I think the trip is catching up with me… in more ways than one. I seem to have eaten something that didn’t sit well, or not eating enough. Today is Sunday, September 30th and I’m heading by taxi to the Longman Grottoes, although I’m not sure how long I’ll last. Hopefully not too much walking today. There is lots of information on the internet as to history, and I will add more later when I feel better. It didn’t dawn on me until the next day that I may have been experiencing a far greater hunger than just filling my stomach.
For now I’m just going to try to add a few pictures I took along with some of my thoughts:
As I look at the side of the mountain and think of those who might have carved out of stone these caves and statutes south of Luoyang all those centuries ago, quite possibly after a long trek covering several months or even years to get here over the Silk Road or from the southwest and Xian. I can only marvel at their work and their religious veracity. And what was in all likelyhood their mantra – repeated over and over again with every strike of the hammer and chisel as they did their life’s work. As they repeated those four magic words over and over again with every strike of the hammer.
OM MANI PODME HUM
These words can be translated and have a universal meaning:
OM – The Jewel in the Heart of the LOTUS! The deep resonate OM is all sound and silence throughout time, the roar of eternity and also the great stillness of pure being; when intoned with the prescribed vibrations, it evokes the ALL that is otherwise inexpressible.
The MANI is the “adamantine diamond” of the Void – the primordial, pure and indestructible essence of existence beyond all matter or even antimatter, all change, and all becoming.
PADME – In the lotus – is the world of phenomena, samsara, unfolding with spiritual progress to reveal beneath the leaves of delusion the mani-jewel of nirvana, that lies not apart from daily life but at its heart.
HUM has no literal meaning, and is variously interpreted perhaps simply as a rhythmic exhortation, completing the mantra inspiring the chanter as a declaration of being (like the stone carvers here at Longman Grottoes), symbolizing the Buddha’s gesture of touching the earth at a moment of enlightenment. As if saying all that is or was or will ever be is right here in this moment.
For myself, I am especially attracted to the mythical embodiment of the Buddha, called a Bodhisattva known as Avalokita Ishuara – who is seen as “The Lord that looked down in compassion”. He represents “the divine within” sought by mystics and has been called “The Lord that is seen within”.
Maybe this is the answer as to why the Buddha is always seen smiling. Could it be as though reaching the ultimate state of heart and mind within ourselves? Perhaps living within one’s own “true nature”. It is the Avalokita… ie., the Presence within each of us.
Am I becoming a Buddhist? I don’t know. I still am a Taoist at heart. But I can see how the two became intertwined in Chinese history, religion, and culture. I still have those two things called discipline and patience to work on – and a sense that I still have a way to go yet. For myself, it has always been about the freedom to breathe. Perhaps an anomaly – always the outlier. But maybe not – maybe it is the sense of ultimate freedom yet to be found – I’m just not there yet. Maybe I’ll find it on this trip. Perhaps I will look for Avalokita when I get to Lhasa in a couple weeks. Or maybe I should just ask the stone carvers here at the Longman Grottoes. They obviously knew the answer. (with excerpts from Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard).
On Monday I had recovered somewhat and spent most of the day updating my blog. I need to leave by taxi at three for the fast train station to pick up my ticket for a 5 PM departure. (I did find a KFC at the train station in Luoyang, I’m better now). I arrived in Xian about 7:30 PM and took a long taxi ride to the Han Tang Hostel.