Ep. 121: The Great Buddha at Lingshan
How Chinese Buddhism does opulence
Once again we deviate from the Pilgrim Path to bring you this special report!
Ten years ago this month, on a very cold New Year's weekend, Lila and I had a unique opportunity to participate in history.
In the 2007-2008 school year, I had lived in a Buddhist monastery in Yangzhou, Jiangsu. The temple had a Buddhist academy attached, and I supervised a department and taught English to the student monks. One of them, it turns out--a wonderful young man who used to drive me to the bus station on Fridays on his way back to his temple--was destined to become the abbot of Kaiyuan Temple, built inside the Meiyuan ("Plum Garden") in Wuxi.
So a few years later, in January of 2012, I was invited to be an "international Buddhist" (whatever that is) and speak at Venerable Neng Chao's investiture. The ceremony was great (but COLD), but what I want to share with you today is the experience we had the day before.
The monk who invited us and handled all the arrangements was also the Master of Ceremonies for the investiture. Ven. Da'an (Dao Cheng when I knew him--he had left the ordained Sangha, and received a new name when he returned) had also been a student at the Buddhist academy, one of the youngest and most enthusiastic.
The day he picked us up in Shanghai, he said repeatedly that he was going to "take us to Heaven," being as mysterious as his unfailingly grinning mug could manage. And sure enough, after dispensing with some formalities, he took us to the Palace of Brahma, a Hindu god. If Heaven were gaudy, it would look like this. The Sistine Chapel-like ceiling was subjected to an ever-changing light show, and the statuary throughout was almost oppressively opulent.
But the real attraction, as seen here, is the "Grand Buddha at Ling Shan" (as Wikipedia has it). "It is one of the largest Buddha statues in China and also in the world," the article says, and "is 88 meters (289 ft) in total height, including 9 m lotus pedestal."
But those are just numbers. These two pictures, taken by Da'an, tell the story better than words.
By the way, I often found myself being used as a sort of "chum." Do you know what chum is? It's bait that has been cut up and dumped into the water to attract fish to the area where you're fishing. As a white person with a notable resemblance to the "Laughing Buddha," I often found myself inserted into photo ops for Buddhist groups that were raising funds. Da'an was not only the MC for the investiture; he was also the temple's PR officer, and the many, many photos he shot of us are likely to have ended up in brochures and news releases somewhere.
And that's that. Until next time, may you and your loved ones and all sentient beings be well and happy.
Find this and all past issues of the Newsletter online at Substack.
The Shenzhen Daily article at the core of this Episode.
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