Tag Archives: Dalin Temple

Holy Men with Absurd Eyebrows

Image courtesy of Yahoo.

More than a decade before I ever thought of moving to China, I had fallen in love with martial arts films. I especially loved the ones set in ancient Chinese history. While shopping for DVDs back in 2002, if i saw a Taoist or Buddhist monk on the cover, I was easily sold. One image has stuck with me ever since then, almost like a animated gif or Wechat sticker eternally lodged into my mind: a Shaolin monk in a simple white robe stands in his fighting stance, and his absurdly long, white eyebrows flutter in the wind. I didn’t see this in just one Hong Kong kung fu flick, but many — too many to count.

At the time, I thought the image was a bit silly. Part of me always wondered why monks chose to grow their eyebrows out so long. Then again, part of me never cared enough to spend some time actually googling the subject. However, I recently realized that there really was a cultural meaning behind it all, and it came from my usual random-association pattern of thinking.

Over at Dalin Temple, in the eastern part of Changzhou near Wuxi, there is a hall of colorful luohan. The statues look cartoonish with flashy and brightly colored paint jobs. One particular luohan wears a blue robe and standing on a giant crab. His eyebrows are so long, he has two others standing next to him, holding his excess ropes of hair for him. Last time I was at Dalin, I laughed at this the same way I laughed at all those ass kicking Shoalin monks in old Chinese action films.

img201607161157361

Much later, I actually made a real cultural connection between luohan statues and all those cinematic eyebrows blowing in the wind. In Buddhism, luohan — or arhat as they are called in Sanskrit — are religious people who have reached perfection. Often, I like to call them the Buddhist equivalent of Christian saints. There are 18 original luohan in Chinese Buddhism. These were the original followers of Buddha. If you want another Christian parallel, you could liken them to the 12 apostles that originally followed Jesus.

One of those 18 luohan was a man named Changmei 长眉羅漢. His name in Sanskrit was Asita. He was also the person who initially predicted the rise of Gautama Buddha, and that was no small feat. If I am forced to draw another Christian parallel, than maybe Changmei / Asita is a figure like John the Baptist — the final Christian prophet that actually blessed Jesus.

I could be wrong, but what about all those extremely long eyebrows those movie martial arts monks have? Maybe it’s a way of honoring this important figure within Buddhism?

Dalin Temple’s Hall of Luohans

IMG_20160809_223242

As noted elsewhere on this blog, luohan are the Buddhist equivalents of Christian saints. They are people who have attained enlightenment, but they cannot be elevated higher within the cosmological pantheon. These “saints” also figure big in temple decor and Buddhist art in general.

To a casual observer, the exact number of these luohan in scripture can be confusing. Are there 500 of them? 100? 18? 16? There are reasons behind each number. In the Lotus Sutra, for example, Buddha addresses and gives advice to a gathering of 500 luohan or “saints.” Specifically in Chinese Buddhism, there are 16 with actual names with stories behind them, and later, two more were added later. The original 16 appeared to the Chinese monk Guan Xiu, who made paintings of them. 

IMG_20160809_223158

For me, it’s always interesting to compare interpretations and visualizations of these holy men you can find in Changzhou. At Tianning Temple, for example there are two halls of golden statues in various poses. Over at Dalin Temple in Wujin’s northeastern arm, there is a whole hall dedicated to them. Here, you see them in vivid color. You have luohan with absurdly long legs. One seems to have an arm so long his hand is holding a star or some sort of celestial disk. Many of them are ride animals that are either real or mythical — Chinese unicorns, dragons, elephants, and tigers, for example.  The attention to detail is so tremendous, you could return here multiple times and see something you missed during each prior visit. Each statue comes with plaque in Chinese explaining who is who, but even if you had ability with the language, dust obscures many of them, leaving an casual onlooker like myself with a sense of mystery as to who they are and what their story is. 

IMG_20160809_223057

Fushou Temple

IMG_20160716_162621[1]

Qingming Mountain, over in the northeastern arm of Wujin, seems to be a spiritual destination in Changzhou. Dalin and Bailong temples are located there, and both are equally large as Buddhist and Taoist religious destinations. Both cost about 10 RMB to get in. But Qingming seems home to other places. A cemetery covers a lot of the hill. There is also a perpetually closed martyr’s graveyard, and then there is also Fushou Temple.

Every time I have visited Dalin or Bailong, the doors were usually closed and locked. Recently, I returned to Qingming Mountain to visit Dalin — as part of ongoing research into who and what louhans are in Buddhism. This time, Fushou’s doors were open, and there was a red and yellow banner over the entrance. Cars were parked there. I parked my bike and I walked in.

Unlike Dalin and Bailong, nobody was at the door to collect an entrance fee. I have seen this in temples around Changzhou when they are attempting to focus more as a place of worship and less as a tourist destination. As I walked around the temple grounds, one other thing just reinforced this. I passed by the main hall and heard chanting and a drum. I stopped to peer in. However, whenever I hear religious activity in progress, I tend to leave it alone. So, I didn’t enter that hall. Half an hour later, as I was leaving, I noticed the door to that big altar hall had been closed.

IMG_20160716_163217[1]

One of the most intriguing things, however, was not that shut entrance. Fushou Temple is the home to three large golden statues. There is also a room of what looked to be white-jade sculptures — one of which is a reclining Buddha. In this building, I climbed a set of stairs to the second level and found an empty space. Still, I was able to get a good shot of the three gold statues from behind.

IMG_20160716_163532[1]

The empty space reminded me of something else about Fushou. A lot of it seems to be renovation in progress. This isn’t like what you see at neighboring Dalin Temple, where new additions like an underground parking lot is being added. This looked like Fushou’s main facilities are getting an upgrade. After all, there was a cement mixer laying out in the open, as well as large stacks of concrete tiles. This puts the temple, like so many other places around Changzhou, on my “to watch list.” With a lot of facilities under renovation, this place could look completely different in one year. My guess, though, is that the three statues will remain.

IMG_20160716_163915[1]

 

Dalin Temple

IMG_20160522_110605

Dalin 大林寺 is a Buddhist temple located in Wujin’s northeastern arm between Xinbei and Wuxi’s satellite city Jiangyin. The English and Chinese language marker at the entrance claims the temple is roughly about a 1000 years old, but Baidu’s version of Wikipedia notes the place was severely damaged during the Cultural Revolution.

This is a standard sort of temple with altars and depictions of Buddha and Bodhisattvas , but it also has a pagoda and few halls. One building showcases hundreds of colorful lohan / arhat sculptures. Also typical of many temples in Changzhou, there is ongoing construction going on to add a new facility.

Geographically speaking, Changzhou tends to be flat, but Dalin is located on one of the two “mountains” in the Dragon City. The word “mountain” is more of a misnomer. They are actually just big hills. Dalin Temple itself is located at the foot of Qingming Mountain 青明山. The area itself is being developed as a massive cultural attraction. Bailong Monastery 白龙观 is literally around the corner, which is an equally large Daoist / Taoist religious site. Since this is a far corner of Changzhou, both places should be combined into one day trip. Entry into both places cost 10 RMB, each.

IMG_20160522_110818

Solving an eBike Issue

At Dalin Temple
At Dalin Temple

I was staring at a statue of a guy ripping off his face, and I was trying not to make a connection to old Clive Barker novels and movies. After all, I was a Dalin Temple in Wujin’s northeastern arm, and the cosmologies of Buddhism and Hellraiser are not exactly the same.  Dalin has a building filled with colorful statues, and I really haven’t figured out what the story is there yet. I just know it was a more playful scene than the bloody recreation of Buddhist purgatory 地狱 I have seen at another temple.

Once I finished my visit, I went outside and got on my eBike. It was time to go home, as I had classes to teach in two hours. I put my key into the ignition, and as I turned the throttle to leave, something snapped. Loudly. My front brake stopped working. When I looked at my wheel, it dangled on a cable.

To say this was a problem would be an understatement. This part of Wujin was 30 kilometers away Hohai University and Xinbei. For a little perspective, Hutang and the parts of Wujin where expats live was even farther. I thought of calling a Chinese friend, but since I am incredibly stubborn and hardheaded, I didn’t want to do that. I could just lock the bike, leave it for another day, and try and find a taxi, but the cheapskate in me would have none of that.  I realized the bike could still be ridden. The back brake still functioned.  So, I rode the thirty kilometers back — but at snail speed. Each time I turned, the flopping brake either smacked against the wheel and dragged against the concrete.

The snapped brake. Took this picture to show a mechanic.
The snapped brake. Took this picture to show a mechanic.

Once home, I tried to figure out replacements. My go-to mechanic works in Wujin, where I bought the bike when I lived the College City area. Obviously, I didn’t want to ride another 30 kilometers and damage the thing even further.  Eventually, I realized that Lippo Plaza had eBike shops. This is the shopping center directly across the street from Wanda. This also means walking distance from my job and apartment.

Unfortunately, NKNY has no presence there. I checked Baidu Maps, and I realized NKNY shops were nowhere around this part of Changzhou. So, I walked from shop to shop, looking to see if any of them sold what were, essentially, heavy electronic motorcycles. Once I did,  I looked at all of their brakes to see if any of them shared the exact same brand and part number as mine. Sure enough, the LVNeng one did.

Thankfully, the guy running the place there offered a lot of help — without knowing a single word in English. Once you have a good translation app, transacting comes easier. Only, that requires both you and the shopkeeper knowing how to use such apps. More recently, I had speed problems and tried using an NKNY shop. That older mechanic didn’t even have a smartphone and communicating bike problems became all the more difficult. So, lesson learned. Next issue, I’m going back to the LVNeng guy first.

LVNeng across from Wanda Plaza
LVNeng across from Wanda Plaza