TAIWAN... Tea,Temples and Twining Cherry Blossoms
Intertwining cherry blossoms…fragrant, fragile and soul inspiring…guided me along the path at The Lingxiao Chapel of Chi Nan Temple and The Jiu Tian Temple in Miao Li County where I ascended all 606 arduous steps with a wooden statue of Taoist saint San Nai Fu Ren cradled in my arms.
How did I end up on this eight –day temples trip to Taiwan last spring? Here is an abbreviated account. Last December, as I was finishing the Christmas decoration at home here in Cebu, my cousin Ann walked in with Shirley, a spiritual medium/Feng Shui geomancy expert and Wilfred, her brother who assisted and translated for her. Shirley and Wilfred were from Shun Tian Temple in Manila and I instantly noticed their amiable disposition.
At Shun Tian Temple to accompany Ann for her consultation, I again met Shirley and Wilfred. That’s where I witnessed Shirley go into a trance and become the medium of Ji Gong Huo Fo, one of the 18 holy Lohans of Buddha. During my cousin’s consultation the “lohan” suddenly revealed that I was a monk in my past life thus explaining my intention to build a temple for Shakyamuni Buddha. Ji Gong, the holy Lohan inside Shirley, then invited me to be a student and to join the Shun Tian Temple pilgrims on their Taiwan trip.
I have never been to Taiwan but cathedrals and temples have always fascinated me. It’s something about their lofty yet grounded structure, which inspires spiritualty, thus I decided to join the pilgrims. Subconsciously though, I also wanted to learn more of my past life and my connection to the 18 Lohans. After numerous obstacles that almost prevented me from leaving, I found myself travelling with seventeen others pilgrims. I was the only non-Chinese traveler but, like my Sunday group of Taiji practitioners, they welcomed me and politely translated whatever I didn’t understand.
From the airport we shuttled for almost four hours to the Fu An Temple in Bindong. I managed to sleep on the bus, thus it was with eager eyes that I woke up to the sight of Taoist temple architecture looming mightily over a fruit market. The intricate ornamentation of lace-like stone carvings of dragons, human figures, plant and animal forms were exquisite…I didn’t realize such craftsmanship existed!
Next stop was Kaohsiung’s Fu Guang Shan Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. A ten-minute-drive then brought us to the 40-hectare Buddha Memorial Center, where the relic of a tooth of Shakyamuni Buddha was enshrined. A majestic, forty-meters-high Buddha statue overlooking the Central Complex is slated for completion this coming 25th of December. Here, i relished the purely vegetarian lunch that the monks served.
There were more fascinating temples and we went to all twenty of them. Memorable were the Xian Dong Temple, which was within a cave, where I had to crouch down and walk carefully through a crevice to get to one of the altars. Then there was The Jiu Tian Temple where, despite a bad stomach, I carried an image of Tan Nai Fu Ren up and down 606 steps. My practice of standing-meditation in Taiji helped me complete this task without panicking because holding the goddess in my arms meant that my view of the steps was completely obstructed. Falling down 606 steps cradling a statue isn’t a pretty sight.
There are two that stay in my memory up to now, hauntingly. The temple of The great Jade Emperor in Tainan was where I burst uncontrollably into tears when I saw the small statue of Miu Lien Lohan, a Buddhist saint who saved his mother from eternal damnation and hundreds of thousands of other souls. The enormity of what he had done, especially his great love for his mother struck an emotional chord in me. And, joss sticks in hand I looked at the statue, tears streaming.
The other memorable temple for me was The Wu Long Shan Temple of Ji Gong Huo Fo. Jig Ong Huo Fo’s mala beads reminded me of my own prayer beads from Lumbini while seeing his fan reminded me of the Li style taiji fan form I learned years ago. I felt like there was a connection between these two Lohans and myself. And, if Shirley whom by now I endearingly called “ah chi “ or first sister were to explain, my present incarnation is but a transition. I will be returning to the holy land of bodhisattvas upon my leaving this Earth.
A whole mountain of it was thriving on Fu Shou Shan Farm (Lucky Life Mountain Farm), the former summer estate of world leader Chiang Kai Shek. Chiang’s house still stands, a museum-shrine, which displays the late president’s memorabilia. What fascinated me however was the Yin-Yang natural pond in front of the house. The pond is held sacred by Taoist followers who believe that it is a portal upon which Taoist deities descend whenever they have a sacred mission on earth. The pond is located in a site with a very strong electro-magnetic field, which prompted me at once to go into alpha state as soon as I closed my eyes to meditate.