Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zhenzho - twice!

Sunday November 7th - On the way to Zhenzho

It is now noon on Sunday November 7. I'm sitting at gate 63 at the Shanghai airport, waiting for a delayed flight to Zhenzho. We arose early thing morning as planned, breakfast was very smooth as we arranged for an early sitting at the hotel breakfast buffet. It is the normal way in Chinese hotels to offer a full breakfast buffet for the guests. In the larger cities like Nanchang and Shanghai this is a major spread, with western style pancakes and fried eggs, and an impressive spread of Chinese offerings. In the countryside, like Yifeng, the offerings are decidedly less opulent, tending toward the funky. Anyway we also had smooth sailing to the airport, which was an amazing experience. We have negotiated Nanchang traffic a number of times, and it's total madhouse. Actually, I could write a whole entry just on the Chinese highway and city traffic experience. I quit counting the number of traffic accidents we have come across in our journey after 12. Now I don't much notice, except for the delays. We beat the traffic this morning and flew through the city without a hitch. Getting through check-in was also a breeze. That's where our luck ran out. Our flight to Shanghai was delayed and our gate was changed, and we sat for about an hour and a half. This was OK, because we had a three hour layover in Shanghai, and we planned to have lunch here. By the time we got through the transfer in Shanghai and made our way about a half mile to the connecting gate we were out of time for lunch. Now, however, our next flight is delayed, so here I am typing on my netbook. At least those who want it can find some lunch at one of the concessions. This is a very modern and huge airport, with fancy shops and foodcourts, so there is much to choose from.

I have skipped over several stops in the interest of writing from a current perspective. I skipped over Moshan, Huangbo, and Dongshan, all very significant places. I won't try to put them into the trip context at this point, but instead recall the important points.

Let's start with Moshan. We rode out to the countryside to a place called Kuanyin Spring very near the temple. The local people are working hard to develop it as a rural resort with high hopes once Moshan's temple is restored. There is good reason to think it will be successful, as there is deep-pocket donor for the temple who is also supporting the resort. The area also offers some attractive mountain hikes, which city people are starting to appreciate. It is a pretty sparse affair at this point, however. We had lunch there, and it seems we were the only ones through in some time. The spring has a little pavilion nearby, but the area needs some environmental improvement. Still, it was a pleasant stop away from the noise and most of the pollution of the city. It is not as high in the mountains as some places we would see later, but it was a nice improvement for us at that time.

Moshan's temple looks very unimposing as you approach it. There is an aging gate and dilapidated entry hall that has seen better days. We did our bows there as usual, then the nun receiving us invited us to tea. We left that building and walked past a little vegetable garden, a tray of peppers drying, and up past some very dilapidated barrack like buildings. As we rounded the corner a brand new beautiful structure came into view. This is the new three story guesthouse, build around a central courtyard. We were to learn this is a standard design we would see many times. This building is of excellent quality, with room for 75 or more guests in addition to the resident nuns who will be housed elsewhere. We explained that we, Gyokuko and I, are heirs of a woman teacher with over 60 Dharma heirs and described how we chant a women's line of important teachers. The nun said that we do, indeed, share a karmic affinity and that they also chant a line similar to ours. She extended an invitation for us to send people to practice with them. Opportunities there for men are very limited, but women could come for extended times. I looked at Genko and said, "are you ready?" The nun looked at her expectantly. We all laughed because the language barrier is significant.

After tea we were invited to see the old quarters the nuns lived in while they worked to rebuilt the temple. These are barracks once used by loggers some time in the past and are now falling down. Just past that is the site of the new temple, which is a fairly large scale construction site at the moment. Workers were busy clearing and preparing the site for the foundations which were not yet in evidence. Newly cut down branches of fruit trees were scattered around. We were offered some fruit from them that were described as tangerines that can be eaten without pealing. Gyokuko thinks they may be kumquats. Whatever they were, they were edible, if somewhat dry and a bit bitter. The nuns wanted to weigh us down with endless numbers of these little yellow/green fruits, and we took what we could. I was planning to bring some back for Jiko, who wrote so eloquently about Moshan. Then I remembered we can't bring fruit like that into the US. I didn't want so many of them in my suitcase anyway, as they would no doubt create a mess, so I scooped them out after a couple of days. Maybe one got lost somewhere in the bag. We'll have to see.

Next we come to Dongshan, AKA Tozan Ryokai, who wrote the "Precious Mirror Samadhi" and originated the teaching of the Five Ranks. This temple is in rather sad shape like the old temple at Baizhang's seat, and rebuilding work is starting up there as well. An old bridge over the creek where he saw his reflection, however, is there and rather charming. The version of the story I am familiar with has Dongshan seeing his reflection not long after leaving his teacher. His reflection triggers an understanding of the teaching about insentient things preaching the Dharma, and he hurries back to pay respects to his teacher and receive acknowledgment. I don't recall anything about a temple at the spot of crossing the stream, nor that he went back to build one there. Perhaps he did. His stupa is above the temple, in traditional fashion, and as with other sites, it is quite beautiful up on the hill. I just hope the new construction does it justice. We paid our respects with bows and circumambulation, and by chanting the Precious Mirror Samadhi in Dongshan's memory. There are some nice video clips of this on the Flickr site, as well as lots of nice photos of members of our group on or near the bridge.

Finally we come to Hunagbo's Dharma Seat. This is in a very remote valley, literally at the end of a small country road. It dead-ends right there. As with Moshan's place, it is up in the mountains, and like hers, not so high as others we would see later. This place is interesting because it is being rebuilt on the old site where nothing was left standing. There are stones scattered about in the field that appear to be parts of the old temple. Andy pointed out an ancient outdoor incense burner that is now at the side of the path behind the new temple that is probably 1200 years old. The other interesting feature is that the rebuilding is being done in fits and starts. Because it is remote, it is being done when the specialized workers who do this kind of building are available. Then they bring in  a bunch of materials and blitz for a while. There is a new gate that is almost finished, but needs interior work, and a new Buddha Hall behind it that has most of the exterior and roof done, but is still surrounded by the bamboo scaffolding. The grass and weeds have sprung up high enough to cover the foundations that extend in front of the hall for some distance. Walking through that is very tricky as the ground falls away into pretty deep holes. I walked along the foundations, and several times almost tripped on the rebar hidden in the brambles. I went inside and found in cavernous interior is also filled with bamboo scaffolding. It makes for a fascinating maze reaching up into the darkness.

When I came out of the hall I joined the others poking about in the field behind the Buddha Hall looking at old stones and trying to determine if they could be parts of old temple buildings, and which parts they might be. One was clearly part of a water drainage trough, ubiquitous in old compounds like temples in both China and Japan. While we were doing this there as a rumbling sound from up the mountain side that we couldn't quite make out, but it seemed to be getting closer. Pretty soon a little horse, barely more than a pony, came rushing down the path dragging a big load of bamboo harvested by the man far behind, but guiding him with long reins. This was a delight to see for everyone in the group.

Later we would see another pony and bamboo harvester, or perhaps it was the same fellow, who showed off his little horse for our group when we returned from Huangbo's stupa. That was a very pleasant walk we took after driving down the road a little way. This stupa is so far off the beaten path that very few people find their way there. Andy and Bill Porter had to search the hillside a few years ago to find it. The path follows a lovely stream, then turns to wind by a little farming settlement, then through rice fields and up the hillside. There are several forks in the path, so it helps to have someone that knows the way along as a guide. As settings for ancient stupas go, this has to be the best we saw. More photos and videos are available on Flikr.

Wednesday November 10 - Again On the way to Zhenzho

I'm on the bus on a smooth highway to Zhenzho from Sanmenxia and our time with Bodhidharma. I haven't had internet access in a while, sometimes due to a lack of time, and sometimes, like last night, because the connection just didn't work in our room. I've been working on keeping the ridiculous number of phongraphs and video clips organized, which should help with the final blog entries. One thing that comes to mind at the moment is that we have had exceptional weather on this trip. It's been comfortably warm here in the north, while dropping to nice sleeping weather coolness at night. It has been remarkable clear during our northern leg as well. Andy and our local guides have remarked on it. Andy has been taking lots of photos at places he has been many times because he has never seen the tops of mountains and views from the mountains before. I won't have the time to get on line tonight as we are flying out of Zhenzho after 9pm, and we will get to our hotel very late. Tomorrow we have lots of options, including the Jade Buddha Temple, a museum of Chinese culture and history, the fabric market that Gyokuko and others have drooling over, and just plain free time. Our return flights are the next day, so this trip is now winding up. I'll try to upload photos and this blog before we go. The rest of the work, such as adding descrioptions to the photos, will have to wait.

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