Monday, September 15, 2014

Buddhas, Hell, Ghosts and Shaved Ice

Rainy park
Piker hikers we were not. Up at dawn to reach the Lingyin Si Monastery of the Hidden Souls (AD 326)before breakfast and before the masses of worshipers and tourists. It is huge as are the Buddhas and many statues of mean-looking sacred guards, and the human-animal figures of the Chinese signs of the Zodiac. The park is massive and you walk about a mile before you get to the two temples (the largest I've seen) and passing a peak carved with 300 creatures, a favorite being the fat bellied Laughing Buddha and some Hindu-like creatures , since this place appealed to Buddhist Indian Hui Li longing for Gradhrakuta Mountain in India.

Laughing Buddha
This monastery houses the gold-gilded statue of the Maitreya Buddha, guarded by two Heavenly Kings. Another gilded Buddha statue found in the Precious Hal of the Great Heroes is of Sakyamuni, more than 66 feet high and made of camphor wood, which is presumed holy by pilgrims. At one point in time, 3000 monks lived here in 18 pavilions and 75 temple halls. Now there are about 15. I lit 3 sticks of incense for my police precinct, that's all that is allowed, 3, because the public was bringing their own candles and too many fires burned too many pavilions. However, there is an alternative, which I couldn't get into - red electric candles. The smoke of the incense, of course, is to carry the prayers to Heaven. In China there are lots of references to and activities to lead to Heaven. And lots of things are named Harmony (even the bullet train.)

Largest Buddha in China
The Chinese seek Paradise just as we do. And whatever Christian flavors float about were brought here by the Nestorians in 635 and a Persian called Alopen. Through much religious persecution the religion spread until the end of the Mongol Yuan dynasties. (Most complicated is keeping up with what Dynasty is whos and when and what came before and after.) The Roman Catholic Church was brought in by the Jesuits, who befriended Chinese scholars, but the first church was possibly built by Franciscans in the Ming period.

More Buddha with two ladies
China was always destination for many missionaries and like most of our history, there was so much bickering in the church hierarchies that Emperors, fed up with the squabbling and angst, just persecuted them all. Conversion didn't start big time until the 1800s when the Protestants came ashore. During World War II and post-revolutionary China, the Catholics could no longer be accountable to Rome, by direct order of the Communist leaders.

Holy incense for MPD
Nowadays, the right to worship has slipped out of the hands of the government, and the wealthy are involved with spiritual activities. The Party is not happy with any organized religions not even the Buddhist who fight for the return of Tibet and the recognition of the Dalai Lama, while the Chinese leaders found another guy to be the holy Lama, all of this exposed during the Beijing Olympics. As the torched passed through China, and the leaders wanted to take it to the top of Mt. Everest, climbing the mountain (in its peak season) was halted until the "runners" could make it to the top and hopefully not run into "Free Tibet" banners.

Electric candles
After the visit to the temples - it was Sunday and in spite of one's faith, Saturday and Sunday are holidays here too when families lunge for the peace of the parks and the lakes - we were scheduled for a boat ride down the canals to the famous Xi Hu or West Lake. The lush landscape bordered by giant weeping willows and tall lotus leaves and blossoms, and every kind of tree, the moon bridges (the reflection in the silent water makes them full moon shapes) soothe and inspire.

With my rabbit guy
In our tiny pointed boat was the driver with his giant paddle, our guide Wilson, and a young lady dressed in red lace who played the pipa (a mandolin) as we slowly progressed to the huge lake. It was our meditation break in this compact trip. And it was a time when I was able to ask questions from our knowledgeable guide Wilson, for he could get on websites that were in Chinese. But first, on the pipa in history, warlords requested the song: 10-sided Ambush in Hangzhou history, which is a brutal attack of the strings. She gave us a sample. It oozed the "smell of killing" and was used by warriors. Oh well. Most of the rest was supposed to be soothing ballads, however the sounds of Asian music are too dissonant for me.

Ancestors get it good
With all the heavenly and humble and harmony references, and the pursuit of reaching heaven to be re-incarnated, I asked Wilson if there was any concept of Hell or the Devil. Oh boy. He found the website and we learned how crime values differ in various culture. There is a "King of Hell" called Emperor Yan Luo Wang - he is depicted as a ghost with a horse face or a ghost with a buffalo build. (Homes have about a foot high panels along door passages over which you are constantly stepping to enter from one room to another - I asked why and was told because it keeps the ghosts out - Ghosts are limited - they can only move in one direction (sort of like rhinoceros) - can't go left to right, up or down, so any obstacle stops them from enter the home. These panels that you step over keep them out.)

Boating through canals
There are 18 levels of hell - and since I'm here in China, I want to share them with you. Will make you think about our own system of "justice" and "punishment."
1st level - crime is "gossiping" - tongue is plucked out
2nd level - if husband dies, woman must stay single; if matchmakers try to persuade her to re-marry, a crime is committed. - cut off fingers with scissors.
3rd level - family unfriendly to each other - hang on iron tree with sharp blades as leaves.
4th level - commit crime and try to bribe hell-workers to make it a minor crime so don't have to be punished so hard - look into large mirror and be punished harder according to crime
5th level - spread rumors and slander - called long tongue people - steamed in a bamboo cage
6th level - arson, set fire to destroy evidence or take revenge - tied to a huge copper column and set on fire
7th - Fail to believe in or bad-mouth your religion or God - stripped naked to climb dagger mountain
8th- adultery and abortion and gamblers, wives who kill spouses - climb ice mountain naked
9th - prostitutes, traffickers, thieves - fried to crisp in hot oil in a hot wok
10th - those who happily kill animals - throw in buffalo pit and get gored and stepped on
11th level - Infant-cide - kill new born baby because its sick, retarded, unwanted or a girl - paced in a stone pit and a huge stone dropped to crush you
12th - gluttony, waste of fried rice - ground up like hamburger in a grinder
Tall Lotus
13th level - no respect for others - thrown into pit of blood and vomit/spit up blood til die
14th. suicide -Life is valuable - hell won't take you and so never re-incarnated.
15th. grave robbers who steal for gain - cut into small slivers or ribbons of a flesh with a knife
16h - bribe or take bribes, embezzle, scam, or religious ones who violate the innocent - sent to Inferno Mountain to burn forever but never die
17th - officers , CEOs, leaders who surpress and treat people badly coupled with monks and priests who eat pork - another group ground into hamburger meat while alive
18th - Liars and those who in business who treat others unfairly - cut into two pieces by being stripped, arms and legs stretched between two posts, and the saw saws from the crotch to the head.
Think about these methods of punishment and the level of importance. I'd make some changes.

Dim Sum restaurant
After a super dim sum luncheon where I tried peanut shaved ice (YUM), we went to the home of some wealthy man who had 10 wives and 18 children. It was so huge and walking through it was tackling those beams on the floor that keep out ghosts. A small exhibit of probably what is considered the most important art in China - calligraphy and traditional ink painting - was in a few rooms. One of these artist, Han Zhi Ping, who is a renown teacher at the Central Academy of Arts (where most of the "hot" artists today in China were trained in the basics), met with me and two aspiring artists, Wang and Ren (Female), do discuss art through a translator.

Peanut shaved ice
Mr. Han obviously believes most of the art produced in the new age is trash - he calls it arts and crafts, and it's abusing the boundaries and training the artist has learned. I showed him some photos on my Iphone from the art I had seen in the Power Station in Shanghai, and he was appalled, I think. He says artists must stick to the ten virtues, which I have failed to discover. He said the greatest period of art on which students should model themselves is on Shenzhou of the Ming Dynasty (15-16th centuries). But for any artist to achieve acclaim or to win respect, he or she must publish thesis after thesis.

Central Academy of Arts
The two young people with us who had completed the 4 years of university and 5 years of training afterwards had no qualms about keeping up the traditional art of calligraphy and ink painting. That was their interest. But they wanted to be part of the art association that would give them opportunities to exhibit and build a career with their art. Mr. Han is a long time professor and chairman of the West Lake Art Association, which is a big thing.

Rich man's home with gardens
I dared to ask Ren if, as a female, was she respected and able to progress as a skilled artist (I did not see anyone's art but Mr. Hans, which was in the show and a bit out of the ordinary) and she was so reserved and shy, and I could tell by her eyes, she was uncomfortable with the question. Her companion, Wang, spoke up and said she could have a career, but the implication was that she has to do all the women things (cook, clean, take care of children) and that didn't give her the time to do her art. I told her I pray she becomes a leading female artist. I wonder if they do have access to all the exciting things going on in the art world scene today. Seeing pictures in books is helpful, but not like walking into museums and galleries where the life-blood of expression is exploding. I felt a bit sad after this discussion, which was very amiable.

We took the night plane to Beijing and now I can continue my art journey. Beijing is a monster city still dealing with traffic jams at 11 p.m. God help us.

No comments: