Experiencing Faith - Jing'an Temple

静安寺 literally means the temple of peace and tranquility (thanks Wikipedia!). I was especially excited to visit Buddhist temples because in my childhood in Hong Kong, I remember a lot of holidays that included visits to temples, and the smell of incense filled the air on various days of the year that required showing respect to either the dead, the ancestors, or religious statues. This past school year, I was a guest student (informally auditing, I guess) in a student-taught course titled Experiential Religions. One of the class trips was to a local Tibetan Buddhist Temple (well, center) in Houston. I was disappointed because it was just Houstonians practicing their faith in a normal building, not at what one would architecturally call "temple" though.

After paying 30 RMB (Yuan/Chinese dollar) to get in, I picked up a pack of incense and lit it up, eagerly inhaling the familiar smell. Incense is very soothing to me, especially in the context of temples, where the pace felt slower and Buddhist chants and music would slowly echo in the air...

Apparently a tradition is to throw a coin into this tall metal pot (?). After many unsuccessful tries and looking like an idiot, I did it. Incense is used to offer to the Gods and to pray with, so many people closed their eyes, held the incense above their bowed heads and prayed in all four directions before laying the incense down.

Inside many of the halls of this temple, visitors can purchase these long ribbons for making wishes. A cursory look at the ribbons revealed a lot of wishes for health, longevity, harmony, success, and happiness. The way the wind blew through the thin ribbons, flipping through all the wishes that people have, reminds me of all the hopes and dreams that people bring to this temple, hoping to find a peace of mind.

I don't know much about architecture, but the intricate layers of temples are so amazing. I really cherished my time in the temple, soaking in how big it is and how small but safe it makes me feel.

Faith is experienced in many ways. Although I'm not Buddhist and did not feel inclined to pray with the incense, I could smell, see, touch, and hear faith in Jing'an temple, as other people got down on their knees to pray, dropping coins into each donation box to seal their wishes and prayers, hiked up long stairs to visit each statue, and wrote down their wishes on long flowing ribbons.

It made me sad; I wonder how she experiences faith with all the stairs/steps that got in her way.

 The ribbons for wish-making.


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