Dr. Lomino in China. February 21
February 21: Learning about the Sacred
Today I’m taking my day off to explore more of Guangzhou, with Jecky as my guide. We decide to go to Lotus Hill, a public park that includes an ancient quarry, 300-year old pagoda, beautiful gardens, a Buddhist temple and the highest gilded bronze Kwan-yin statue in the world. On our way to the site located in Panyu District of Guangzhou City, Jecky gives me more information about where we are and where we are going. He tells me that Panyu was an old town that has been swallowed up by the city, like many other towns in the area. In reading later, I also learn the Guangzhou has been known by at least three different names: Guangzhou, Canton and Panyu. The city has been here for more than 2,000 years and was a major point on the Silk Road trade route. It is the third largest city in China— much larger than Hong Kong.
Jecky spends some time telling me about Chinese spiritual beliefs. He says that the Chinese believe that everyone goes to hell when they die. There the gods will judge you and decide what you will be in your next life. Before leaving, a soup is given to you to drink that will make you forget your last life. He also says that Taoism is the original Chinese religion. Buddhism is from India—which I already knew. Jecky then explains the importance of dragons in Chinese culture and beliefs. The dragon was a tremendously large beast and when it died it covered most of China. The kings of dynasties were born in a very good place on the “Dragon Vein” and when they died, they were buried in a very good place on the vein. It was believed that if someone dug up a king’s grave, the dynasty would come to an end.
As we get close to Lotus Hill we pass many shops with red and gold paper lanterns, incense and decorated paper candles. Jecky tells me this is for worship at a special festival, which is actually going on today. We stop and buy a few. Jecky wants to participate in the ceremonies honoring Kwan-yin, a female diety, who was a disciple of Buddha.
The impressive statue is 42-meters tall, made of 120 tons of bronze and gilded with 9 kilograms of gold. The inscription on the back of the statue explains Kwan-yin’s purpose: “Relieve all people from distress, nourish the crops with sweet dew. Ensure the safety of those staying at home and a smooth trip of those traveling. Bless the kind-hearted, enlighten the less talented. Deliver all living creatures from torment, form ties with all believers.”
Many people are praying when we arrive at the site. The deep, melodic sound of a large gong adds to the somber atmosphere. Fragrance from incense, burning candles and lanterns perfumes the air. It is a fascinating scene, reminiscent of sacred ceremonies from religions around the world.
After spending time at the Kwan-yin site, we visit a near-by Buddhist temple and then eat lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, Buddhist style! The final stop is the Lotus Pagoda (originally named Wenchang) built in 1612, during the Ming dynasty, to honor Confucius. It is 50 meters high. Jecky urges me to climb to the top, but after four stories, I am ready to head back down the very narrow, steep stone stairway. I’m sorry to disappoint Jecky. I tell him that climbing that high in a very old structure is a bit frightening to me. He is as always, very understanding.
On our way out of the park, we pass many lovely gardens and ponds. It has been a remarkable day, and it is time to head home.
Today’s Insight: Humans are naturally spiritual beings. We sense the sacred in many forms. Spirituality is a striving for something that is beyond human understanding—a perfection based on complete love and compassion. I believe it can summed up this way: “One River—Many Streams.”