The Great Temple at West Lake

Lingyin Temple has been an active Buddhist temple for about 1800 years, although it has undergone many, many rebuildings, not the least of which followed the cultural revolution. The large temple has three massive halls, which climb up the hillside above beautiful West Lake.

At the lowest level the four guardian kings stand over the hall. They are beautifully painted, lifelike though way beyond life size. According to Cloud, the Messenger Boddhisatva is ancient, having been carved in the 15th century. Energy flows around him.

In the large courtyard behind many, many faithful burn incense, bowing to the directions and raising the smoke. Huge burners flow with flame and smoke and the air is sweet with patchouli and sandalwood and other scents I don’t recognize. Many of the faithful are young, and some are westerners.

We climb the steps to the Great Hall, where Sakyamuni presides in benevolence from a 60-foot tall perch. The faithful bow and pray on silken cushions in front of each deity. The room draws awe. A priest in saffron gown is explaining something to a group of well-dressed men and women in front of the altar. The smoke drifts in from outside. Behind the giant statute and facing the next courtyard is a smaller incarnation, surrounded by a wall of more than a 100 small carved figures depicting stages of the life of Buddha.

Through another censor- and faithful-filled courtyard and up the last steps to the third hall. Here a giant “medicine” Buddha sits, flanked by representations of the 12 “animals.” I don’t know enough about Buddhism to ask Cloud for a better explanation, but the statues are warrior-like, each with their own aspect of protection and fierceness.

But the overwhelming this about this place, is the understanding that it was mostly destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and has been meticulously restored to it’s former glory. And the government provided the funding as part of the preservation of Chinese heritage. The expense that it must have taken to accomplish this is mind-numbing. Here for the first time, really, I get the sense that some of the things I believed about China are not true. My sense of the Buddhist religion was that the faithful lived somewhat underground, worshipping quietly in the remnants of their lost temples. This is certainly not the case. The gauntlet of incense sellers was doing a brisk business and many many worshipped openly and freely. This picture is for Katherine.

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