Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thought I was at 大悲禅院 but was really at 掛甲禪寺

I was in Beijing last week, and as anyone who is remotely familiar with geopolitics and corporate ethics might guess, that's why this blog took a short hiatus.  On Saturday, friends of my wife were kind enough to accompany me to Tianjin, which I recommend as a side journey from Beijing.  It's a beautiful city, although, like most places in Northern China, every building could use a good power washing, thanks to the dust storms from Mongolia.

I had hoped that my friends would have guided me to Dà Bēi Yuàn Chan Si (大悲禅院), but instead
Guà Jiǎ Chan Si (掛甲禪寺) which would mean either "Hung up Armor Imperial Temple" "Suspended Highest Zen Temple" or some combination between the two.  (Evidently armor was hung up in the temple, if babelfish is to be believed.) If you search Google maps, they're not far from each other, and it was interesting that there's actually two Chan temples close to each other, given the fact that there's no Chan temples I've found in Beijing.

And frankly it was probably the better deal.  I was able, through my wife's friends, to speak with the monks there. There were a couple in their 20s, and a couple in their 40s. Perhaps there are more there, but these were the only ones I met.   They are a Lin Chi school temple, and they said their temple was over 1000 years old.  Like the Rinzai school, they still do koan practice, and are oriented towards the attainment of enlightenment experiences. They do not, however, have any contact with Buddhist monks and temples outside of China, which is a pity.  I managed to see their Zendo, which they would not let me enter; they said one needed permission from the head teacher, who was not there that day.

As is typical in Chinese temples in this era, they mix and match many forms of Buddhism for the populace;that's why there's traces of Pure Land, Tibetan and other forms of Buddhism lurking about here.

But the fact is this is indeed a Chan temple; their Zendo looked just like that of my teacher's in Japan.  Which of course brings up the point: if there are people practicing here, they can't but sooner or later bring forth a great teacher, despite the years of great hardship they have endured.

So Zen is getting by in China, evidently; Tianjin as at least two Chan temples, which was more than I'd thought.

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