Asia Week: Chinese Buddhist Temples by Jonny Blevins

This guest post was written by Jonny Blevins, who is living in China now. He discusses his interpretations of Buddhism in China, the quirks of gender in Buddhism, and how that is represented within the temples…with some zest that only Jonny can bring.

Palace of Smecta

Palace of Smecta

This is what China has been for me. I often don’t interpret feelings and ideas that can be told in words because I am still learning the language. I give my own meaning to most of what I see, hear and feel, as I think most modern Chinese people do as well.

Palace of Smecta

Top of the Royal Palace of Smecta

I recently traveled to the Royal Palace of Smecta (皇宫思) and Handan’s Mahayana Jade Buddha Temple, which holds the largest Jade Buddha in China (大成玉佛).

For the sake of the art’s true meaning, and Art Dish, I’ve asked around for the facts, since the Chinese Internet is just as super-oppressive as everyone says. (But Miss Kristen has added some references for you all to follow!)

Before I delve into my experiences at these Buddhist temples, here are some brief facts from the Dept. of Asian Art at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art to get you started:

  • In China, two of the most important bodhisattvas are Guanyin, the embodiment of the virtue of compassion, and Wenshu, the personification of profound spiritual wisdom. By the tenth century, both were understood to be able to manifest in a range of forms.
  • There is little evidence for widespread production and use of Buddhist images in China until the fourth century, when a divided China, particularly the north, was often under the control of non–Han Chinese individuals from Central Asia.
Palace of Smecta

Our friend Lulu praying at the Royal Palace of Smecta

Although most Chinese temples are similar to one another, one way to really understand them is to know their history. From what I can gather, a bodhisattva is a Buddhist that reaches Nirvana, the attainment of total awareness.

As your look through the photos, it’s interesting to note the similarities between style and design of Indian Buddhist art. Although modern style does differ, you can see traces of Indian color and style.

The veins of the room flow with chi and feng shui, as I’ve been told, engaged by statues indicating a great era of Buddhist history. Even still, I can’t read the damned scratches on the wall, or make out why bodhisattva Guanyin, or “The Goddess of Mercy,” is in such a sexy position.

Bodhisattva Guanyin, or “The Goddess of Mercy"

Bodhisattva Guanyin, or “The Goddess of Mercy." What's your interpretation of her position?

The story goes that Guanyin was a real doll that intended to help those in need, to the point of never sleeping until all others had crossed over to Nirvana. Then a Buddha gave her more arms and heads to handle all the work. Cool.

Mahayana Jade Buddha Temple

Mahayana Jade Buddha Temple

So, here’s the interesting part about the modern world, or at least, what little I’ve seen of it. To be fair, I can’t exactly call Guanyin or Siddhartha “he” or “she” post-Nirvana.

Gender’s just a limited thing Yujie sentient beings, or non-enlightened people, have to worry about. In other words, only earthly people worry about whether you’re a dude or a betty, not Nirvana-goers.

Ancient men and women both have had long hair, have worn robes, and have done the head wrap thing in order to assimilate in this way. Of course now, as a catalyst of luck and fortune, dudes wear jade Guanyin necklaces and betty’s wear Siddhartha.

Mahayana Jade Buddha Temple

Mahayana Jade Buddha Temple

Give or take the lack of translation, my friends say women wear Buddha, to help themselves be calm, open-minded, patient and more mechanical. Men wear Guanyin, because it helps them be a less to cruel and violent man. Haha, right, like that would ever happen.

Palace of Smecta

Palace of Smecta Gong


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