Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sad Death of Lo Hwei Yen

It is really sad to learn that one of our fellow Singaporeans, Ms Lo Hwei Yen, had met her end in the terrorist attack in Mumbai. I believe the millions of people who read the papers or seen the news today will feel the same way about Ms Lo, a newly married lawyer, snuffed out in the prime of her life by those ruthless extremists. My condolences to her husband and their family. In this increasingly dangerous world that we live in today, it is important to remember this verse from the Universal Gate chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

"Surrounded by a gang of ruthless bandits,
Their weapons drawn, with murder on their minds;
Invoke the power of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva,
And their evil hearts will turn soft and kind."

Whenever sentient beings meet with any dangerous situations, they should always think of Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) and chant "Namo Guanshiyin Pusa". By the power of this prayer, they will be protected from all dangers, no matter who or where they are. This is absolutely true. If only more people knew of this teaching, they would not have met with untimely deaths.

Alternatively, anyone travelling to foreign countries or any risky place should carry a takrut of "klaew klad" (deflection of all dangers) and "kongkapan" (invulnerability) for their own protection. This is especially suitable for non-buddhists who cannot chant. The magical power of the takrut protects anyone who carries it, regardless or race, gender or religion. For example, many soldiers in Southern Thailand who wear such takruts escaped with little or no injuries when ambushed or attacked by terrorists. This is a proven protection and it is also the wish of those guru monks to save as many lives as possible by making such takruts. If only Ms Lo had one such takrut on her body when the terrorists fired at her, she would surely have survived. The only problem is most ordinary folks have little or no knowledge about the availability of such protection. I pray that her mind stream will let go of all grudges and flow on to a better realm, sadhu.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The World's Biggest Seated Guanyin (南海观音)

On the peak of the Xiqiao mountain in Foshan lies the biggest seated Guanyin statue in the world. I visited the place of pilgrimage on 22.10.2008 to see for myself how big the image really was. Above we see the main gate of the Guanyin peak.
The Outer Wall with the words "Nanhai Guanyin Cultural Park". Nanhai means Southern Sea. Guanyin is always associated with the Southern Sea because according to the Avatamsaka Sutra, Guanyin's Pure Land Putuoshan is situated in the Southern Sea.
The back of the wall has the Mantra of 6 syllables "Om Mani Padme Hum" inscribed in Chinese and Tibetan. There's also a statue of Dharmapala Skanda (Weituo).
The main incense altar at the bottom of the flight of steps leading up to the peak.
At the side was this smaller version of Nanhai Guanyin. Beside it was a tree for people to make wishes. We can see those red "wish tags" hanging above the image.
Starting my climb up to the peak.
In between the steps were these beautiful sculpted bas-reliefs. This one portrayed the 8 Immortals crossing the sea.
Almost reaching the base of the Guanyin statue. This world's largest seated Guanyin is made of bronze and has a height of 61.9m, signifying the 19th day of the 6th lunar month, which is the day Guanyin attained Enlightenment according to legend. She is seated in the full lotus posture, holding a vial of elixir in her left hand and forms a mudra of blessing with the right hand.
Finally reaching the base. The statue really looked huge from here. The lotus pedestal which Guanyin sits on has 66 petals, with a diameter of 36m and height of 14.9m. So the whole statue including the pedestal is 76.8m tall!
The bas-reliefs at the base depicts the different manifestations of Guanyin. This one shows Hayagriva Avalokitesvara, or Horse-head Guanyin. Hayagriva is the fierce form of Guanyin.
This one shows Guanyin in her Thousand Arm Thousand Eye form. It symbolizes that there is nowhere in the world that her compassion does not reach or see.
Inside the base there is this chamber that allows devotees to paste gold foil on the Guanyin Image.
And inside the Guanyin statue itself is a hall with shops selling auspicious items as well as food and refreshments.
Nanhai Guanyin coins and cards that I bought at the shop.
On the 2nd and 3rd storey of the hall were altars that let people sponsor 5-inch Guanyin buchas to make merit. Other shops within the park also had these Guanyin buchas for rent. I didn't get any however, as I was not sure whether they were blessed or not.
Looking down from the Guanyin Peak, one can "hear the cries of the world" with complete freedom. Guanyin hears any sentient being who calls on her for help, but do sentient beings hear her? Come, and hear for yourself.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Temples in Guangzhou - Haizhuang Si (海幢寺)

The last of the 4 great temples of Guangzhou is Haizhuang Si, first built during the Southern Han dynasty and named Qianqiu Si. It was renamed Haizhuang Si at the end of the Ming dynasty. This ancient temple has a more than 1,000 year history like the rest of the 3 great temples. What this temple was famous for was not its ancient structures, but a legend that Monk Ji Gong manifested there in the past to teach the arrogant abbot a lesson. Above we see the main entrance of the temple.
Monk Ji Gong as portrayed in the popular China TV series - "The Travels of Ji Gong".
General Hum guarding the entrance. Ji Gong is an enlightened being who appeared as an eccentric and unkempt monk to teach sentient beings. He lived during the Southern Song dynasty at the same time as patriotic General Yue Fei and the treacherous prime minister Qin Hui.
General Ha. According to the legend, once Ji Gong passed by this temple and saw that the abbot was an arrogant fellow who thought of himself as a highly attained monk. So he decided to play a prank on him. Ji Gong walked into the temple with his tattered robes, carrying 2 cloth sacks and requested to stay at the temple. The abbot was disgusted with Ji Gong's appearance and allowed him to stay only for the night, insisting that he got out the next morning.
The Hall of Heavenly Kings. Ji Gong continued to act in an eccentric manner. He placed the 2 sacks in the Grand Hall and said that he wished to go to Nanhua Si in Shaoguan, telling the abbot to help him carry his "luggage". All the monks present laughed in amusement.
The laughing Maitreya Buddha in the Hall. The enraged abbot scolded him saying: "Madman! You don't know your limits. If you are so capable, ask the Arahants in the Grand Hall to help you carry them!"
Heavenly King Virupakka. At this Ji Gong walked to the front of the Grand Hall and shouted: "At the order of this temple's abbot, may 2 of the Arahants inside show themselves and carry my luggage to Nanhua Si in Shaoguan for me!" The moment he finished those words, 2 Arahants suddenly jumped down from their pedestals, took up the cloth sacks and followed Ji Gong towards the north (in the direction of Nanhua Si)!
Heavenly King Vessavana. Everyone was shocked and dropped to their knees, especially the abbot, who was trembling in prostration, unable to get up. Ji Gong flew up into the air and pointed at the abbot saying: "Hey big monk, you should cultivate yourself well. Only when get rid of your conceit then can you attain the fruit of the holy path." Still the abbot did not dare to look up. After Ji Gong and the 2 Arahants flew away, he was too ashamed to stay in the temple, so he left to become a wandering monk.
The tortoise pond. From then on, there were only 16 Arahant images left inside Haizhuang Si (instead of the normal 18) and 502 Arahants images at Nanhua Si (instead of the normal 500). So that was the whole story. But strangely I did not see any Arahant images inside the Grand Hall. Where did they go?
The Guest Hall with an image of Dharmapala Guan Gong inside.
The Hall of the 6th Patriarch. Almost all the big temples in Guangdong province have a hall dedicated to Huineng. The worship of the 6th Patriarch here is as popular as the worship of LP Tuad in Southern Thailand.
A closer look at the Statue of Huineng inside the Hall.
A standing stone Guanyin image behind the Hall of Heavenly Kings.
The courtyard with the temple's famous "Eagle Claw Orchid" trees.
Senior citizens socializing and doing exercises in the temple's courtyard. This is quite a common activity in the big city temples of China.
A stone pagoda in the courtyard.
The Grand Hall.
The Buddhas of the 3 Worlds are venerated inside the Grand Hall. This is the Shakyamuni Buddha statue at the centre, in the posture of subduing Mara.
The Guanyin statue at the back of the Grand Hall, in meditation posture. I walked around the Hall looking for the 16 Arahants but they were nowhere to be found.
Another stone pagoda outside the Grand Hall. It was built in 1997. Almost everything in the temple had to be rebuilt as all the ancient artifacts and structures were demolished during the cultural revolution.
A white stupa with the 4 great Bodhisattvas sculpted onto the base. With that I ended my tour of the 4 great temples of Guangzhou and proceeded to other destinations.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Temples in Guangzhou - Liurong Si (六榕寺)

Liurong Si is not far from Guangxiao Si and also one of the oldest temples in Guangzhou. It was first built in 537 CE during the Southern Liang dynasty and named Liurong or "6 Banyans" by the great poet Su Dongpo of the Song dynasty. It was given such a name due to the 6 flourishing Banyan trees that Su saw in the temple. Above we see the main entrance of the temple.
The back of the Hall of Heavenly Kings. Quite small compared to Guangxiao Si.
The famous Liurong Flower Pagoda, the tallest in Guangzhou and almost a thousand years old. It had been repaired and reinforced many times up till today, otherwise it would have collapsed long ago.
The base of the Flower Pagoda. Now people are no longer allowed to climb up the Pagoda.
The altar at the base of the Pagoda. The Hall of the 6th Patriarch. See the hexagon-shaped orb on the roof. It's the same one I saw at Hualin Si! Must be the 6th Patriarch watching over me, haha..
The statue of the 6th Patriarch inside the Hall. Above and to the left and right of the statue we see verses of the Diamond Sutra. Huineng attained complete enlightenment after the 5th Patriarch Hongren recited the Sutra to him in secret.
The Dharma Propagation Hall.
A Burmese Jade Buddha statue under one of the Banyan trees outside.
The Burong Pavilion with a Bodhisattva statue inside it.
The Grand Hall.
Inside the Grand Hall are large bronze statues of the Buddhas of the 3 Worlds, namely Shakyamuni, Amitabha and Bhaisajya-guru. They were forged in 1663 CE during the early days of the Qing dynasty, in the 2nd year of Emperor Kangxi's reign.
The Yuantong Gate, with a statue of Su Dongpo inside.
Inside the Friendship Hall, I was surprised to see this Chiang Saen Buddha from Thailand being worshipped. This friendship referred to the good relations of China and Thailand, as this Buddha Image was presented to Liurong Si by the Thai Education Ministry in 1985.
The Guanyin Hall.
Inside the hall we see a bronze image of Guanyin in the meditation posture. It exudes a powerful aura of bliss. This image was forged together with the 3 Buddhas inside the Grand Hall. I think you can easily understand why Liurong Si is another one of the must see ancient temples of Guangzhou.