and thought about learning more computer skills and English all the time so he could find a position in a better temple, preferably overseas. As holy as they try to be, the monks were after all still human and being a monk was a job more than an enlightenment.