Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Guo'en Si (国恩寺) and the Fengshui Tomb

On 25.10.2008 I took a bus ride from Zhaoqing to Xinxing, and from the town centre I hopped on to a motor taxi to visit the main attractions of the 6th Patriarch's birthplace. First stop was Guo'en Si, the temple that was built by Huineng in gratitude to his parents in the year 683 CE, and later given the Imperial title of Guo En (gratitude to the nation) by Empress Wu Zetian in the year 706 CE. This famous temple already has 1,308 years of history up till today. Above we see the temple gate, with the words "The First Ground" written on it.
The main entrance of the temple. The shiny golden words of "Imperial Gift of Guo'en Si" hangs above the entrance. This is the declaration to show that this temple is a gift from the Empress to the 6th Patriarch.
The Guest Hall. Curiously, there's always an image of Dharmapala Guan Gong inside to watch over all visitors.
This is the Grand Hall.
Golden statues of the Buddhas of the 3 Worlds sit inside the Grand Hall. Their hand postures are slightly different from those of other temples.
The Hall of the 1st Patriarch with a statue of Bodhidharma inside. Beside Bodhidharma stands an image of Guanyin (Avalokitesvara).
The Hall of Ksitigarbha, who is flanked by Bodhisattvas Manjusri and Samantabhadra.
The Hall of the 6th Patriarch.
The gold-plated statue of Huineng, sitting on an ornate throne-like pedestal is being venerated in the Hall. This is the most beautiful image of the 6th Patriarch I've seen so far. In the past we could also see the precious robe and bowl bestowed by Empress Wu inside the Hall, but the artifacts were gone after the cultural revolution.
The Reclining Buddha statue on the right side of the Hall.
The Huineng Memorial Chamber, with his stone image as well as the Platform Sutra being displayed.
The Abbot's Chamber, which was open to public.
The Bao En Pagoda, or Pagoda of Gratitude. It is named thus as the pagoda is built by Huineng to honor his parents. A great teaching in filial piety.
The base of the Pagoda.
Climbing to the top of the Pagoda, I was rewarded with a bird-eye's view of the whole countryside.
Looking down from the top, the people below looked like ants.
The Buddha Image on the top level. There's one image on every floor. However I was sad to see the interior walls of the Pagoda totally covered with scribblings and graffiti, left by thousands of mindless visitors over the years I believe. Such acts of vandalism shows that these people had no respect for the Pagoda and temple. It would be unthinkable for such things to be seen on the Chedis in Thailand for example. Vandalising a holy Stupa would be very serious karma indeed!
The Yuan Tong Hall (Hall of Guanyin).
Inside are 2 standing statues of Guanyin, one in her thousand-arm thousand-eye form and the other in her popular white-robe form.
The banner outside the temple shop advertises the golden bucha of Huineng available for rent.
This is the 6-inch gold-plated bucha of Huineng I obtained from the temple.
This is the ancient Lychee tree said to be planted by Huineng in the courtyard. There were many metal poles supporting it due to its age.
The stone tablet recording the history of the tree.
The Pavilion of the Well.
This well is said to be dug by Huineng as well, like the one in Mei An.
The Pavilion of the Pool.
This is the Pool where Huineng is said to have taken a bath before he entered Parinirvana here at Guo'en Si. However it looks too small for a person to bathe in it.
And this is the mystical Fengshui tomb where Huineng's parents, Mr Lu Xingtao and Madam Li Ruren were buried together. There's a very interesting story surrounding this tomb. Legend has it that there was once a Fengshui master who came to Xinxing to look for an auspicious spot of land. Due to a long and difficult journey, the master ended up looking quite haggard, not unlike a beggar. When he came to these parts he met with Huineng and his mother. Madam Li took pity on the master and showed him great hospitality. Huineng even let the old master slept on his own bed, whereas he slept on the floor. As the bed was uneven, it shook when the master turned his body. Afraid that he won't get a good rest, Huineng considerately got something to support the uneven corners, so that the bed won't shake anymore. So the master was able to sleep soundly. The next morning he woke up and saw Huineng still sleeping on the floor. The master thought in his heart that this boy would surely become a great man in the future.
A closer look at the tomb. The master then revealed to mother and son his identity and purpose in coming here. He told them that he had found a "dragon grotto" here and if Huineng buried his father (who died when he was quite young) here, it would bring great benefit to all descendants. He said to Madam Li, "The grotto I found is called '10,000 Buddhas pay homage to the Ancestor'. Different directions of burial will bring different benefits. Do you wish to have 9 generations of top scholars or 10,000 generations of offerings (by descendants)?" Madam Li replied, "His father got exiled to this region as a result of becoming an official. Now we are content to be peasants and no longer seek to produce top scholars. We would be happy enough to have 10,000 generations of descendants and peace." Thus the master taught them the proper way of burying Mr Lu's remains in the grotto and they followed his instruction accordingly. In the future Huineng learned the Dharma and attained enlightenment, eventually ordaining and becoming the 6th Patriarch of the Chan School. He was honoured by the whole world and true enough, although he did not have any blood descendants, his Dharma descendants lasted until this very day. There's no doubt that they will continue to pay homage to Huineng far into the future. 10,000 generations of offerings indeed! Later when Huineng's mother passed away, he had her buried in this tomb together with his father. As such future generations call this tomb the "Tomb of Huineng's Parents" and placed a stone tablet here in their memory. The tomb and tablet were badly damaged during the cultural revolution, but has since been rebuilt for present devotees to venerate. I too prostrated respectfully before the parents of the peasant Buddha before setting off to the next destination.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The "Buddha Head" of Kruba Woon

What distinguishes the Buddha from ordinary men physically? The Buddha, his disciples and even Universal Monarchs have all or some of the 32 Marks of a Great Man, as well as 80 auspicious characteristics. Some of these 32 Marks include feet with level soles, penis concealed in a sheath, golden-colored skin, torso like a lion, voice like Brahma, deep blue eyes etc. Just talking about his head, besides the long earlobes and white turf of hair between the eyebrows, the most noticeable marks are the turban-like flesh protrusion on the top of his head as well as the round hair curls all over his scalp. All these are signs of a person's past Parami (Perfections), cultivated over uncountable lifetimes. They each have their own individual significance. You can refer to to read what they represent. Still, some people doubt whether they are real or not or perhaps they think that these are stuff of legend; but the truth is they do exist and can be seen.
Which bring us to our subject, Kruba Woon of Wat Pah Daeng in Chiang Mai. Kruba is a highly cultivated monk who passed away in 2545 BE (2005). He was born in 2466 BE (1926) and used to be from Ayuttaya, but later he went to study meditation in Chiang Mai and stayed there ever since. Through the years, Kruba had reached a very advance state of meditation practice.
A photo of Kruba Woon in his old age.
The statue of Kruba Woon at Wat Pah Daeng.
After Kruba Woon entered Parinibbana, his body was undecaying and they placed him in a glass casket in the Wat so that devotees can continue to venerate him.
Soon after the temple people discovered that Kruba Woon had curls all over his scalp, just like a Buddha head (see above)! This was one of the 80 auspicious characteristics of a Great Man. People had not noticed these curls on his head while Kruba was alive, as they were concealed by his hair. But as the hair dropped off after he passed away, they suddenly realized the great Parami of this master, both spiritually and physically. This miraculous discovery not only serves to inspire faith in all devotees, but also tells us that the 32 marks and 80 characteristics are actual phenomena. As one accumulates more and more merit through Dhamma practice, the mind becomes refined and physical changes in the body inevitably follow. Kruba Woon's undecaying body is a living testament to this truth. Let us pay homage to him, sadhu.

*Photos of Kruba Woon provided by Bro James (Noii), thank you.*

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mei An (梅庵) and the Huineng Museum

On 24.10.2008 I visited Mei An, the most famous Chan temple in the city of Zhaoqing, Guangdong. It was first built in 996 CE during the Song dynasty by Ven Zhiyuan to commemorate the 6th Patriarch Huineng. Legend has it that Huineng has a great fondness for Plum trees and he planted one sapling here on top of this molehill while on his way back to Guo'en Si in Xinxing. Thus this temple is named Mei (Plum) An. Above we see the main entrance of the temple.
The Changguang Pavilion, where the temple gong is located.
The entrance to the Huineng museum, the main attraction of Mei An. The twin verses beside the entrance reads "Founding the Sudden School of the South is the one titled the 6th Patriarch" and "Adapting the Western (Indian) Doctrine into Chinese (he) is the very first person". How apt these verses are in praise of Huineng! Indeed there is no greater Chan master than him, for it was through his establishing and adaptation of the Sudden doctrine brought to China by Bodhidharma into a popular yet profound system that the Zen school flourished throughout East Asia, even up to the present day.
The bas-relief of Huineng and other great thinkers around the world greet us as we enter the museum.
A scene of the 2 mysterious monks that appeared at Huineng's house soon after he was born. They asked his father, Mr Lu Xingtao to name the newborn baby "Huineng", explaining the significance of the name. Mr Lu gladly accepted their gift of a name.
Growing up into a wood-cutter, Huineng passed by a small temple one day and had his first awakening experience upon hearing one verse of a Sutra being recited. Upon enquiry, he learned that it was none other than the Diamond Sutra.
Leaving his mother to seek out the 5th Patriarch Hongren at Huangmei monastery. Hongren interviewed this "babarian from the south" and was surprised by his sharp retorts.
Huineng composed the immortal "Bodhi is not a tree" stanza in response to Shenxiu's "The body is a Bodhi tree" stanza. It deeply impressed Hongren and he made up his mind to choose Huineng as his successor even though he remain silent.
Hongren asked Huineng to come into his chamber at the 3rd watch of the night and transmitted the Heart Doctrine of Chan to him, along with the Buddha's robe and bowl.
Hongren ferrying Huineng across the Jiujiang river in order to help him escape. Huineng volunteered to row the boat himself.
After the encounter with pursuer Huiming, Huineng ran southwards without looking back. He followed Hongren's prophecy to "Stop when you meet Huai(ji) and hide when you reach (Si)Hui." Huaiji is a forested district of Guangdong populated by a group of hunters. Huineng lived among these hunters for several years, abstaining from killing or eating meat and also teaching them according to their aptitudes.
Later he moved on to the Sihui district, hiding himself in a cave at Fulu Hill. There he met a monk, Ruan Ziyu, who also attained enlightenment after receiving instruction from Huineng.
After 15 years in seclusion, Huineng finally came out of hiding. Arriving at Guanxiao Si in Guangzhou city, he stunned the 2 monks arguing whether it was the wind or banner moving with his comment of "mind moving". This is the famous Wind-Banner Koan.
Huineng ordaining as a Bhikku under the Bodhi tree at Guangxiao Si after being recognised as the 6th Patriarch.
After Nanhua Si was established, Huineng went to reside there and started widely propagating the Sudden doctrine of the Chan school. His teachings were recorded down by his disciples and was later known as the Platform Sutra - the only Sutra spoken by a Chinese Buddha.
The Empress Wu Zetian sent her emissary Xue Jian to learn the Chan teachings from Huineng. Delighted by its profundity, she sent Xue back to present Huineng with precious gifts and also ordered him to build a temple (Guo'en Si) in honour of the 6th Patriarch at his birthplace in Xinxing.
Approaching the end of his life, Huineng made his way back to Guo'en Si in Xinxing. On the way back he passed by this place (Mei An) and planted a plum tree here on this hill.
After entering Parinirvana at Guo'en Si, Huineng's body was taken to Cang Fo Keng, or "Pit of the Hidden Buddha" by one of his disciples. That was his final resting place.
The Lineage Chart showing the transmission of Zen from Bodhidharma all the way down to the 5 schools and 7 branches.
After finishing with the museum, I then walked into the main temple. Above is the entrance to the Hall of Heavenly Kings.
This is the Grand Hall.
Inside the Grand Hall, bronze statues of the Buddhas of the 3 Worlds are venerated.
The statue of Huineng being venerated in the Patriarch Hall. Below the statue were two 5-inch buchas of Huineng available for rent. They had been there "eating incense" for many years now, so I decided to obtain one of them, the one on the left. This one of the only three buchas left in the temple.
This is the bucha I obtained, made of resin-wood material. Now it sits on my house altar.
One of the many Guanyin images inside the Guanyin Hall.
The Pool of Profundity. It was a pool for people to wash their hands.
This is the actual spot where Huineng planted a plum tree. It is on a molehill and there are bronze sculptures of Huineng and a novice to mark the location.
This is the well that was dug by Huineng to water the plants and trees. It has become a holy well today.
The thousand year old Bodhi tree brought from India to China. Devotees walk around the sacred tree 3 times and prayed for good luck here. With that, I ended my tour of Mei An. This is one of the most interesting Chan temples that I have visited so far.