Buddhism? Here? Visiting the Yuantong Temple
June 28, 2000
Walking through the streets of Kunming, I was surprised about a lot of things.
I was surprised to find such modern, clean streets, so many enormous skyscrapers,
and such cold gray skies. But my biggest surprise came while Jasmine, Abeja,
Yang-Yang and I were walking across town yesterday and passed a monk in yellow
and maroon robes. Wait a second…Where are we? In India and Nepal, I was
accustomed to seeing Tibetan Buddhist monks on the streets, but we left India and Nepal
over a week ago! Thousands of Tibetan Buddhists fled from their homeland of
Tibet to seek refuge in India and Nepal when the Chinese government took over
Tibet and proceeded in destroying most of the temples and sacred artifacts
during the Cultural Revolution .
Click image for larger view
After learning about how repressed Tibetans were and how forbidden it was for
them to practice their religion under Chinese rule, I was surprised to find
this monk in full robes, walking so freely in the streets of China. I had thought
that religion was abolished under the Chinese Communist Party.
The Communist government of China feels religion is a hindrance that kept the people subordinate to the old traditions and ruling
classes of the past. Thus, many monasteries and temples all over China were
destroyed since the Communist Party has been in rule. However, today there is still
a minority of people who practice traditional Chinese religions such as Taoism
and Buddhism. If you're lucky, you can still find some of China's beautiful
ancient temples that were saved from complete destruction.
Abeja, Jasmine, Yang-Yang and I were just that lucky as we turned the corner and
followed the monk in yellow and maroon robes to one such temple: the beautiful Yuantong
Temple, the largest Buddhist complex in Kunming. In middle of a busy metropolis, this peaceful temple complex is a wonderful escape from the loud city. We walked past yet another site for the construction of a new skyscraper, and ducked away under the entrance gate to the temple grounds. Immediately we left the loud traffic and hubbub of the
city streets and were transported back in time. Gone were the fancy department
stores and karaoke bars, gone were the high rise buildings. We were surrounded
by green forests, beautifully carved Chinese arches, buildings painted with
dragons and other religious symbols, and monks in their traditional robes...it
could have been a scene from the past or present. Behind a haze of smoke created
by all the incense that worshippers leave burning, the majestic temple pavilion
sits in the middle of a small lake. We crossed the bridge and approached the
hall entrance to get a closer look of the golden statue of Buddha. The standing
figure has many arms outstretched, each holding its hand in a different manner.
Behind this altar is another one with a different Buddha in a different
Behind this temple is another larger hall, with yet another style inside. The
Buddha in this temple was the traditional image to which I am accustomed, of Buddha sitting
in a meditative pose. This giant statue was surrounded by different figures
of saints or images of Buddha that I have never seen before. The cascading carvings
down the side walls were new to me as well.
Click image for larger view
The Yuantong Temple was first built over 1000 years ago during the Tang
Dynasty that ruled China from around 618 CE until 907 CE, a period that many Chinese
feel was the most glorious period of their history. Buddhism flourished under
the Tang Dynasty as many Chinese pilgrims made their way to India,
the birthplace of Buddhism, and brought back a renewal in the religion. As
dynasties rose and fell throughout the history of China, the Yuantong temple
too went through changes. Sometimes it was neglected while at other times it
was graced with expensive gifts and renovations as power passed from emperor
to emperor. That explains all the different halls and pavilions in the large
Yuantong complex! After the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the temple was later
enlarged in the 1300's during the Yuan Dynasty, and then rebuilt again during
the Qing Dynasty.
All the way in the back of the temple complex, against a stone cliff and more
greenery, the newest addition to Yuantong temple was yet another surprising sight
that had us questioning, once again, "Where are we?"! The temple is exactly
the same architecture and style as the ones in Thailand. Even the images of
Buddha inside and the paintings of him cutting off his hair are similar to
the images that we saw in Buddhist temples all over Thailand. But we left
Thailand two days ago! Later, we found out that the hall
was indeed a gift from the king of Thailand.
repressed - kept under control, or kept down
subordinate - placed in a lower rank, subservient
metropolis - a large, busy city
cascading - falling, like a waterfall
flourished - prospered
Soon the calming hum of chanting could be heard and we all wandered back to
the largest of the halls to find the monks gathered together in prayer. There
were only about 20 or so, ranging from young to very old, which is surprisingly
few, considering how large the temple complex was. I guess it's a sign of what
a minority practicing Buddhists are today in a country as large and populous
as China. During the next few weeks we will be visiting more of the old Tao
and Buddhist temples that have been spared, and will learn more about how these
minorities continue to practice in Communist China. Stay tuned!
Click image for|
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
Jasmine - The World Trek Is Bringing It Home...Kunming, China Kicks Off The Grand Finale!
Monica - Monica's Farewell: Trekking Out of India
Abeja - Confucius Says: Welcome to China
Yang-Yang - The World Trek in China Begins!
Team - Dragon's Bones or Really Old Teeth? The Peking Man Site
Team - Making a Difference - Do As I Say, Not As I Do, And No, You Can't Have Any of My Weapons: Getting MAD About Nuclear Proliferation
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