Tag Archives: Buddhism

参观棋盘山的向阳寺 – Visiting Qipanshan’s “Sun-facing Temple”

In late June, when Spider was only three weeks old, I took advantage of a beautiful morning to drag the entire group – wife, M-I-L, son, and puppy – to the nearby Xiangyang Temple for some fresh air.

Xiangyang Temple (向阳寺), literally “Sun-facing Temple”, overlooks the southwestern reaches of Qipanshan lake. You can see the temple and surrounding area for yourself via Google Earth if you input the following coordinates in GE’s search bar:

41°55’52.75″ N, 123°38’41.75″ E

According to the temple’s own history, it was built around 500 years ago. I declare that unlikely on the grounds that this part of China was very sparsely populated during the time claimed. Things didn’t start really happening around here until the Manchus declared Shenyang their capital in the 1600s. Furthermore, whatever structures may have existed by the 20th century were almost certainly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution as part of the “Four Olds” campaign by the Red Guards and other associated geniuses. That all the buildings on the grounds look brand-spanking new (and probably are) does not in any way detract from the experience, however! The architecture is still lovely.

View of the main gate from the upper parking lot
View of the main gate from the upper parking lot

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Cultural Legacy

I am currently working my way through In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon by Bhikkhu Bodhi, which I am enjoying immensely and can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wants to get as close to the original Buddhist canon as possible without leaving the comfort of the English language.

Blissfully reading page after page, my concentration was shattered when a legacy of my youth culture burst through the prose and reminded me that no matter where I go or what I study, I cannot escape the fact that I spent a considerable part of my formative years watching Beavis & Butthead on MTV.

The passage in question:

Even those affluent householders — rich, with great wealth and property, with abundant gold and silver, abundant treasures and commodities, abundant wealth and grain — because they have been born, are not free from aging and death. Even those monks who are arahants, whose taints are destroyed, who have lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached their own goal, utterly destroyed the fetters of existence, and are completely liberated through final knowledge: even for them this body is subject to breaking up, subject to being laid down.

Sounds painful!

The reality is that word has two very different meanings, and while I encounter the adjectival negative from time to time, none of the forms are routinely present within the English vocabulary demanded by life in China.

The circumstances under which one first encounters a word during language learning have lasting impact!

As a very young lad I came home from school one day and asked my father what “prick” meant. He expressed his surprise that I had heard that word and then patiently explained how it was an impolite euphemism for penis and one of those words generally not to be repeated.

This linguistically correct explanation left me thoroughly confused as I struggled to visualize what sort of interplay would be required between Sleeping Beauty’s finger and a penis in order to trigger her enchanted slumber..!

There is no solution to this problem save for studying a language where every word has exactly one meaning and I have yet to hear of one.

The best we can do is persevere, hoping that when the time comes, that when our spiritual development is strong enough, that we succeed in destroying the correct type of taint!

Changchun on Foot / 漫步长春

Autumn is campus recruiting season, during which my company dispatches a cross-functional team across central and northeast China to scour the best universities for potential future employees. As the official foreign face of the company, I’m a key member of the recruiting team. This week’s excursion takes us through Changchun (长春) and Harbin (哈尔滨).

Sunday was our evening recruiting event, after which all hopeful students took a written exam and submitted their CVs. Yesterday we held group interviews for around 70 candidates to weed out the “good on paper” kids. Today (Tuesday) left us with about 30 students ready for one-on-one interviews. Unfortunately (fortunately?) for me, none of those 30 candidates were applying for the positions I’m responsible for, so I had no interviews to do and therefore a clear schedule for the entire day. The weather forecast was sunny, a slight breeze, a high of 20 and low of 10C … perfect for a stroll!

Surveying what the Changchun city center has to offer, I settled on a visit to NanHu Gongyuan (“South Lake Park” aka 南湖公园) and particularly the 大佛寺 (“(Gautama) Buddha Temple”) located nearby. You may recall I’ve recently officially started down the Noble Eightfold Path.

Final thought during our introduction here: I left the Changchun Ramada hotel equipped with my new Samsung Galaxy S II phone. This is the first truly smart phone I’ve owned, and is subsidized as part of my company compensation. In addition to the standard GPS and mapping function, it takes decent photos. And so, new phone in hand, I resolved to shoot and shoot often during my stroll… our photographic tour of Changchun begins now…

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From Beer to Buddhism

I’ve been terribly busy at work these days, and last Thursday saw me working overtime at the office until 9PM. One of my coworkers was there as well, and when we finally decided to call it quits he suggested we go out for dinner and a few drinks. His wife and child were visiting relatives in another city and he had nothing better to do. As for me, my wife and child were likely already asleep – I had missed my chance to see them after work. Therefore staying out a bit longer would only impact the length of time I’d be spending in bed that night. Valuing the invitation from my coworker, and knowing that there were currently several sensitive and pressing business issues better discussed over a meal, I accepted.

Two hours later we were wrapping up a nice meal and putting away the last round of those few drinks. It had been a productive discussion and I, happy to have stayed out, was now looking forward to heading home to a nice, warm bed.

But then the café door opened and in strode six gentlemen, one of which gaily shouted “HEY!” across the room when he spotted my coworker. The loudmouthed fellow in question was a former employee of our company who presently works for the local branch of a large Chinese software group. He and his comrades had wrapped up an intensive training program that afternoon, spent the better part of the evening at a fine restaurant, and were now in search of a suitable location for some serious drinking. According to the unwritten but unbreakable laws of Chinese business culture, having been spotted and acknowledged, we too were now required to participate in their merrymaking.

And we did… until 2AM.

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Got Buddhist Temple?

Sunday found me rising early after little sleep in the pursuit of some authentic Japanese culture. As much as I love APU, being stuck up here on the mountain most days makes for a decidedly sterile experience if one is searching for a deep exposure to the innate currents of Japanese life.

Choki-san had invited me the week before to spend this Sunday visiting a Buddhist temple with her in order to observe the Fall foliage. I can confidently say that Japanese people, as a rule, are the most appreciative and devoted culture in the world when it comes to honoring the shifting of the seasons. To quote a relevant passage from an often ridiculed movie, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”

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