Vagabond veneration

Leaving the blinding lights of Xi’an behind us we headed off towards another ancient Chinese capital… The capital for 13 dynasties in fact!

Today. Not so much. I find it hard to even imagine that the city of Luoyang was ever one of splendour. It appears today like any other Chinese. Smokey. Smoggy. Crowded.

But we weren’t here for the ‘jewels of today’. We were here to look back into Luoyang’s spiritual history.
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First. The White Horse Temple (and be warned, many posts from China will contain temple chat and / or images… They are inescapable!).
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This temple stands out as it is regarded as the first surviving Buddhist temple on Chinese soil. The story goes that two emissaries from China went in search of Buddhist scriptures. On the road they encountered two Indian monks. The monks returned to Luoyang on two white horses carrying sutras and statues.
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The temple is, well, temple like. In all honesty, not being Buddhist, it is sometimes hard to distinguish one from another. That said, I love the feel of temples. They leave me feeling reverent; for the place, the people and the underlying beliefs.
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As a bonus, the tourists were few, and the temple hummed with monastic life as monks hurried back and forth through the complex, incense wafted on the light breeze and the sun dabbled through trees, archways and the lilting bamboo.
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But as the sun rose higher in the sky it was time to retreat. To refuel and refresh before our next spiritual encounter. On the banks of the river Yi. The Longmen grottoes.
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These caves are one of a handful of surviving Buddhist rock carving masterpieces.
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Both east and west banks of the river are lined with caves, stone sutras, carvings and idols that began in AD 494 and continued over the next 200 years. In all there are more that 100,000 images overlooking the gently rolling of the river Yi.
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This dedication, and the belief, that led thousands of men to endlessly chisel away at rock for hundreds of years fills me with awe. And as we walked the kilometres of path along the river, gazing into caves, or just up at them as they hung overhead, my respect only intensified.

Unfortunately over the years, others have not given as much respect to the site as should be demanded. Many of the statues have been decapitated, either by unscrupulous collectors, museums around the world, or from vandalism during the cultural revolution, as well as other episodes of anti-Buddhist fervour.
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Truly saddening.

But that sad scene is in the past. Nowadays, as night approaches the statues take on another look. They become illuminated.
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If you concentrate on a section of the whole, this is beautiful and makes me think, ‘perhaps this is how the builders saw their statues: turning grey stone into statues made of light’. However, the Chinese have in the same stroke Disney-fied the whole experience…
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Too much!

The spectacle is no longer the magnificence of the statues, but instead how much light pollution can we create? How much can we show the splendour of China today, over the China of yesterday?

I hope, as we march onwards, that our ‘Disney’ experiences will be few and far between.

Time will tell. And I’ll tell you! 🙂

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