Sunday, May 09, 2004

Lama blog.

The great and well-known sights of the Chinese capital are indeed great, and well worth seeing, but one of the more entrancing places in Beijing was the Lama Temple, which isn't so well known. So, in addition to my recollections of it, which are just as a sightseer, I've appended more about it to the end of this entry.

On Friday [May 13, 1994] we were back on the sightseeing trail. After we bought hard-sleeper tickets to Canton, that is. I was amazed by how easy it was to buy tickets at the main Beijing station; we only waited in one wrong line, due to ambiguous or misleading multilingual signage. From the station we rode the Beijing subway to a station near the zoo, to which we walked by way of the Exhibition Hall, a structure so Stalinist it was almost funny (tho' I suspect the conscript laborers involved weren’t amused).

The zoo was commie architecture, too, mostly concrete pits and iron cages. The baboons, at least, seemed happy with this arrangement, maybe because they had chains hanging from their iron bars to climb around. The single polar bear, on the other hand, was a miserable-looking creature, and I doubt that the mild heat of the day was the only factor. Anyway, he looked like a dirty, beaten-up bearskin rug lying there.

On Saturday, we left late and came back early. In between, we saw the Lama Temple, a exceptional place. Magnificence on a more human scale, unlike the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven. Loved that incense burner; and the founder's statue with the yellow hat (it is Yellow Hat Buddhism, after all); and the giant statue of Buddha (a bodhisattva?) said to have been carved from one enormous log.

Back to the present. Looking around the Web for something on the Lama Temple -- a cursory look, since I don’t want to be up all night -- turns up a fair number of tourist-site guides, some which seem to be compiled by government-sanctioned tourist outfits, and I refuse to cite any material even remotely connected to the Chinese government (though I have to acknowledge that the temple is functioning only because the government allows it). I did, however, turn up the following (which I've condensed), from a Purdue University web page on the temple, which is actually a lamasery, that is, a monastery of lamas, who are monks from Tibet or Mongolia.

"Yonghegong Lamasery, a renowned lama temple of the Yellow Hat Sect of Lamaism, is situated at the northeast part of Beijing city. It was originally built in 1694 as the residence of Emperor Yongzheng of Qing before he ascended the throne and was renamed Yonghegong... In 1744, it was converted into a lamasery and became a residence for large numbers of monks from Mongolia and Tibet.

The Devaraja Hall -- formerly the entrance to Yongzheng's imperial palace -- is also called the Maitreya's shrine or the Hall of Heavenly Kings. In the hall, Maitreya always greets visitors with a smiling face with a sandalwood pagoda on each side. On the pagoda stand many small Buddhist images, which symbolize longevity. Hence, the Longevity Pagoda. On both sides of Maiteya's shrine are four fearsome-looking Heavenly Kings or Celestial Guardians. Behind the shrine of Maitreya stands the statue of Weituo facing backwards to a large courtyard.

"A marble-based bronze incense-burner stands on the way to the Hall of Harmony and Peace. It stands 4.2 meters high with decorations of two dragons playing with a pearl on its six opens. Afterwards is the Mount Sumeru, a bronze sculpture of Ming symbolizes the center of the world. On the top of it lies a legendary paradise where Sakyamuni and men of moral integrity live after death; the dwellings of humans in the middle and devils abide in Hell below.

"Right behind the Hall of the Harmony and Peace is the Hall of Everlasting Protection (Yongyoudian) and the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian) in which enshrines a bronze image of Tsongkhapa -- founder of the Yellow Hat Sect. The golden-roofed Falundian with five gold-plated pagodas was the place where lamas assemble to have religious activities. In the center of the hall is a six-meter-high gilded bronze statue of Tsong Kapa on a lotus.

"Now there are about 70 lamas in this temple. For a small fee, you can also get the lamas to bless things for you, usually jade pendants and the like."


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