Monday, March 1, 2010

My visit to Chua Quan Am or How Aliyah fell on her butt during a Buddhist Service…

imageWhat an interesting day, blogged about going Vegetarian for the week, and explored the various types of Tofu.  After this delightful research I was off to the Buddhist Temple.  You enter the temple under an impressive arch that is just large enough for a single car to pass through and drive down the gravel drive as the rocks crunch under the tires.  Of course before I entered I managed to drive past it, pull into the wrong driveway- end up on the wrong side of the temple only to have to turn around and go back under the arches…. Anyway… my temple visit  was exactly what I had imagined and at thesame time was completely different.  When you enter you are welcomed by the smell of incense and rice, which is intoxicating.  We were greeted at the door and were all given the most welcoming hugs by the tiniest woman, she then beckoned for the assistance of an English speaking member who gave us a brief tour of the main room or the communal dining area.  The first things that you notice are the tables full of food and the book shelves full of literature so I was immediately enthralled.  To the left of the dining room was the kitchen filled with women rushing back and forth either in greeting to one another or taking offerings into the Temple.  I learned that many of the idols or statues you see in people’s homes are often blessed by the Master of the Temple.  They seem to frown on people
collecting them as I hope to do and instead press upon you the importance that each idol serves a particular purpose and has a specific spot in your home.  The gentleman I spoke to mentioned that he could maybe locate a statue of Siddartha (Buddha) for me if I was willing to do the research as to the specific location required of this idol.
After this initial induction into the temple we were promptly shoed out of the kitchen and back into the cold (climate wise) communal dining area which I can only assume was because they needed the area for more food preparation.  We were politely redirected to another table, I noticed a quiet fellow sitting in robes with a very attractive crochet hat ( I was very jealous), it turns out that he was the Master of the Temple and we had a wonderful discussion about the various Buddhist principles and how they related to Pure Land Buddhism.  After our discussion and many laughs we were guided into the Temple proper… how magnificent!
Master of Buddhist Temple
As you walk up the stairs into the Temple the first room is almost like a prayer chamber or a shrine dedicated to the Buddha and to the Ancestors.  The first thing you will notice is the large statue of the Buddha surrounded by offerings of rice, oranges, melons, and other delicacies that I am not familiar with.  There are people kneeling everywhere as they pray, through the next door you walk into a large sanctuary. 
Buddhist Temple 1
Buddhist Temple 2 There are no pews in this sanctuary as we westerners are accustomed to seeing, instead there a little round pillows on the ground with mini prayer stands that are akin to mini music stands.  The women and men are separated by a strip of maroon carpet with layman in blue robes and everyone else in casual clothing.  The service begins with everyone standing while the chanting begins, as everyone sits down so do I, the service is in Vietnamese or some other foreign language so I find it best to follow.  We all sit in a form of Sukhasana, or cross legged pose as the chanting begins.  We sit like this for an hour during the first chant and I manage to drift into a quiet state of meditation, after the first chant has passed people begin to transition to a kneeling posture to which I quickly come to the conclusion that I am simply not able to do as both of my feet are asleep.
Buddhist Temple 3  I quietly begin to rub the circulation into my poor extremities and quickly begin to admire the individuals in the room older than I that don’t seem to have this issue.  I am rewarded for not having gotten up as everyone sits back down again as they begin another chant.  By this time, my poor feet have had it.  Before they were pleasantly numb, I simply could not feel them but it wasn’t that dead weight feeling, this time it WAS the dead weight feeling.  I am sitting down trying desperately and discreetly to rub the feeling back into my feet assuming that this chant would be over soon (we were an hour and a half into the service).  Well good news, I was able to feel my feet, when I say I could feel my feet I mean when I touched them they tingled and burned  - GREAT!!  If you know me at all you are aware that I am very polite toward other cultures and am very careful to observe their traditions without making them my own (as I feel that is rude).  Well guess what… go on… guess… while my feet are all tingly the congregation begins to stand – that's right everyone – stand up!!!  So, being the polite sweet little southern girl I am – I stand up.  Only too quickly do I realize that not only are my feet asleep, they are dead numb!!!  Did you know that it is very difficult to stand on your feet when you can’t actually feel them???  Well, its true, you can’t.  I stood up and felt like I was learning how to walk for the first time, my arms flailed around behind me, I began back stroking in mid air and down I went, first into my Eastern Religion Professor’s arms and then to the floor.  So graceful.  This really says something for the amount of concentration that the congregation has when they are chanting, I was 4th row from the front, right in front of the primary alter with all 4 Buddha's staring at me and no one cared.  Pretty awesome really.   At least I gave the congregation a wonderful story to tell while they ate their lunch… “Did you see that little white girl fall down?  She fell right down on her butt during the chant, can you believe it?”  Ehh…. maybe they won’t even mention it.  :)

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