My trip to China began and ended in Beijing… with a whole lot of stops in-between which is usually the case.
After twenty years of coming to China, I looked at this trip as sort of a sabbatical. A journey of the heart that was like coming home and finding the next step that would propel or take me further towards my ultimate destination. We all have this thing about finding and returning to our source. It’s like bringing our human conscious awareness into alignment with who we are as the universe sees us becoming… Although for most of us it’s like an unconscious pulling that we can never define well enough to go there, so we look for what we think will make us “happy” – and remain stuck where we are. Finding ourselves takes courage and ultimately most people in the end – when it becomes too late to change – are sorry they never went there. What is our purpose… who am I to say? But it is as I always told my students in college in China – who planned to be teachers themselves … that life begins with finding our true niche and pursuing this with all our heart. You will know this by what the universe tells you is your next step. It’s the one thing in common that all great artists, teachers and philosophers of every era and generation have always come to know. That to find ourselves, we often have to suspend disbelief going forward, (our inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true), that then leads to the transformation of who we are here to become.
Today will be more of a history lesson than simply like a tourist visiting various sites, taking pictures, and then going home. It was much more than that and hopefully you will think so after today’s presentation. After Beijing, and my spending a day at the National Museum to focus on what I am here to learn over the coming month, my trip took me to five cities, three mountains and many places in-between… The nine dragon wall depicted here at Beihai Park next to the Forbidden City in Beijing is a great place to visit. The park is very famous as it was a favorite of many emperors in China’s history. I usually come here when I have time when I’m in Beijing.
My trip focused on going to the following places:
Qufu home of Confucius, Ji Dan and Yellow Emperor (and my home when I am in China),
Luoyang and Songshan Mountain/Shaolin Temple and Longman Grottoes.
Xi’an, home of the terra cotta warriors, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and Huashan Mountain to the east,
Chengdu and the Lushan Giant Buddha, and
Lhasa, Tibet where I spent two days at four Buddhist monasteries and temples and getting to know the city and customs of the people… Of course, like everywhere else I want to go back.
A detailed account of each location is here on my thekongdanfoundation.com website following the timeline of my visit to China, so I will only try to give highlights here of my trip.
People in China often ask why I go back to places I’ve already been, like the Wenshu Buddhist monastery, the Taoist Qingyang Mountain and Temple, and People’s Park teahouse in Chengdu where I often go. I tell them that everywhere I go is like meeting again with old friends from the past and updating our stories. It is for the stories I learn and remember that I am inspired to hear more and write – telling and reminding people about their origins and conversing again with them who we all have been.
Each stop had a specific purpose. Qufu for a few days where I taught a few classes at the Confucius College while I was there… took lots of pictures for my books at a park I have visited frequently over the years, then left for Luoyang. I had intended to return to Qufu but couldn’t, because of all the holiday travel.
Over 105 emperors of 13 dynasties had their capitals in Luoyang during China’s history. Luoyang was the center of politics, economy, and culture in China for 1,500 years. Since the Xia Dynasty (2070–1600 BC), Luoyang had begun its history as a capital city due to its location in relation to mountains and rivers in the area. There is so much history here that I want to come back to Luoyang for further study. An example is the Sanhuang Basilica found near the top of Songshan Mountain that by tradition housed the Three Sovereigns (the Heavenly, Earthly, and Human Sovereigns).
It is said Lao Tzu lived here for a while and Taoism got its beginnings on Songshan Mountain where I visited and with the Shaolin Temple famous for what was to become kung fu. It was a place where Chan Buddhism got its start teaching the physical moves of the famous kung fu at what is now the Wushu (Martial Arts) Training Center that were aligned with much more than physical improvements and continued to grow over the centuries. All these things for me fit a pattern of discovery… that served as a reminder of our past. As if an archaeologist sorting through what was important and re-learning what was familiar to you at the time.
Our sister city group from Boynton Beach donated 200 wheelchairs to Qufu in 2007… the wheelchair below I saw in front of the Shaolin Temple, was the first one I’ve seen in over ten years. It was here an hour south of Luoyang, while I was at the Taoist Temple on Mt. Songshan that I saw the inscription written by Emperor Wuding of the Han dynasty, who ruled from 141 to 87 BC, that he pointedly referenced the connection between all philosophies and gave credence to the idea of convergence, of finding or reaching a common conclusion in living one’s life. He founded the Songyang Academy, one of China’s four major Confucian academies; and the Taoist Zhongyue Temple, here dedicated to Lao Tzu and Taoism. This concept of finding and nurturing the best attributes of each was well in place prior to the arrival of Buddhism that would help to bring all three together in Chinese culture going forward. This was a very big deal.
When I visited the Shaolin Temple there were 50,000 kung fu students at the adjacent Wushu (Martial Arts) Training Center that day. After returning to Luoyang, I went to the Longman Grottoes where there are as many as 100,000 statues within the 2,345 caves. The grottoes were excavated and carved with Buddhist subjects over the period from 493 AD to 1127 AD. They suffered severe damage during the cultural revolution from 1965 to 1975, as did cultural sites throughout China during that time.
What struck me was the continuing presence as if the joining or coming together of history with one’s natural environment and connecting this with the universe, or divine spirit within us and that which surrounds us as well. All this has to be something much bigger than ourselves. Perhaps it’s the sense of 4 to 5 thousand years of history that has an intrinsic meaning that helps to define within you defining who you are, as well as, what surrounds you on the outside. You become one with it without even your acknowledging. To be treated as if you are coming home to visit something that is innately a part of yourself. Something you have always known, but simply needing to be reminded.
I got this sense especially at the Longman Grottoes where thousands of caves and images of the Buddha were carved out of solid rock. This seems to be the motive behind all these ancient “temples”. What we in the west today would describe as “sites having great historical and religious significance”. They bring a sense of longevity and simplicity to it all spanning thousands of years and being reminded that both the inner and outer are the same reality we each choose to live every day. The Buddhist White Horse Temple on the outskirts of Luoyang has always been on my bucket list here in China. It’s influence in the spread of Buddhism over the centuries has been immeasurable. At some point in our lives there is something more than just knowledge and understanding. It comes with wisdom, as acceptance, and an enduring presence. What is it we’re grounded too? Others may teach, but ultimately it is something that becomes innately ourselves. It is having the presence of self-assurance knowing that kindness and simplicity are the keys that opens all doors. (something I need to work on) Keeping things simple means there are fewer doors that need to be opened as well. As if “becoming simple minded” is a good thing.
Two other overreaching influences from Buddhism to China was that Luoyang was the start of the Silk Road that headed back to Venice in Italy. It was by way of the Silk Road (and elephants going through Tibet to Xian), that Buddhism came to China. By the time Marco Polo came here with his father and uncle in 1270 AD on their way to visit Kublai Khan in Beijing, the Silk Road had been a functioning means of transportation of goods and culture between east and west for almost fifteen hundred years. Both were here at the time and Luoyang would have been the last stop on the silk road before heading for Beijing. The White Horse Temple and the Longman Grottoes have had the most lasting historical presence in this area of China. According to tradition, the first Buddhist temple in China, established in 68 AD under the patronage of Emperor Ming in the Eastern Han dynasty was here in Luoyang and was later to become the White Horse Temple.The grottoes were excavated and carved with Buddhist subjects over the period from 493 AD to 1127 AD. Of special interest to me was that they are often referred to as the “Dragon’s Gate Grottoes” derives from the resemblance of the two hills that check the flow of the Yi River that once marked the entrance to Luoyang from the south.
After going to Luoyang, I went to Xi’an which is famous for the terra cotta warriors, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and Moslem Quarter among other places. I had been to all three on a previous visit. I spent the Chinese Moon Festival here for four or five days more in contemplation and reflection than anything else. I’ve always had a love/hate relation with Xi’an. The first emperor of China (the guy who had the terra cotta warriors built and connected all the smaller walls into what would become the Great Wall), burned all the books and killed the scholars who knew of Chinese history, thinking all important history in China was to begin with him… It is for them I come to Xi’an in their memory. I did visit and walk on the ancient wall around the old city of Xi’an. No words just memories. Sometimes a journey of the heart is not so pleasant. It is the largest wall still standing around an ancient city in China. If you want to see 3000 years of China’s history, go to Xi’an and Luoyang. The roots of Chinese history and culture are here. One of my favorite places in Xi’an is the Taoist Temple Home of the Eight Immortals. The last emperor escaped from Beijing to come here to this place in Xi’an in 1912 when China ceased being a dynasty and became a republic.
After Xi’an, I went halfway back to Luoyang to Huashan Mountain. Lao Tzu was here too. I spent two nights on top of the mountain… you saw one of the pictures I took of the sunrise at East Peak. I was here over the holiday (of course) with hundreds of other people. I should know better by now. The view from here is overwhelming. It’s easy to see man’s connection with nature, the stars and planets from up here. Two of many highlights were the Jitian Taoist Palace, and a place on the mountain top referred to as the “Gateway to Heaven”. No kidding. Anyone thinking they have an exclusive licensing agreement with God should come here and see how the universe works. It is you – and you are it. Everywhere you go, you see this ancient connection to the stars and sense you are one with it all. I could talk here forever, but it’s time to go back to Xi’an and take the fast train to Chengdu before going to Tibet.
Chengdu… the city famous for tea houses and the hot pot. Where Taoism and Buddhism came together almost two thousand years ago and together left a permanent imprint. To what some later would call heaven on earth, or Shangri la. If you have a sense of Chinese history… you can just feel their calming and relaxing, come as you are, presence. This was my fourth or fifth visit to Chengdu. I love it here. When I truly retire this is where I most likely will be found. Many retirees come here for the weather, the tea houses, and the atmosphere… I referred earlier to my favorite places in Chengdu. This trip was also highlighted by a trip to the Chengdu Opera (which I enjoyed immensely), and the Leshan Giant Buddha. Of great surprise when I got here was the Taoist Caves adjacent to the Buddha honoring Lao Tzu and Taoism and the great stone carvings of the symbol of the I Ching. The Giant Buddha was built at the coming together of two rivers that had flooded the area every year. Its intent was the stop the flooding with the help of the Buddha… But what I saw was the coming together of Buddhism, Taoism, and the I Ching representing the confluence of all three for the purpose of one goal… unifying philosophical and religious ideals for one common purpose. For myself, this is what the idea of what Unity means. When you study the Filmore’s teachings, and spend time at the library at Unity Village in Kansas City, you can easily see this transcendental expression of Christian teaching and connection that became Unity in America. It was this idea of convergence that allowed The Kongdan Foundation to publish the Unity Daily Word in China over ten years ago. With this as a backdrop it was on to Lhasa and Tibet.
On Sunday morning, October 14, I got up at 4 AM and headed for the Chengdu airport and Lhasa. Several things that stood out to me after my arrival in Tibet. First, the devout and intensity of what I would call religious fervor of the local people. When your way of life has been challenged by “authorities” after thousands of years, your faith becomes inherently more real. I have written about both Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Chan Buddhism… this is an area I need to explore and study more. I arrived here in Lhasa on Sunday in what would be a “free day”.
We toured four Buddhism monasteries and temples on Monday and Tuesday, then I went to airport on Wednesday morning to fly to Beijing and home. On Monday we went to the Drepung Monastery in the morning and Sera Monastery in the afternoon. We could not take pictures inside.
The two things that got my attention at the Sera Monastery were first, the afternoon debates in the courtyard. The daily debating is a class to practice and test the monks mastery of Buddhism. The second was the Circle of Life, or Wheel of Life, depicted here that describes Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
On Tuesday we went to the Polata Palace and Jokhang Temple. Second point was the spinning wheel we often see depicted with Buddhism. I thought the explanation was intriguing. Each of the spinning wheels have a sutra (what we might call a Bible verse, or scripture). Passing by spinning the wheel in the right frame of mind meant that bits of the sutras would be released and absorbed by you. Third, was the tradition of walking by the locals everyday on paths that connected the monasteries and temples in Lhasa. I give a great explanation of this on my blog. Finally, the monasteries here in Lhasa have debating sessions in the afternoon (which you can observe), where the monks debate their own take on the meaning of Buddhist scriptures, the sutra, and take turns defending their position.
My take on my trip is on my blog. Basically, it is living in the realm of who you are yet to become. If you think you are there now, it often takes an event like the death of a family member, loss of a job that you thought defined you, a natural disaster (fire, flood, tornado, earthquake, hurricane, etc.), that redefines attachments as to who you thought you were, but in reality, wasn’t who you are meant to be. Its like the universe has to take extreme measures to get your attention. Once it does… there is no turning back.