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.


Honsing said...

Sadhu! Thanks for sharing the wonderful story of the 6th Patriarch and the nice temple pictures. It brought me joy when reading it.

Wayne Woo said...

I'm glad you like it. There's more coming up soon.

Spencer said...

very nice blog and very interesting for me as i have been also publishing and trying to do my piece for the Dhamma for westerners and English speaking people who are Buddhists in the Thai theravada tradition in Thailand on my blog, and now have moved from thailand to Singapore and have been asked to publish Dhamma and teach meditation in the Thai Vipassana tradition to Singaporeans who are interested the in the Thai tradition. Your blog is teaching me about more about Buddhism in Singapore which will help me to explain things to the people in the "Samnak" here. Great work! I admire your blog and your dedication. Maybe we can meet sometime too.

Wayne Woo said...

Hi Spencer, I'm glad my blog is useful to u. Where do u teach?