Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guangren Monastery: 广仁寺

As another site visit for my Chinese philosophy class, I got a group together to go to Guangren Monastery. This temple is by far the most impactful site I have visited, the atmosphere of the temple grounds holding weight and depth like an aura. The only Tibetan Buddhist temple in Shaanxi, the Guangren Monastery lies just inside the northwest corner of the Xi’an city wall. The temple is gorgeous, managing to be both ridiculously ostentatious as well as incredibly humbling. The temple is used mostly by locals, and holds great cultural significance for its place in Xi’an’s society. This is extremely important, as the great majority of visitors to the temple are not tourists, but instead locals wishing to pay their respects to a Buddha or Bodhisattva of their choice. Although the temple is Buddhist, it portrays several elements of Daoism and Confucianism through symbols and architecture throughout the monastery, creating an amalgamation of Chinese philosophies. The Guangren Monastery is a place of worship first, and landmark second, a beautiful structure with not only cultural and historical significance, but also strong connections to longstanding Chinese philosophies.
            A waving, fluttering awning precedes the gates of Guangren Monastery, the flags attached to it whipped and wafted by the wind. Four Tibetan stupas of gleaming white marble sit on either side of the temple, each representing one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, icons that are ubiquitous throughout the Guangren Monastery. Below each of the stupas is a short description written in three languages, Tibetan, Manchu, and Chinese. Entering the monastery, the first thing to catch the eye is an enormous carved stone wall, or Zhao Bi, placed directly inside the gate. Upon it is carved Buddha and a chained tiger beneath a peach tree, surrounded by the clouds above, mountains on the right, and the sea below. Past the Zhao Bi is a small hexagonal pagoda, which contains a stele with an inscription by Emperor Kangxi during the Qing dynasty. Four inner walls and four outer walls of the pavilion portray the eight auspicious symbols in vivid colors. Beyond the pavilion you will pass two octagonal walled pools, on which are also carved the eight symbols. Soon after is a marvelous hall dedicated to the Thousand-Hand Buddha, whose statue within glitters and gleams from heavy gold gilding. Around the back of the hall, two glass-encased vibrant and colorful paintings, one of the Ha destroying the enemies of Buddhism, and the other a detailed depiction of the Dharma Wheel lie on the reverse side of the hall. This courtyard also contains an enormous lamp, referred to as the “Ten Thousand Year Lamp,” which can be filled with enough kerosene to last days. Moving onward, you will reach the grandiose Hall of Longevity, containing gilded statues of different Buddhas and surrounded by rotational sutra barrels, gold barrels that we watched many of the visitors spin as they walked around the hall. Passing through this hall, Guangren Monastery then opens up to another large courtyard. Here, a gargantuan building fills the view, its gold roofs glimmering, and its colorful and ostentatious design dazzling the eyes. This is the keeping hall of the monastery, a depository of thousands of Buddhist scripts. This hall contains a Buddha statue at the forefront, and behind that statue stands a grandiose, two story tall golden figure whose upper body is lost among the multicolored rafters. The Guangren Monastery is beautiful and timeless, the sincerity of its visitors contradicting the skyscrapers just beyond the temple walls.
            There was definitely something special about this temple. Speakers around the temple project a live chant originating somewhere within the monastery, and although they are modern instruments, the speakers manage to create an atmosphere of peace and spirituality. It is difficult not to feel something as you watch monks walk languidly stroll through the temple, past kneeling visitors and songs sung in reverence. Guangren Monastery was an amazing temple to visit, and I am glad I had the opportunity to experience it.


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