Asia | China | Sichuan Province | Leshan – Leshan
My relatives in Leshan called last night and told me that there’s a celebration for a minor god’s birthday in a small village near Xiba. We took the early bus back to Leshan, and arrived in the village of Miaotuo after 7 transfers between 2 buses, 2 taxis, a rickshaw, a ferry, a hoppy car, and a motorcycle taxi.
We got to the temple just in time for prayers to start. About 50 old ladies stood with their hands together as a young monk sang the prayer song in front of the Buddha’s statue.
We were, or more precisely, Daniel was the second center of attention next to the monk, or the ‘master’ as the devotees called him. Giving us the VIP treatment, the old ladies sat us down at the same table with the master, a coveted position by all because the close distance would bring us the master’s blessing. Perhaps the most devoted Buddhists I had ever seen, they waited on him as if he was the reincarnation of the Buddha, continuous filling up the bowls of hearty vegetarian dishes on our table and kowtowing to him as they left. The monk, however, seemed a bit annoyed by the royal treatment, speaking to them in a rough voice, and waving them away abruptly.
His attitude to us took a 180 degree turn, again thanks to Daniel’s very presence. He told us that he was originally from the northeastern part of China, and became a monk because he did not want to be forced to be a part fo the ugliness of society. After entering the monastery, he realized that life in Buddha’s world is just as, if not more corrupt, as the monks fought for power and money. So he left and became a wandering monk, teaching at whatever temples he passed by on the way.
A total pessimist, he described the current Chinese society as a place where ‘evil forces prevail’ from the central government officials to the beggars on the street. His mission, or the purpose of Buddhism, aws to enlighten the masses about the responsibilities and morals one should follow to elevate the world to a higher spiritual level. ‘I’d give you my head if Jiang Zemin hasn’t committed any crimes of corruption.’ He calmly told me. I didn’t know why he trusted me so much knowing the consequences this statement could bring him, or perhaps he didn’t care about the consequences.
The temple’s attendant, a tiny lady who stood at hte head of all the devotees during the prayers, took us to the hill in the back where the statues were carved into the stone for worshipping before the temple was constructed less than 20 years ago. Most of the carving had weathered away, with some vestige still slightly visible. In front of a Buddha statue placed in an indentation on the wall, a red banner hung across the prayer counter read ‘Long live the Chinese Communist Party; Unity to the people of the world.’
The attendant lady wanted to supplement the master’s teaching and convince us of the Buddha’s power even further, so she added in her own interpretation of Buddhism. The Buddha, according to her, relieves us of pain and suffering, and there were stories to prove. A woman suffering from cancer was told to go to the Emei Mountains and seek out an old and sickly monk who was the disguised Buddha. She was first turned away by the appearance of the old monk, but remembering that she must show her sincerity, she went back and insisted on sitting next to the monk and obeying his words. The monk jokingly asked her whether she would eat his excrement, and she answered with a firm yes. So he handed her a bowl of foul brown stuff, and she ate it without a doubt. When she was done, the old monk was gone. Half a year later, her cancer was cured.
The attendant lady told us with pride,’See? It’s all in the heart. The Buddha would do anything for you as long as you show your respect.’ I was a bit grossed out by the story, but more entertained to find the true meaning to the term ‘holy shit’.
Leshan is synonymous with the biggest Buddha statue in the world. An astounding work of art carved into the cliff at the bend of the Min river, the Buddha is best viewed from an island in the middle of the river. Like most visitors though, Daniel rather see it up-close from its feet, and visit the temples on the hill.
The ferry docked at Wuyou temple, quiet and architecturally stunning. One of the halls housed about 500 statues of legendary monks. All built at life size, their facial expressions exhibited different personalities. Some were sympathetic saviors of human kind, some heroically rode on tamed beasts, and some laughed like clowns. One had a finger sticking up his nose, and I wondered if he would mind being rememberd this way for eternity.
Next to the Big Buddha’s head, tourists lined up to stand at a certain spot, reaching out their hand to a particular position in the air with the help of the photo spot staff, and cameras clicked away. Touching the Buddha’s ear would bring good luck, even if a visual illusion. Daniel continued to appreciate the cultural shock and laughed out loud as others looked at him with curiosity.