China is historically a Buddhist nation with thousands of temples, some dating back more than 1700 years. Buddhism is a practice in which the follower observes a series of teachings of Buddha, not a God but a man who lived. Buddhists do not believe in a divine God or Supreme Being, although it has been said that as Buddhism is a practice you can be a follower of Christ or God (or whoever) and still be a Buddhist . I like this about Buddhism, the openness and acceptance of all religions and inclusion of humanity and its right to choose. Globally, there are more than 480 million followers, predominantly in Asia. Buddhist centres, principals and congregations can be found all over the world, making Buddhism the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism .
Check out Core of Buddhism from religioustolerance.org. This is one of my favourite references of Buddhism, of course there are so many out there, but this one is so simple. (The full link is below.)
- Sila: Virtue, good conduct, morality. This is based on two fundamental principles:
- The principle of equality: that all living entities are equal.
- The principle of reciprocity: This is the Golden Rule in Christianity – to do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you. It is found in all major religions.
- Samadhi: Concentration, meditation, mental development. Developing one’s mind is the path to wisdom which in turn leads to personal freedom. Mental development also strengthens and controls our mind; this helps us maintain good conduct.
- Prajna: Discernment, insight, wisdom, enlightenment. This is the real heart of Buddhism. Wisdom will emerge if your mind is pure and calm.
Here in China I am confused with the terminology used by the Chinese people I meet. They come in droves to the temples to pay their respects and wish for good luck. Is that not the same as honouring God, and praying for blessings? The word luck and wish are used a lot in my conversations with the locals. I spoke to a lady in the Hanshan temple in Suzhou and asked if the people who were praying were all Buddhists. Her reply surprised me, “Probably not. They are just here for good luck because it is the New Year.” Interesting. So, it begs the question – who is granting the good luck? Or who are they asking?
LUCK – a force that brings good fortune or adversity
BLESSING – a beneficial thing for which one is grateful
WISH – a desire or hope for something to happen
PRAYER – an earnest hope or wish
I have visited 17 temples in China: in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Harbin, Suzhou and Beijing. The theme is the same. A symbolic brazier is located in the courtyard, with a bell tower and drum tower normally opposite each other. Large gorgeous gold Buddhas are housed in a series of halls throughout the often-expansive grounds and incense is everywhere you turn. People come and kneel before the statues and three seems to be the magic number. Three bows of the head, three sticks of incense, and three times raising your hands in prayer. I got chatting with a monk at the magnificent Lin Ying temple in Hangzhou. Through his Mandarin, my Aussie English and Google translate, we discussed the crowded forecourt and masses of people pouring in and out of the temple walls in a constant stream, in the half hour we sat and chatted. His view as well, is that not everyone is a Buddhist. This illusion of luck if you attend the temple at New Year and pay your respects, and then your year will be filled with happiness (blessings?). He had been a monk for 15 years and was committed to his faith, but reminded me that the teachings of Buddha do not include the reverence of a Supreme Being. I asked again, who is supplying the luck? He smiled and said that our actions supply our own luck . If you act with kindness and goodwill, then that is what you will receive in return. So is Buddhism ‘The Secret’?
I’m left intrigued to this faith and its followers. I will journey to Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Japan to further explore this ancient tradition. As far as China is concerned, religion may be restricted but Buddhism is everywhere you turn; there are street sellers offering Buddhas and incense on every corner. There is a multitude of temples in their grandeur on offer in every town and a history dating back centuries.
Peace to all creatures – what could possibly be wrong with that?
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim