Golden Temple, Kunming, China

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We are at Jindian Gongyuan, Golden Temple Park, beside the Mingfeng Mountain, east of Kunming, China. We will visit the Taoist Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest copper temple in China (Tongwa Temple).

There is a long climb uphill. We pass through the second gate, noting the camellias.

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It is Sunday afternoon. There are many things to see and buy. People are with their families — eating, walking, taking photos of their children in front of things.

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We see a camel.

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The camellias are still in bloom.

The Golden Temple was constructed of 200 tons of bronze in 1602 by Emperor Wanli (Ming Dynasty). They were transporting copper north for coins but warfare blocked the route so the emperor ended up building this temple of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. The plans were similar to one on Tianzhu Peak in the Wudang Mountains. It has been moved and repaired various times — but because of the bronze construction, it has survived intact. The bronze, when rubbed, shines like gold — hence the name “Golden Temple.” It was damaged during the Muslim Rebellion of 1857 but was repaired.

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The temple was built for the Taoist hero-god Zishi — but the present altar portrays the Supreme Taoist deity Emperor Zhenwu (Xuan Wu), the Dark or Mysterious Warrior, capable of great magic, also known as the Northern Emperor because his domain in the most northern region

Over the centuries, the notion of the “most supreme” deity has changed — just as the concept of “God” in English has changed over time. The life story of Emperor Zhenzu is parallel to that of the Buddha. He left his royal life to go on a spiritual quest, seeking the Tao, because he was troubled by human suffering. Through Taoist practice, he gained powerful magical skills which he uses to help those who call on him.

Emperor Zhenru is accompanied by two generals, General Wan Gong and General Wan Ma, who handle local issues such as childbirth, medication, family matters, and the understanding of chi — spiritual energy.

So, to make a long story short, Emperor Zhenzu, like Jesus, did what he had to do so that, if you pray to him, he can help you.

I watch a woman pray. Taoism originated with Lao tsu but, as with all other religions, it acquired characteristics related to people’s requests for help.

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Inside a temple up the hill from the Golden Temple, is an altar with a sage and disciples — I assume this is Lao tsu since the man on the ox fits the Lao tsu artistic motif. There was artwork on the wall that castes doubt on my theory — the artwork seems to pertain to a historical personage and I could not interpret the associated text — so I am uncertain about this.

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One of many portrayals of scenes in the sage’s life.

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The building holding the Great Bell of the Ming Yongle Era.

This is the 14 ton Great Bell of the Ming Yongle Era, cast in 1424. The bell is certainly old — part of Chinese people’s shared culture.

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There are various museum exhibits — here is an ancient combat scene.

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Here is another ancient casting — used as a model for a casting in the city of Kunming.

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We saw this artwork not far from our hotel in Kunming.

There are various restaurants in the park. The food is spicy! Religion is like cooking — it is done differently in different places but it provides nourishment everywhere.

Taoism has ancient roots in China, originating with the writings of Lao tsu. Over time, Taoism acquired forms involving worshiping ancient sages thought to have achieved immortality. People believe that certain sages have magical abilities and that supplication grants benefits.

We live in an era where people all over the world can watch others’ religious practices. They can see the differences and similarities to their own practices. Karen and I have documented Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and now Taoist prayer — people seeking magical benefits.

What works? What suggestions should I give to people who want the type of cosmic edge that religion seems to offer?

All religions claim to offer supernatural benefits. “Ask and you will receive,” Jesus said. The common element within these actions is their tranquility and focus. People focus their minds with intention and the process has cognitive impact. The stillness of prayer is beneficial.

Although wise people know that miracles happen, deeply anomalous events are rare. You cannot count on the Dark and Mysterios Warrior, or any other spiritual power, to grant all requests. The Mysterious Warrior’s two assistants are also incapable or unwilling to fulfill every desire.

A number of years ago, a scientist published a study that indicated that prayer for hospital patients benifited them but other researchers were unable to replicate this result.

Studies indicate that prayer benefits the one who prays, particularly certain types of prayer. Research indicates that “conversational” and “silent” prayers are most beneficial. Openly talking to God and quietly being open to whatever comes into the mind (meditation) contribute to psychological health and physical well-being.

Here is what I say: Those who follow the inner path live longer, are happier, and are less self-centered.

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