We are in Chengdu, China, visiting the Wenshu Buddhist Monastery. The alternate name is Manjusri Monastery, named for the Bodhisattva Manjusri (Wenshu, in Chinese), one of the four great Bodhisattvas of Chinese Buddhism. The monastery was built during the Sui Dynasty (605-617).
We look at the Peace Tower.
I watch a girl pray. She bows, holding incense, which is then placed before an altar.
When Buddhism came to China, in the first and second centuries CE, people were Taoist but interested in the afterlife because of concern about their ancestors; Taoism did not provide a clear concept of the afterlife and Buddhism did. Buddhism, coming from India, brought the concept of reincarnation. In China, Buddhism was practiced in a way that joined Taoism, Buddhism, and ancestor worship.
We walk to the main hall and go inside. Behind the Buddha are three Bohdisattvas. Bodhisattvas are followers of the Buddha who chose to help all others achieve enlightenment rather than entering Nirvana directly.
The structure was first built in 1697, commemorating Zen Master Ci Du Hai Yue who came to meditate in 1681. Those who watched his cremation saw the Bodhisattva Wensu (Chinese for Manjusri) appear in the flames. As a result, Master Ci Du was recognized as a reincarnation of Bodhisattva Wensu.
Left of the altar, is an image of Quan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, the Goddess of Compassion — “She who listens to the sounds of the world.” Quan Yin is an important deity within both Buddhism and Taoism. Technically, Buddhism has no deities — Quan Yin is a Bodhisattva. In reality, Buddhism is practiced in many different ways.
To the right of the altar, is an image of the Bodhisattva Manjusri, seated on a blue lion. His wisdom tames the animal just as wisdom tames the mind.
We walk down a quiet path. Buddhism, as practiced by the Buddha, focused on meditation — no statues, no deities — just monks and nuns — and Buddhist monasteries and temples tend to have quiet atmospheres.
We look at fish in a pond.
We see frogs. The frogs are still — seemingly meditating.
I watch what is going on and ask people about where I can find the relics of the monk Xuan Zhang, who brough Buddhist scriptures from India to China. He might be considered the most famous backpacker in history. He lived in Chengdu for a while before starting his epic journey to India and back. This monastery is known to harbor a piece of his skull, a treasured, sacred relic.
The girl in the video directs me to the building which has the relics but I find that the relics are on the second floor, not available for public viewing.
Inside one building are a series of paintings — showing activities (miracles) of the Goddess of Mercy. She helps those who call upon her.
I walk accross a plaza toward an open door. I look to the left and see a Buddha. What is within the building before me?
We eat in the vegetarian restaurant, accross from the monastery.
We walk through the market, close to our hotel. I look at the fresh fish — they are alive.
One fish jumps out of his bowl but he lands in another bowl. He is now a large fish among small fish but his fate is the same.
You will find that changes in your physical situation do not always result in the solution you desire. The anxious person may attain money but remains an anxious person. The fish gains a new bowl but is still anxious.
I look at other fish, hear a cock crow, and see some frogs. They are still, like the free frogs we saw before — but their fate is quite different. [maybe not– ultimately, all living beings encounter death — you, I, Xuan Zhang, Zen Master Ci Du, and all the frogs (captive and free) face the same end.]
The situation facing most people reading this blog differs from that of the Chinese people accepting Buddhism so many centuries ago and of the modern Chinese people practicing it here today. Our heritage differs.
Many young people today struggle with a kind of modern unease which leads to anxiety and sometimes depression. They are not so concerned with the souls of their ancestors but with career, family, workplace, and romantic relationships. The Buddha offers a pathway for dealing with inner unease.
Sit in a quiet place and focus your mind on your breath. When thoughts come, take note and return your awareness to your breath. Tht is the heart of meditation, as practiced by the Buddha.
Within Buddhism, specific ideologies are not so important. What happens inside your mind is what is important.