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Buddha at Lingshan Braha Palace
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Buddha at Lingshan Braha Palace
From the Author's collection
The Author
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The Author
From the Author's collection
Inside the Lingshan Bramha Palace
PHOTO
Inside the Lingshan Bramha Palace
From the Author's collection
The Campus Canal
PHOTO
The Campus Canal
From the Author's collection
The Erhu Player
PHOTO
The Erhu Player
From the Author's collection
Library
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Library
From the Author's collection
The Buddha\'s hand
PHOTO
The Buddha's hand
From the Author's collection
Fruit Vendor
PHOTO
Fruit Vendor
From the Author's collection
4/5/09
Yesterday another rainstorm went through. The city, dusty from all the construction, was washed by the rain and swept clean by the wind. Today it’s sunny; the trees on campus are blossoming pink and red, and the green water in the canal is high but calm. While doing taiji I watched the rushes shake as fish darted after insects or each other. Two bright orange carp swirled directly in front of me, performing for a brief moment the classic Yinyang dance.


A man approached me. He was smiling and giving me the thumbs-up. It took me a moment to understand what he was saying: "Hóuzi!" - "Monkey!" Then I remembered that a profile of a chimpanzee’s head was on the back of my sweatshirt, with the words “Crew O’Reilly 2001”, (from O’Reilly & Associates, the computer book publisher.) The man did a quick Kung Fu move, laughed, and continued on his way.

It was an interesting coincidence, because the previous evening I had started re-reading Wu Cheng'en’s great folk epic “Monkey” – Arthur Waley’s abridged translation of “Journey to the West”. It’s been years since I first read the adventures of Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, and it seemed like a good time to make the journey with them again.

I also read some Tang Dynasty poetry. Last week I used one by the poet Meng Chiao in a lesson. My students had done well reading brief stories about current issues and people, and then writing short essays. I wanted to see what they could do with Meng Chiao’s poem, “Wandering on Mount Chung-nan”.

Wandering on Mount Chung-nan

Meng Chiao (751-814)

South Mountain stuffs all heaven and earth,
Sun and moon grow up from its stones.
The high peak at night holds back the sun,
The deep vales are never bright by day.
Natural for mountain people to grow straight:
Where paths are steep the mind levels.
A long wind drives the pines and cypresses,
With a sound that sweeps the thousand hollows clean.
Who comes here regrets that he ever studied
Morning after morning, to be close to floating fame.

(From “Poems of the Late T’ang”, translated by A.C. Graham)

Most of them didn’t know what the poet meant by “Where paths are steep the mind levels.” And to my question, “Do you think the long wind sweeps clean anything more than just the hollows?”, many of them simply wrote “No.” I did, however, get some nice interpretations:

What do you think the poet means when he says: “Where paths are steep the mind levels.”?

“I think the poet means that he wants to be a mountain people, he just wants to be a common people, in his mind he doesn’t want to steep the path.”

“It means if you want to find a road to climb up the mountain, through your thinking, you will find it is easy to get it.”

Do you think the long wind sweeps clean anything more than just the hollows?

“Yes. It also can clean up our hearts.”

“I think the long wind sweeps the upset of the poet in his heart. His worries all have gone.”

What do you think the poet means by “floating fame”?

“He said in order to find free life he will give up his fame. He would like to become a floating thing.”

“Floating fame is not the nature that the mountain and the people want to get, the floating fame is gone by the time, but the nature, the heart you keeping, is important and it will always belong you.”

“He may thought fame is not the important thing in his life. The fame is just like the cloud and mist.”

From the essays:

“As we all known, there are two ways of living style that the poet wrote. One is real life, like the vales are surrounded by dark and never bright. Another is clear life, like hollows are very clean by wind’s sweep.”

“But the real world is different, that is a dream of the poet. He just uses mountain to show his heart. At that time, the society is dark, he just wants to live alone and leave the society to find a quiet place with no fame.”

“I have never try to climb big mountain like Huang San. But some hills. I think I will enjoy the scenery of the whole mountain. I will try like that in the future day. Maybe I will cry at the top of the mountain.”

“I have never forget that I went to the Emei mountain in Sichuan province when I was 12 years old. It was my first time to saw that grand mountain. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery, seemed that I had entered a pretty picture. The green trees and wound streams flowed from the top of the mountain. I especially the beautiful flowers grew up in the grass. I forget myself at that moment when I saw all of this. Maybe it’s the dream of humans to live there. We can relax and love there from the deep of our heart.”
(This was written by Raison, who has studied Kung Fu with his father since he was 11. His trip to Mt. Emei was probably related to Kung Fu.)

“I once had a dream to climb Tai Mountain, and it had come true. I found that it will be happy if you forget anything which you can’t forget.”

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

~~~

Qingming Festival

Yesterday, April 4th, was a Chinese holiday: Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day – a day to honor one’s ancestors. I had lunch at the cafeteria with Darren, a first year student studying international trade. We talked about Chinese mythology and folklore, and about the three pillars of Chinese thought: Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Darren told me about Qingming: the graves are swept clean, and food, tea, wine, chopsticks, willow branches, or other libations are left. Paper money is burned so that the ancestors have cash to spend in heaven. Some people set off fireworks to chase away demons, and some fly animal-shaped kites. Because it rained most of the day, I wonder how much was done here in Wuxi to observe the holiday. Maybe the cleansing storm was appropriate.

The day before I'd done some exploring of downtown Wuxi. At the Nanchansi Culture Business Plaza I had a lunch that left me hungry. I had asked for something with doufu and I was served a bowl of boiling water with giant cubes of white tofu floating in it, along with a few vegetable and sprout bits. I scooped my spoon deep into the bowl in search of noodles and came up with green-black snails. I glanced around but no one seemed to notice the look on my face. I was hungry and tempted to try the boiled snails, but I knew I could find more familiar food elsewhere so I left them lining the bottom of the bowl. And maybe they were there just to add flavor.

My next stop was Xinhua Book Store, on Central People’s Road. My love of books, (I worked in book stores for close to 15 years), kept me occupied there for over an hour. Interesting that the section signs were in both English and Chinese, and that many of the books had an English title on the front cover – the only English in the book.

There was a fairly good selection of books in English – classic British and American literature – and books in English and Chinese; fewer had pinyin as well. I bought four: two collections of Tang and Song poetry, and two collections of traditional Chinese stories.

4/6/09
The high point of the weekend was a trip yesterday with Lisa and Elaine to the Língshān Dà Fó – the Lingshan Great Buddha. I’ve posted some photos, (see the links to the two new photo albums: "China - April, 2009"and "The Lingshan Great Buddha"), a couple of videos (see below), and here’s the Wikipedia article and photos: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingshan_Buddha.

We strolled around the immaculate grounds – a vast Buddha theme park – taking pictures of one amazing sight after another. The central attraction was an 88-meter high statue of the Buddha, made of 700 tons of bronze, standing on top of Xiao Lingshan (“Miniature Spiritual Vulture Hill”), gazing out at Taihu Lake. As you drive up to Lingshan this colossal Buddha looms on the horizon like a golden Statue of Liberty.

One of the videos I took is of the Nine Dragons Fountain: a circular fountain with nine surrounding dragons. At the center of the fountain is a tall pillar topped by a bronze lotus flower – a golden Buddha child enfolded within its giant petals. At 1:00 p.m. a loud narration of the Buddha’s birth starts, followed by dramatic music. Water jets out from the dragons, and the lotus flower opens slowly to reveal the little Buddha. While the young Sakyamuni begins a clockwise rotation the dragons anoint him by shooting water sky-high. Seconds later everyone gets a brief shower.

The Lingshan Bramha Palace was even more amazing. Immense, ornate, colorful, and high-tech. See the photos and the second video: the light show that looks like something you’d see while using Microsoft media player. It’s actually the domed ceiling of a huge lecture hall.

Lisa summed up our visit to the Lingshan Great Buddha as follows: “Impressive, but kind of commercial, huh?” Kind of. At the end of our visit we understood the reason for the 150 yuan entrance fee. I wonder what the ever-smiling Buddha is thinking as he gazes down upon the picture-snapping tourists, the incense-burning devotees, and the opulent palaces. What does he think about his fame? I imagine him wishing he could shuffle off his immortal bronze coil and stride away to Mount Chung-nan, where he can “steep the path”, hike amongst the pines and cypresses, and listen to the long wind.
 
Cross-posted from the author's site by permission, here.