Posts Tagged With: incense


We visited the Yonghe Gong Tibetan Temple in Beijing, the only Tibetan Temple not destroyed by the Red Guard during the 1960’s cultural revolution.  It houses a very famous statue of Buddha made from a single, gigantic sandalwood tree and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. (My camera couldn’t get this picture. I got it on-line from  What I did get is the many worshipers around the temple grounds who do not mind if you take their pictures during what is a rather personal,  private event. And, the beauty of the temple itself.

Like most Chinese heritage sites, there are multiple buildings and plazas. The complex is huge and mobbed. Ten percent of Chinese identify as Buddhist, but many more really are. The tradition is deeply rooted and the Chinese people want to do good deeds and enjoy a better life in the hereafter. They feared retribution during the Cultural Revolution and have only recently returned to their temples.

A detail of the roof of the main building.

The worshipers mob fire pots to light their incense bouquets, some quite large.

They touch their forehead, mouth and then bow.

During the ritual, they recite the mantra:  Mind, Word, Deeds.   The street on both sides was filled with incense stands, and we wondered about them.

Then we saw the huge bouquets of incense they burn.

A pot for dousing the flames is ignored and used for offerings instead. They allow the incense to burn down to the nub.

There are many stations like this one where people contemplate their lives and pray to be better citizens and to ask for wellness and hope.

Some worshipers pass through the building behind them that houses multiple Buddha’s, some black, some gold. From Buddha’s position, just a small change in an arm or leg, comes different meanings. Some are painted black, others are bronze. Tibetan Buddha’s all face north.

This man is thankful for his son, in a one child family. He comes to thank Buddha for answering his prayers for a son.

This device is something like a prayer wheel.  It has an inscription on it and people  touch it quite reverently.

In one open building sat this huge tortoise-like creature.

Its mouth was filled with offerings for the monks, and maintenance of the buildings.

The monks don’t mingle much with the people. They are somewhat reclusive. This one wears a tan robe.

Another wore a saffron robe.  The color of the robe dictates different functions.

And, you are never far from the protective spirit of the lions.

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Early in the day, we went to the one surviving Tibetan Buddhist Temple not destroyed by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s.

The temple building is huge and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest building built from a single white sandalwood tree. It is 23 meteres high, guarded by those symbolic  lions, and mobbed with worshipers.

The roads leading up to Temples are lined with incense stands. Inside, several huge fire pots are available to light the incense.

Buddhists pray with incense and touch their head, mouth and bow for good deeds.

This woman has a small spread of incense but most use the huge bouquets of incense sticks in their ritual.

While many stand, some use the prayer benches.

Only ten percent of China is Buddhist because many Chinese feared retribution from the government. But, the Buddhist tradition is deeply rooted and Chinese people want to do good deeds and enjoy a better life in the hereafter.

Like all organized religion, there is money to be made. First from the incense and donations to the temple managers. Bills in the water, coins in the dish.

We left the Temple and visited the Prince Gong Garden. It was so crowded with humanity, we left very quickly.

Our last grand affair before leaving Beijing, is an old tradition in China, the Peking Opera.  The Opera is only performed in Beijing-subsidized by the government. We viewed pictures in the lobby of the costumes. Colorful, embroidered, traditional costumes, both male and female. Predominant colors in China are yellow and red.  The costumes alone were worth the price of the tickets. ($30).
The players  entertained us as we sat at square tables with no one’s back to the stage.  They served dainty little cookies of several types on a decorated square plate to pass around. Then with great flair poured tea into tiny cups from a pot held high above their heads with a three foot long spout. A took a steady aim to pour without splashing and the feat delighted us all.

Like parts in a play, one-act was fast paced, acrobatic ballet. In another act, the men and women performed in slow motion meaning every muscle was tuned. The painted white faces and red lips are not allowed to move or show emotion.  We were close enough to see their nostrils flare as they must breathe, but otherwise they were like elegant puppets, disciplined, strictly, choreographed in difficult balancing positions.  You caught yourself  holding your breath for them. The dancing and  story telling drama had more typical  movement and much emotion on stage. The words in English show on screens on either side of the stage. One sequence has the government issued degree hated by the people. They conspire to steal the key to a government room where they unlock the papers and change the degree. (Their only form of protest in ancient times.)  Another is about a Shogun who has a beautiful concubine that he is in love with. He is ordered away in shame and they cannot accept their fate and commit suicide together.  The whole thing was fascinating, enjoyable and a great send off from Beijing.

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After last nights magic, sending our balloons aloft to wish away bad luck, we got up before dawn to take part in an alms giving ceremony that occurs every day.
Panu told us some of the many, (over 200) rules a monk must obey to become a monk. He may learn them all but to stay a monk and remember them all is…well, its a mystery. And their clothing is a mystery, too. Just a thin looking wrap?
He explained that monks cannot cook, they must not keep leftover food, and they cannot ask for food. What they do is set out in the early morning with their brass pots and walk (barefoot) a certain route of about two miles. They do not solicit or beg. They may not make eye contact. But if someone calls to them, they may stop and allow food to be placed in their pot. It seems strange to us but it is the inscrutable, mellow, Thai way of Buddha. There is a lot wais, as food changes hands.
The Thai take care of their monks and the monks engage the people to a better life through Buddha. A fair exchange. A young boy may be an apprentice at age 10. He gets three meals a day. The adult monks eat two. At the end of the day, any leftover food is given to whoever comes to the temple and is hungry. The poor and the indigent are fed. Its a type of social welfare system in a sense.
As a women, I know that if I even brush up against his clothing he must do three days worth of penance, so, of course, we women keep our distance.
After the giving of alms, the mystery unfolded as this monk consented to have a chat with us. He showed us how his clothing was wrapped. He wears a simple one piece “gym” suit of yellow, with a pocket in it, under his saffron robe.
He demonstrates the folding of this garment so that it can be loose when it is hot, and cover up to the neck when it is cold.
Simcha shot this photo of a forest monk walking down the street. They dress in brown and sage. He can change and become a city monk if their is room at a city temple for his services.

After our visit with the monk and his library, the bus took us up a steep and winding road to the top of a distant mountain where a very famous temple, Wat Phratat Doe Suthep sits. As we were unloading from the bus to take the funnicular to the temple, the bus began rolling down the steep hill. We watched helplessly as the attendant attempted to jump back onto the bus with the driver. Then a curve…we could hear the screams of people in the path of the bus but see nothing.
My grandson, Mason, Wendy Aisley, Roberta Berman and Sy Shames were still on board. In fact, Wendy had gotten off the bus and jumped back on because she had forgotten something.
We stayed, fretting, worried about the worst possible event, that of the bus crashing headlong down the mountain and over the edge.
Its hard to judge how long before we got word that all were safe. When our shaken friends were at last with us, we learned that the brakes had failed. Wirach, the attendant, managed to get aboard the run-away bus on his second attempt and held Wendy, preventing her from falling out the open door of the bus. Chai, the driver had two options, two places to turn. The street was filled with people. The first turn-off was loaded with other tourists. The second lot, his last chance, he deliberately hit parked motorcycles and cars, coming to a stop on top of a car that then crashed into a second car. The bus nearly tipped twice before he brought the run-away to a stop. No one was injured…badly. Wendy, with adrenaline running, insisted her ankle was fine. It wasn’t until the next day that her ankles swelled and she had to be looked at by a doctor.
The door was completely ripped off.
The bus came to rest on this car. The woman driving it accepted a ride home from us in the new bus the company delivered to the mountain top. (The bus company is contracted by OAT.) We explained that the bus driver and attendant were heroes. Our plucky friends were shaken but quite calm and brave about their scare.
We joined the multitudes as they burned incense and rang the bells of every tone. But somehow, our heart wasn’t into the rest of the tour. We calmed down enough have tea and cookies at a famous jade place. Back at our hotel, the executives of OAT listened to our story of the events. And, late, we went in two vans to our home hosted dinner.

But, we know, it would have been worse if we hadn’t sent our bad luck aloft, aloft, aloft and far away in the magical balloon.

(NOTE: Jim and I are in the vast, south west desert area of Texas, headed for Big Bend National Park, and our signal is unreliable. In fact, I’m expecting more pictures from Simca, all of the above are his, and I’ve been unable to get in all of my emails today.)

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