I made my way to the temple which turned out to be on the same street as the Kyudo group’s meeting place. When I approached the temple I could hear chanting and prayers being said in Chinese. Ohhh. I hope I will not be Interrupting something, I thought. I could see people inside walking around in a ceremony, I could see a couple of people outside taking pictures and one person involved in the ceremony doing some filming with an iPad. Earlier I saw someone with a phone camera outside taking pictures. So I figured it was ok to take pictures and walk around. I would, however, try to be low key about it. Which is kind of funny when one thinks about it. A Black guy hanging around a Chinese temple taking pictures, being low key!! hahaha. Not disruptive, and respectful as possible would be a better thought, wording.
I walked up the main steps as walking on rice paper. I hung back from the doors, yet, even so, I was out in the open and got looks as the line inside walked past the open doors, as I made my way up the stairs. Just observing, trying to be small. I slowly walked around the outside. In a moment of boldness and a break in the line, I took a few quick pictures. Thinking to myself this listed as a sort of tourist place, people come to see the temple, so I should not be so self-conscious. I slowly walked around the front grabbing a few shots of the building.
I walk around to the side, as I am starting to feel the call of nature. I spotted a woman just sitting on a chair by the steps, looking like she was just relaxing or waiting for someone. I asked her in Chinese if she spoke English? She looked at me like I just landed from the moon. Sort of like when some people of color say they get the blank look when they speak Japanese to a Japanese. Perhaps she was in shock that I spoke to her in Chinese. So I asked in English where is the toilet? She snapped to awareness and smiled and gave me directions. I thanked her and bowed in Gassho, she smiled.
I walked around to the side and saw more buildings, smaller, and they also were open and no people, nice I thought. After making my pit stop I went exploring. I went into the first one and saw it was some kind of memorial hall I am guessing for the departed souls. There were a lot of plaques on the wall and an Altar in the center of the floor, with a stand, marked offerings. Ok, cool this would be easy enough. I went in slowly, checking things out grabbed a few pictures and went up to the altar. I did the multi-bows thing and finished up. I moved on to the next building. It was the same. However, there was a man sitting outside. I wondered would he say something about me being there. I went by him with my palms together and bowed. He returned the bow and motion. Something I did not get from the Young Priest guy at ChoZenji, in fact maybe from anyone there except one person who was just on a stay there. It is felt in Japan if you bow to someone and they do not return it is rude. I also did not get it from the monks there at the temple when they looked at me from inside the temple. In their defense they were busy. I am guessing they also just saw some strange black tourist dude, watching the show. Still… Anyway…I digress.
I continued into this building, it was open and had misc food on trays and bags on the floor. It also had groups of birds eating stuff off the offering trays around the room. I did a repeat of actions of the first building and departed.
Now I went up to the rear of the main building, again took pictures. Next went around to the front of the main building. I watched more and made my way around to the other side. Many eyes watching. I am not sure what they were doing at that point. Not walking around still singing and chanting which had been going on the whole time I was there, even before I arrived because I could hear them when I was still up the street.
I walk around now with palm facing. I watch some of the proceedings from the other side of the building at the open door. I couple of the monks who are doing the ceremony look at me, I bow, they continue with they are doing, chanting and beating on a drum. I think hummm, kind of rude, but this is not Japan.
I head down the stairs on the other side, I had seen another open set of doors when I was first coming up. Some kind of lower level room. I walk by and peek in. It is mostly empty except for a couple of Nuns. I notice there is a small library of books and statues in a corner. There are several Altars. and some chairs and kneeling benches as in the other building. Ok, I figure it must be ok to go in here. I go to each of the Altars and make full bows. Another nun enters, I continue. No one says anything or gives me more than a brief look. I figure I am ok. I take a few pictures and look at the photos on the wall. A couple of other Nuns come and go. No one says anything. I leave, I am considering looking into one more building I saw, I am unsure it kind of looks like a kitchen area or something. I start to walk as someone comes out of there. She sees me and comes over to me as she is walking by. Are you here to see the temple, she asks in English. I say yes and show her a print out of the clergy on our sect’s webpage. I point to the Master, she says yes that is him. I point out my late teacher, she says I do not know her. I explain why I am here and to pray. She says yes, go inside and pray. She says there are people up there, go in and join them, they are praying. I say thank you. However thinking, no way will I just walk in there. I do not know what is going on. I will just hang outside and observe.
I did that, taking a spot just offset from the door, but I could see, I could also be seen. When the group bowed, I bowed, I stood palm together, quietly. Now inside the were taking something off the wall and stuffing it into a large trash can. Then the group came outside. I stepped back, but still stayed, now standing with the group. I watched, the can was taken down to the parking lot and the insides set ablaze. I knew what was happening and spiritually became part of it standing off to the side, a part of, yet apart. The group afterward went back in. Then the monks left out the side door along with many others leaving by front and side doors. I am thinking ok it is done. I can go inside once everyone leaves.
It is then I am approached by a man. Who says something I could not understand. He is handicapped. I reposed in Chinese “I speak English”. He nods and says something else. It took me a moment to understand his English because of his voice deformity. He asked something that sounded like are you from Tibet? Are you something-something, I had on my Kyosho at this point, when I had come to stand outside because I wanted to be seen as not just another looky-lo tourist. I had something to do with Buddhism.
Ok, so the guy is talking, much of it I am not getting. I am thinking he is nice but maybe just a bit mental. I cannot be rude and just blow him off so I try to listen and understand. I am starting to get something about the Dahli Lama visiting and also some other ranking Buddhist Monks. Did I see them I was asked? No, I said I missed that. He continues. Then I am getting to understand I can come inside and sit. Hesitantly I do that. I ask, may I go to the main Altar to pray? He says no, but here where he is pointing is ok. I thank him and do the Chinese full formal bows. I kneel, bow, then open and raise both palms. Three times I do this. When I am finished, he comes again. He now takes me around to each of the smaller Altars and explains what each of the Buddha’s represents. I full bow at each. We make our way around the main hall, with him explaining as we go. He waiting while I do respects at each. We are back to the main hall and floor. He is explaining now about the three main Buddhas and their function and colors and meanings and some other things that I was not quite getting. The Monks return, he says something about me to them, they smile, and nod a bow, the ladies seated in the hearing range also smile nicely and nodding their heads. A kind smile, like welcome not like a weird smile. Another ceremony starts. The guy leaves me and returns to where he was in the beginning. I stand off to the side and follow along, chanting the sounds but not the words. I do this for a while then slowly make my way back to the other side of the hall stopping at a couple of the Altars to bow again and grab a few snapshots. I am ready to slip out the door. The guy that greeted me was there, also the woman who told me where that toilet was there. I bowed, they bowed. Then I figured I would take one last picture of the Altar of Kwan Kung. The guy motioned that I could go over to it to take the picture, while he still stood as part of the now started chanting and ceremonies group. I did so then make my way out the door bowing, they bowed in return. Chinese I have encountered tend to be much nicer once they know who you are. Some say they are much more real, some Japanese come off as nice at first but it is a fake nice. This has been told to me by Japanese. There is an old song that comes to mind. “Smiling Faces they sometimes tell lies”
Outside I am thinking …
A link to the full photo album for this post can be seen here: