It was totally packed out on the day. Like, the whole wide world was there, so people had to go squat outside to offer incense (evil cancer causing smelly cigarettes) to themselves.
I really LUUUURVE this photo because it's so candid and everyone's just CAUGHT.
Kennie leh, seriously looks CHAN. He needs to go to a spa, and then sleep like a hundred hours. And wash his hair. And go on a diet. And sit ups. Poor Kennie.
And and and, what's that? Ben's smiling?! And relaxed? And not looking like he's about to fall over from sleep-food-deprivation? He looks so celebriteeeee here!
Beng Kooi looks incredibly evil. Like we caught her when the evilness peeked out for a split second.
And you can even spot me in the window reflection absorbed in a very lond deep meaningful conversation with Joe, probably about all the work that I haven't done.
We had some Very Important Lady officiate the opening, but I swear that up until that day I'd never heard of her and had no idea who she was. It was so super nice of her to come though.
But really, what was most fun was seeing everyone there, and just that big old cushy comfy everyone-loves-the-world kind of feeling you get from events like these.
You wouldn't really believe that in the middle of all those millions of pesky bicycles and rude, loud, spitting Chinese people, there is this beautiful quiet temple (Miaoying Temple) with a very precious stupa/pagoda tucked off in the back. We were the only people visiting that temple day so got a full run of the place. It was like being waaaaaaaaay back then, and you could almost forget you were in smelly Beijing.
And in that temple, was this bighugeenormous room FILLED TO THE BRIM with antique Buddhas - big ones, small ones, peaceful ones, warthful ones, female ones, male ones, fat ones, thin ones. They wouldn't let us take photos and there were these two gnomes guarding the hall and shouting at me everytime I took my camera out, but I SNUCK A SHOT anyway. so meh!
Yes okay, so even we got a bit pagoda'd out after a bit but this one was especially lovely because it was set in a little island in the middle of one of Beijing's biggest parks.
Wu Tai Shan
Really, really, I freak out when I see nuns. They are all just so neat! And I swear I've never seen an ugly nun. This was at the largest temple in Wu Tai Shan, where heaps of different monks and nuns and pilgrims from all traditions go to do prayers and prostrations. I ran around sneaking photos of all the Sangha doing their prayers. I'm sure they don't mind. It's like you could point a big fat lens in their face while they're reciting mantras and they don't bat an eyelid.
See, I like, really really really like red doors.
Okay, so I have this big fascination with the Sangha at the moment. Even seeing their robes hanging out to dry makes me get all bubbly and want to cry all over the place like a faucet. I think it's the idea that it's so "normal" for them to be hanging their robes out to dry, but it's this casualness that makes it so wonderful - that they are so humble about their monastic living, and how dedicating their whole lives to the benefit of other beings is just so everday and "normal" for them.
Monks' shoes made me freak out too. In the Buddhist tradition, the presence of a monk's shoes, especially the shoes of your own spiritual teacher, signifiy the presence of your teacher. When Lamas pass away, people put a pair of his shoes on his teaching throne, to signify that he will reincarnate again to teach.
There were 1500+ steps to climb to get up to a very sacred cave, associated with Buddha Vajrayogini. We panted, and huffed and puffed and sweated and screamed and almost wanted to push each other off the edge of the stairs because it was so damn tough. And then we saw this monk prostrating his way to the top. We shut up real fast.
Tibet, recreated on a Chinese mountain. Look look! It was so neat how everything was really Tibetan but also really Chinese at the same time - the way the prayer hall is arranged, the monks' prayer robes and the pujas. LOVES! Most of the temples are quite quiet and small now (there are often restrictions on how many monks a monastery can have.... some weird Chinese thing lah, go figure!) so it's really nice to see something dynamic like a puja session, where Dharma comes alive again.
We found this really old, beat-up looking monastery away from the madding crowd; it was probably the only place in Wu Tai Shan without a million tourists. It was so old you wouldn't believe but definitely one of our favourites because of its age. It was literally all crumbling and falling apart but it had a really comfortable, happy energy, a kind of simpleness to living.
Kumbum really felt like a little Tibetan version of old, old institutions like Cambridge and Oxford. It's been around for about 600 years now, and you can really feel it in the air! There's only about 600 monks now (compared to what used to be 3000) so it's a bit sad that there's such a lid on spiritual practice but there's a kind of lovely busy energy there anyway. The oldness of everything really reminds you that this region of China actually used to be Tibet where spirituality flourished, and that Buddha Je Tsongkhapa (often known as the second Buddha) really was here.
The devotion of people there was probably what was most overwhelming. People travel for months and months just to go there to do prostrations and pray at the temples. There's so much ardent faith in a very quiet but powerful way. It's also very personal and deep, and part of the fun of being there is wondering what every individual's personal spiritual story is.
Debate sessions! Debating is an integral part of learning in the Gelugpa schoolf of Tibetan Buddhism, and monasteries always have that as part of their curriculum. They only have debate sessions twice a week in Kumbum but we managed to catch a session. They all flew into the debate courtyard with their monks' hats and robes and it was SOOO Hogwarts, for real!
The nicest thing about being in all these places is just seeing random monks dotted about everywhere, like it's just totally normal for them to be sitting on a ledge just thinking about stuff. It makes me sooo almost want to go shave my head, don some robes and be a holy schmoly lovely nun for awhile................................
.......................but when I told Rinpoche this, he told me no way. I'm not going to be a nun in this lifetime, it's not my path, and even if I want to be a nun I won't be allowed to. In his words, "You have to have a fabulous life this lifetime. That's where your work is."
Ho hum, well I ain't complaining.
I still freak out radiogoogoo radiogaga nuts when I see Sangha tho!