In China, where everyday life is busy, complex and often crowded, order creates harmony. It enables Chinese life to function smoothly. Orderliness can be seen in the cleanliness of the streets, the hygiene applied to food preparation and the public behaviour of Chinese people. The ancient principles of Confucianism, a philosophical system of norms and propriety that determine how a person should act in everyday life, underlies many aspects of Chinese modern society. Later overlays include the philosophical and religions values of Buddhism and Taoism, along with the modern political system of Communism. You can see these values at work in your travels throughout China, not just in grand temples or fine restaurants, ancient walled pedestrian towns, or beautiful calligraphy and design, but also in ordinary everyday things- in the placement of a small straw broom, in the tiered arrangement of bamboo steaming baskets in a busy take away street stall, or in the beautiful designs on front doors.
Steaming baskets, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Photos from travels in China, August 2015. Adapted from my post of June, 2017. More virtual trips to China will be aired this month as I never really did write much at the time. That was a busy 4 week schedule, travelling by train through Yunnan Province, and then with friends through Sichuan province by car, leaving little time for writing.
I lose all sense of time in the garden, and then I lose myself. It’s a common enough experience among gardeners. After the first flurry of harvesting, tying back overgrown tomatoes and moving hoses about, observing life’s cycle from seed to flower to fruit then back to seed, and all the while conscious of my own aging body as it bends and complains within this bounteous space, another state emerges. My pragmatic self surrenders to a semi- conscious meditation on the essence of being. Through silent awareness and invisibility, the sounds and signals of earth- primordial, spiritual, supreme- reinforce the idea of Anattā, that Buddhist concept of non-being.
It begins with a chive flower waving in the gentle breeze, now taller than the blanketing pumpkin leaves, insisting on more light. The delicate white coriander flowers belie the true pungency of their leaves, roots and seeds. Things are not what they seem. Then a strange bird call punctures the silence. High pitched like a creaking table, the sound is urgent but not bleak. I look up and see a flash of yellow underneath a broad wing span of black. It’s the yellow -tailed black cockatoo, an infrequent visitor to these lightly wooded lands. Now one, now two more, followed by a train of rasping sound, they are on their way to a distant pine tree. Word is out that the nuts are ready to strip. The guard cocky stands alert, signalling from the highest branch, a two-dimensional black stencil, a wayang puppet, an inked picture outlined in the early morning sky.
The bluest of blue of the radicchio flower is a call to the bees. I can never find the word for this blue: constructs such as Cobalt or Persian or Cornflower might have to do. And the little gem of a beetle, friend or foe, travels across a furry field that is an eggplant leaf. The mauve and white bean flowers peep from the darkness of their leafy canopy, an arrangement, a posy, a boutoniere. The beans can wait.
Chiang Mai. Dawn’s aura breaks through the rain laden night clouds, illuminating golden finials along the sky line. Curlicues in the shape of birds or nagas reach into the sky in every direction, reminding me that I have not yet visited every Wat in Chiang Mai’s old walled city. There will always be more to surprise me.
Wat Suan Dok, with its hypnotic white temples, outside the old walls.
For The Daily Post’s photographic challenge, Textures.
The most famous Buddhist temple in Kunming, Yunnan Province, is Yuantong Temple, which was first built in the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. After two major restorations and expansions, in 1465-1487 and in 1686, the temple took on its present design, with covered corridors, bridges and grand halls. Bridges feature prominently throughout the complex.
Wandering around the grounds, soft Buddhist music plays in the background. Om Mani Padme Hum, the repetitive mantra of Buddhist meditation, inundates my consciousness. As I drift over the many bridges, turtles rise to greet me. Peace caresses me, I am at home in these foreign grounds.
The Golden Gate opens into two mountain ranges.
A silver stream is hanging down to three stone bridges
Within sight of the mighty Tripod Falls.
Ledges of cliff and winding trails lead to blue sky
And a flush of cloud in the morning sun.
extract from A Song of Lu Mountain to Censor Lu Xuzhou. Li Bai, ( 701-762) from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, Edited by A.R. Davis, Penguin Books, 1962.
Another rainy day in Myanmar. We spent the morning visiting the vast temple grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Out of nowhere, a flash of crimson passed by, an evanescent moment. The colour, so striking against the backdrop of gold, was unexpected, as was the youth and animation of the group. The young monks were quiet and respectful as they ambled through this magnificent Buddhist monument but their gait and facial expressions revealed something else.
Buddhist monastic schools play a vital role in the education of the poor and underprivileged throughout Myanmar, as well as in Laos and Thailand. I often visit these schools when in the vicinity, and watch as young monks are instructed in business maths or English grammar or art, the latter usually based on sculpting Buddhist images or restoring carved panels.
‘ Generally, Burmese monastic schools accept children from needy families who live nearby and are unable to attend government schools. Many of the orphans who attend monastery schools in Yangon and Mandalay are from remote areas and have been sent by senior monks from their villages and small towns. Some operate similarly as boarding schools and some as day schools depending on the situation and support of the public.
The schools are required to cooperate closely with township education authorities to be officially recognized. The operation and finance rely heavily on donations and collaboration from the public. The fees of most of the students at the school were covered by these donations, and some parents were able to make a small contribution.’¹
Fifty years marks a significant milestone for all sorts of events, wars especially. Last week I met an Australian man, a Vietnam vet, who had come to Ho Chi Minh City with his extended family to take part in the Long Tan ceremonies. The battle of Long Tan took place on August 18 1966, on a rubber plantation not far from Saigon. The outcome of that battle, in terms of deaths and injuries, included 18 Australian deaths, with 24 wounded and 250 – 800 Vietnamese deaths (Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army) with 500-1000 wounded.
“245 Vietnamese bodies were officially counted on the battlefield. However, this was only recorded as the official count due to a deadline set by the Australian government. Importantly, many more bodies were found over two weeks after the battle but the official death toll was never adjusted. “¹
The Vietnamese are also mourning their losses this month and this year: small ceremonies are taking place throughout the country from north to south, though these are not newsworthy in the eyes of the international press. Some are public and loud, important to instill a sense of history in the Vietnamese youth: others are quiet and respectful, as they should be, and take place in Buddhist pagodas or simply in front of a family’s ancestral shrine.
Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, is the most beautiful city in Asia and an important centre for Lanna culture and Buddhist temples, with over 200 temples in and around the city. One of my favourite temples is Wat Chedi Luang, which sits at the centre of the old walled city. I like to base myself nearby so that I can visit old Chedi often. It is always the first temple I visit before wandering the town endlessly, discovering new delights. Gleaming with golden Buddhas, colourful prayer flags drift from the ceiling and Lanna glass mosaics line the walls.
Two well established Buddhist temples may be found in Cipanas, West Java. The one on the hill towards Gunung Gede is a beautiful place to visit in the morning, especially on Saturday when the giant candles are lit and vast metal vats filled with incense sticks spice the air. Here, a tangle of fish ( Koi Carp) greet the visitor near the entrance to the temple complex. Travel Theme- Tangle at Where’s My Backpack this week.
Orange has long been associated with Buddhism throughout Asia, where saffron robes adorn young Buddhist monks, orange flags and sashes decorate temples and golden pagodas turn orange in the setting sun.
These Buddha were hiding inside one of the dark interiors of a temple in Bagan, Myanmar.