Tuesday, October 02, 2007

buddhism

I wonder if I am going to start every post with my miserable little excuse paragraph? I completely missed last week's deadline. This time the excuse is that we both had violent food poisoning. We think it's from bad chow mein we had at a Chinese restaurant, but we can't be sure. Whichever way, it was terrible and we thought we were going to die. In fact, we wished that we would die so that the torture could end. On top of that, work is the usual mess. Nobody here even noticed that I was ill, the work was just piled on. I am looking for other work; I am sick and tired of the politics in this place.

Yes, I know. Complain, complain, complain.

By Saturday we were both feeling a lot better, so we decided to go to the Festival of Peace and Light which was being held at the Nan Hua Buddhist temple in Bronkhorstspruit. We had always wanted to go to the temple, and this afforded us the perfect opportunity.

There were many more people at the festival than I would have expected. All colours, shapes and sizes - I even spotted an Afrikaans person or two! Strangely, there were also a lot of gay guys. How do I know they were gay? Sometimes it is just blindingly obvious.

As part of the festival they had tours through the Buddhist museum as well as through the temple. A young student in his first year of study at the Seminary conducted the tour, which started in the museum. We were given a basic but very informative talk about the origins and history of Buddhism. The One found it somewhat boring, since he already knows most of the things we were told, but I really enjoyed it.

Next we moved on to the main temple, which is modeled on the Forbidden City. It is truly a sight to see; it was hard to believe we were still in South Africa. In center of the temple courtyard there is an enormous brass incense burner. The courtyard is surrounded by covered walkways. Bright white stairways and pathways seem to run everywhere. The roofs are covered with glazed orange tiles that reflect the sunlight beautifully. An army of chiseled marble lions and lionesses stand guard on the stairs leading to the temple entrance. Right in front of the entrance there are three more of the enormous brass incense burners.

We had to take off our shoes before entering the cool, dimly lit temple. The interior is massive; it seems bigger than you would have guessed from the outside. Against the wall opposite the gigantic entrance doors there is a wooden platform with three huge Buddhas: Amitabha Buddha (Buddha of infinite light), Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha or Siddhārtha Gautama) and Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha (Buddha of medicine). Each Buddha has a flaming aura behind him and behind that there are mirrors with thousands of more images of Buddha. The statues are flanked by two larger than life gilded Dharma protector statues. On both sides of the vast open space in the center of the temple, narrow stairways lead to a gallery that runs three quarters around the top of the temple. There are many windows overlooking the temple courtyard. On the ceiling there is a massive lotus flower made from what looks like glass. The statues and many of the furnishings are made of South African wood, and more elements of the country are incorporated into the decorations of the temple, such as proteas surrounding the lotus flower on the ceiling.

Our guide described the differences between the Buddhas and told us about the many ceremonial items around the temple. When he had finished, we simply sat in front of the Buddhas for a while, soaking up the calm. Before we went around the temple like a couple of American tourists, snapping a photograph from every angle. Luckily, we were not the only ones. Our other photos can be seen here.

We had lunch (noodles again!) on the roof of the guest house overlooking the temple. After that, we went back to the temple once more to say one or two Buddhist prayers.

I can hear my forefathers turning in their graves. However, I am at the point where I cannot afford to care about that anymore. Yes, I am seriously contemplating becoming a Buddhist. It makes me sad that we cannot choose our beliefs early in life; the beliefs and traditions of our forefathers are simply handed down to us and it is assumed that what fulfilled them will fulfill us as well. By the time that we are old enough to choose our own path, we have slipped into the rut that they have left for us and from which we cannot escape. I don't blame my parents, they only did what they thought best. But it is an imperfect system.

Buddhism is not a religion. The Buddha is not worshipped. He is simply honoured as one who has attained enlightenment and who can help us to attain the same. Is a simple philosophy enough to create a fulfilled life, in the end? I like to think it is.

Written by I
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