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Published: December 15th 2009
Nothing new to report other than that I went to LeShan last week with a friend to see the largest Buddha effigy on the planet last weekend. Read more here! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leshan_Giant_Buddha
My thoughts aren't very collected at the moment, so I don't have much to say other than we met some fascinating people, saw some temples more personally inspiring than the main attraction, and that the Big Buddha was, despite the tourists, numinous.
See more here! http://s294.photobucket.com/albums/mm93/sterlingsin/Chengdu2009/LeShan/
Actually, you know what? Let's try to collect these thoughts now. That was one damn big Buddha. Over 200 feet tall, you could completely fit inside its ear standing up. The day we went was perhaps one of the least crowded days of the year to go, luckily, and the weather held up nicely for this time of year.
Okay, to start from the beginning: After class Friday, I asked my friend Nick (one of the people I went to EMei Mountain with two months ago) if he'd been to DaFo (Giant Buddha) yet, just to make conversation, and he said no. Then we realized, "We're both leaving in a month, and final exams approach ..." So, I asked one more question: "What are you doing tomorrow?"
The next morning, we boarded the 8:55 bus to LeShan city, arriving there 1 1/2 hours later. We ate brunch at a streetside food shack, then picked up a taxi to the mountain itself. The taxi driver was curious and engagin, and freely discussed his hatred toward the Japanese, a sentiment still harbored by many Chinese due to the Sino-Japanese War from 1937-45. THe Japanese forces were unkind to Chinese peasants. But, that was two generations ago. A 20-something Chinese should have no problems meeting a 20-something Japanese person, I feel, but I have not the cultural background a Chinese person does.
Anyway, we arrive to LeShan roundabouts 11 a.m., and save 70RMB on our entrance tickets because we showed them our student IDs. After declining tour guide offers, we explored the grounds ourselves. ...That was one damn big Buddha. And the mountain had many other impressive temples and pagodas and Buddhism-related art, including some artifacts and pottery preserved from the Han dynasty. At one of the larger temples, we were accosted by a middle aged woman in broken English: "Hello? Oh wow, sorry to bother you, but this is such a great opportunity for me to talk about things to foreigners."
From there, this woman spoke to us in slightly Sichuan-accented Mandarin for 20 minutes without pause about everything she felt unable to speak to other Chinese people. Her unique perspective on Buddhism, which is actually not too dissimilar from my faintly Humanist personal beliefs--the effigies aren't real, or important, and the path to Transcendance is leading a life within reality that adheres to the principles of helping others and nonattachment to your own life and possessions. Although our beliefs have not these religious aspects, what she said to Nick and I made a lot of sense to us--if your religion preaches nonattachment, why be attached to sacrifices to effigies (or effigies at all, for that matter?). She then went on to talk about her parenting philosophy of constant support and encouragement to the child, with no negative re-enforcement. This is in stark contrast to the parenting methods of her friends (and sadly, of many parents in China), who she says tell her, "You love your children too much. You should punish them a little more so they will work harder in school and have a better life."
My spontaneous response was, of course: "How can you love your children too much?"
She then told us about how she's been trying to write articles for some time about these topics, and although she's found editors who find them interesting, no one is willing to publish such atypical ideas in a Chinese press. She doesn't want her name published, just the ideas, just for her ideas to be passed on and anonymously transmitted to others. So I won't say her name her, just her ideas.
Now, usually, when we're accosted by a Chinese person in broken English, we try to get away ASAP, because those conversations are usually unbearably repetitive and empty. Asked if we like China, responding in Chinese, them saying our Chinese is really great (even if it isn't), then asking more very basic, grammatically incorrect sentences in English. But this time, perhaps because we were standing under the serene golden image of Maitreya, we gave our patience and time to this woman, and were rewarded more than we could have ever imagined. We've exchanged e-mails and plan to keep in touch. A fantastic accident to occur in the middle of this already enlightening excursion.
Also, impossible to not mention is the monastery on top of the final hill with a statuette of every single Bodhisappha in that Chinese Buddhist sect inside. Each carved/painted separately, rendered to display the individual personalities, characteristics and lifestyle each of these spiritual leaders had during their lives. Warrior kings, hermetic sages, non-attached, cross-legged monks with sublime, Sino-Indian features... wow. Even better than the Big Buddha, perhaps.
So we toured all the sites and exited around 5 p.m., taking an unmarked van to a tour bus to Chengdu. Afterward, we wandered the dark streets for perhaps 45 minutes looking for not only a taxi, but one whose driver was willing to drive us across town to our university. We arrived back at about 8 p.m. and, realizing we hadn't eaten since brunch, went to a nearby restaurant (one of my favorites) to eat some authentic, authentic So. Chinese food.
That's about it about my day seeing the damn big Buddha. Don't know how many times I can get away with saying "damn big Buddha" in one travel journal entry, so I'll say it just one last time: Dayum. Big. Buddha.
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