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My Visit to Hua Yan Temple
July 14-20, 2006
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July 21

Hua Yan Temple
My Week in Fujian

Hua Yan Temple
Hua Yan Temple

The July page of The Journal has several posts that follow themes that emerged during my stay at Hua Yan Temple in Ningde City, Fujian.  They are largely reflective.

But in order to provide some context, I have given a more nuts-and-bolts daily account of the trip, with pictures, below.

Also, you can see pictures of many of the people from this trip here.

Friday, July 14: I flew with Mr. Wu Xian Shou, his friend Mr. Lin, and his son Diego, from Shenzhen Baoan International Airport around 5 p.m.  In addition to ourselves and our luggage, we transported several large boxes of printed sutras to be delivered to temples in Fujian.  The flight was about an hour, but take-off was delayed by the effects of a typhoon affecting Fuzhou, our destination. (pictures of the Wu family)

Landing in Fuzhou was smooth, however, and Mr. Lin (who owns a display advertising company in Fuzhou, with offices in Shenzhen) had two cars waiting.  One took him home (presumably); the other took the Wu father and son and me to a hotel in Ningde, where we would spend the night before taking the rough mountain road to the temple in the morning.

One delightful surprise: The driver (an employee of Mr. Lin's) spoke no English, but he had lived in Japan.  So we were able to converse in Japanese (he much better than I) as we rode along.  See more on my conversation with Mr. Wu in the first post below. Dinner was waiting, and I had a comfortable private room for the night.

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Saturday, July 15: In the morning we had a nice breakfast, and I met the owner of the hotel--a friend from Mr. Wu's hometown.  This was to be a theme: "He is from our hometown," Diego said again and again throughout the trip. Indeed, Mr. Wu's devotion to his hometown runs deep: The town's name is Shouning, and the character for "Shou" in that name is the same as the last character of Mr. Wu's name, Wu Xian Shou. (He also has a hometown friend named Chen Shou, also using the same character.)

After a couple of hours on country roads, some of them quite rough, we reached Hua Yan Temple, 820 meters (almost 2700 feet) up Zhiti Mountain (which is itself over 1200 meters, I'm told--over 3900 feet.) I will say more about the mountain and its name when the Temple Guy pages are finished.

"My biggest fan" at my birthday party (Photo by Diego)

A funny thing happened on the way into the temple: We were in a procession towards our rooms, carrying bags, accompanied by monks and lay people, when we passed a group of kids.  One of them thrust a package of crackers out to me, and gave me a big grin.  To this day, I don't know his name, because thereafter Diego and I only referred to him as "My biggest fan." Apparently what Diego describes as "a naughty boy," he glued himself to my side for a few days.  Quite a character.

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We had lunch with Venerable Hui Jing (picture), the temple administrator, and several young monks with whom I became friends over the next few days.  (All meals, of course, were strictly vegetarian, with not even dairy in sight.  Dining was usually Chinese style, with a "lazy Susan" bearing dishes, and a bowl of rice or rice gruel. The monks, including Venerable Hui Jing often served me; it was embarrassing!)  After lunch, Venerable Hui Jing took us on a tour of the temple (in slightly rainy weather) and after exploring more on my own I later joined the monks, Mr. Wu, and Diego for tea, and again later for dinner.  After dinner was a Dharma service that involved both chanting of the name "Amitofo" (Amitabha Buddha) and some sitting Chan (Zen).

This became my routine.  It consisted of: taking pictures; participating in (or, usually, listening from the outside to) ceremonies; tea with the monks, where many of the conversations that generated these entries to the Journal took place; meals; playing with the kids who were attending the summer camp; and plenty of naps.  Below, I will leave out most of these details, adding only the highlights.

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Sunday, July 16: Because many of the kids were delayed by the typhoon, the summer camp did not start today. So it was mostly relaxation and getting familiar with the temple.

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Monday, July 17: This morning we had the Opening Ceremony for the summer camp.  Like so many of the functions I took part in at Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, it was a very formal affair: the teachers and leaders (myself, one other layman, and six monks) seated on a dais; the other teachers occupying the front row in the classroom; introductions, speeches, and lots and lots of applause.  The decorum was somewhat shattered, however, when Diego (while translating my brief "Hello" speech) announced that it was my birthday, and the kids and teachers and monks joined in a thunderous rendition of "Happy Birthday," followed by cheers and more applause.  It wouldn't be the last time today I'd hear that song.

On the dais at the Opening Ceremony (Photo by Bob)

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After a relatively uneventful day, I was taking pictures in the Main Hall when Diego came to tell me that Venerable Hui Jing had a question for me in the Tea Room, and I'd better hurry.

As I suspected, it was a surprise party.  Earlier in the day, a woman had (with unwonted enthusiasm) asked me a question in Chinese, and rather than translating, D had "shushed" her.  This pretty much let the cat out of the bag.

(1) Giving long noodles to a monk  (2) They chant the Medicine Buddha Sutra 
(3) The cake  (4) The flaming lotus 
(5) With administrators of two temples (6) With the Kidz

(All birthday photos by Diego)

It was indeed the strangest, and very close to the bestest, birthday party ever.  With mostly monks and a few Buddhist laypeople, I served long noodles to the guests, a symbol of longevity (1).  Throughout the party, various songs were sung, and chants chanted, including: Happy Birthday Chinese style, another song I never heard before, the Heart Sutra (which I chanted through Japan--in Japanese, of course), the Medicine Buddha Mantra, and the Medicine Buddha Sutra (2).  (I was quite surprised when seven-year-old Angel [picture] standing next to me chanted the Medicine Buddha mantra: "Na mo Yao Shih Fo"). There was also a cake (3) with a most wonderful device: A plastic lotus in the closed position was placed in the center of the cake.  It had candles inside; when they were lit, they ignited some gunpowder inside, which shot out sparks like a sparkler, then flames (4). This eventually burned through some sort of strings inside, releasing the petals so that the "lotus" slowly opened!  I also got kissed on the cheek by a little boy, for good luck.  Simple presents were given, and lots of pictures taken with people sitting next to me (5, 6).  Afterward, there was a great discussion and debate (as usual).  A very satisfying affair.

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Tuesday, July 18: Today was our first day of blue skies, the typhoon having moved on.

Diego and me in the classroom (Photo by Bob)

It was also my first day of class.  After giving my "bio" and answering questions (with Diego's help as translator), we divided the class into nine groups.  Each group received a page with part of the life of the Shakyamuni Buddha on it.  They were to read the page, be sure they understood it, and then create a play to present their part of the story to the rest of the class.  So Diego and I spent time helping them understand the pages, and they prepared for the performances in tomorrow's class.

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Master Ji Qun arrives at the temple (Photo by Bob)

The highlight of the day was the arrival of Master Ji Qun.  He is a teaching monk whom Diego says is widely considered to be one of the foremost Chinese monks of the 21st century.  He is also delightfully humble and unassuming.

He has a "Center" in Suzhou, from which he publishes books and travels around the country teaching.  He has also taught in Singapore and Australia, but only in Chinese (like most Chinese monks I've met, he speaks no English).

Master Ji Qun (borrowed from his homepage)

Unfortunately, his name does not turn up in English-language internet searches.  But entering "济群法师" in quotes yields 23,800 hits in Google!  The first of these is http://www.jiqun.com/, his homepage. (The picture above was "borrowed" from that site.) My friends who read Chinese will surely benefit from a visit to the site; those who don't might enjoy some of the pictures.

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The Pavilion The View 

Today also involved two trips outside the temple compound.  The first was to a small pavilion on a hill nearby; the view from there was nothing short of spectacular.

The Hermitage

In the late afternoon, Diego texted me to say that we were going to visit another temple. It turned out that was a sort of hermitage nearby, a place where the monks can go for quiet(er) practice.  When I asked if it belonged to the temple, Venerable Hui Jing answered, "Well, it belongs to me, so it belongs to the temple." Cryptic.

Master Ji Qun leaves before dinner

Master Ji Qun, Venerable Hui Jing, Diego, and I sat cross-legged at a table on a low platform in the front room and had tea.  I was given the chance to ask the Master questions, and we talked about his work, and about the spread of the Dharma in China in general.  That will be the topic of another post later.

We then sat outside.  The Master left, and several of us stayed for dinner at an outside table with yet another spectacular view.  After dinner, a free-for-all ensued about whether the Sangha includes lay people, or only monks. It was during this discussion that I came to an insight (explored later) about the importance of debate in Buddhism.

Our table--and the view

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When we returned that night, Master Ji Qun was teaching the kids.  It was mainly a question and answer session; some of the more interesting portions are also in a later post.

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Wednesday, July 19: Looking out of the dining room window today, I noticed this small stupa on a hillside next to the area where the new Mountain Gate is being constructed:

A: The location of the new Mountain Gate
B: The stupa on the hillside 
Detail of the stupa site 

Later, Venerable Hui Jing told me it was the (or a?) "Founder's Stupa."  That's all I know about it.  It used to be on the same ridge as the Pavilion seen above, but that has been cut through to build the Mountain Gate.

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When we drove out to the hermitage yesterday, we passed the main Gate and a pond.  I made a note of it, and decided to walk out today and take some pictures.

From the Outside In 

The Main Gate, looking across the pond;
the road wraps around to the left 

The Main Gate 

The Second Gate 

The site of the new Mountain Gate,
looking toward the temple 

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When I returned, it was nearly time for class.  While the kids were having their "dress rehearsals," I looked out of the classroom window and saw the cemetery for monastics.  The rain had started again, and this was my last day at the temple, so I knew I would have no chance to shoot the stupas from close-up.  These shots from the window were all I could get:

Stupas left center; Marker bottom right Closer view of the three stupas (one behind palm tree) 

The kids performed the play beautifully; kids, teachers, and monastics all had a lot of laughs.  And I hope the kids learned something.  You can see some pictures here.

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At the end of dinner, Venerable Hui Jing asked if I'd like to see another temple nearby. "Be careful when you ask me things like that," I said (you should have seen Diego hesitate to translate that, but his relief when I added), "because I will always say 'yes'."  Well, I was about to get a lesson in saying "yes." You see, yesterday when they said "Let's go to a temple," we piled into cars.  Today, it was a hike.  Down a few hundred feet of wet, slippery stone steps; across a beautiful stream; up again to the rustic temple.  Then back again, this time with Venerable Hui Jing saying "Hurry!" because there was a program starting.  Torture.

I will eventually do a page on Lin Feng Temple, but here are a few shots:

Venerable Hui Jing speeds along the trail  The Five Dragons Pool (see below) 
Lin Feng Temple  Guan Yin statue (see below)

Along the way we saw a place called "Five Dragons Pool."  Venerable Hui Jing said that a "founder" had lived there in the Ming Dynasty (I think), and every day, when he chanted the Heart Sutra (my favorite), five dragons came out of the pool to listen.  Nice.  (There's so much I could say about this folklorically.  For example: Water often symbolizes the unconscious; when he chanted this sutra, five denizens [the five senses? the five skandhas?] were raised out of pre-consciousness into consciousness.)

After seeing the temple's main building, I wandered outside and noted a side hall and a rear hall, both of them unfinished.  When I went back in, Diego said we were walking up to the rear hall.  "But it's not finished," I complained.  Nevertheless, we went, and I'm so glad we did.  Although it is indeed unfinished, it housed an amazing figure of the Eleven-Headed, Thousand-Armed Guan Yin--always my favorite Bodhisattva image.

So, despite the extraordinary (for me) effort in getting there and back again, I was rewarded with two of my faves: a story of my favorite sutra, and a statue of my favorite Bodhisattva.  Not a bad evening's work.

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The evening program was supposed to be tea with the Master, but he was ill.  Meanwhile, I finally had hot water (it is a solar heating system), so I had my first hot shower since our arrival, and went to bed early.

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Thursday, July 20: This morning after breakfast the plan was to head out fairly early and visit a very significant site before going to the airport.  there were some wonderful surprises in store.

Our main destination was a Memorial Hall dedicated to Kukai (Ch. Konghai), also known in Japan as Kobo Daishi.  He was the monk who came to China during the Tang Dynasty, and transplanted Shingon Buddhism from China back to Japan.  On the way to China, his ship was blown off course, and he landed in what is now Ningde City.  Japanese devotees have paid for construction of a Memorial Hall; this was our goal.

There will be a full page about it eventually, but here are a couple of shots:

The exterior of the Kobo Daishi Hall;
I think the style is very "Japanese," but
Venerable Dun Chao says it's Chinese Tang style
(that's where the Japanese got it) 
The interior of the Hall,
with standing Kobo Daishi on the altar.
I saw this figure frequently on my pilgrimage,
but usually in bronze, and outside

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Next, we stopped at the nearby Di Zang Temple for lunch.  It turns out that the abbot, Venerable Man Zhen, is an old classmate of Venerable Dun Chao.  Nice surprise Number 1.  And he speaks good English!  Nice surprise Number 2.  He was very familiar with Hsi Lai Temple, having once hoped to study at the university; instead, he studied in Sri Lanka and Canada.  Again, a full page will follow with details.  But here are some pics:

The Main Hall Venerables Dun Chao (l) and Man Zhen (c)
with an unnamed monk (r)

Finally, we drove into Fuzhou Airport, where I boarded my plane and returned to Shenzhen.

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The closing ceremony was the day after we left.  Bob sent these pictures to Diego, and Diego sent them to me.  Looking at them, I'm really sorry I missed it!

(Photos by Bob)

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I feel like I have finally been to China, and have really delved into the things that were my main reason for coming.  Without Mr. Wu and Diego, it never would have been possible.  I am grateful to them, and to the monks and the kids and the teachers, and to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, more than I can say.

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