The most famous Buddhist temple in Kunming, Yunnan Province, is Yuantong Temple, which was first built in the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty. After two major restorations and expansions, in 1465-1487 and in 1686, the temple took on its present design, with covered corridors, bridges and grand halls. Bridges feature prominently throughout the complex.
Wandering around the grounds, soft Buddhist music plays in the background. Om Mani Padme Hum, the repetitive mantra of Buddhist meditation, inundates my consciousness. As I drift over the many bridges, turtles rise to greet me. Peace caresses me, I am at home in these foreign grounds.
The Golden Gate opens into two mountain ranges.
A silver stream is hanging down to three stone bridges
Within sight of the mighty Tripod Falls.
Ledges of cliff and winding trails lead to blue sky
And a flush of cloud in the morning sun.
extract from A Song of Lu Mountain to Censor Lu Xuzhou. Li Bai, ( 701-762) from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, Edited by A.R. Davis, Penguin Books, 1962.
Another rainy day in Myanmar. We spent the morning visiting the vast temple grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Out of nowhere, a flash of crimson passed by, an evanescent moment. The colour, so striking against the backdrop of gold, was unexpected, as was the youth and animation of the group. The young monks were quiet and respectful as they ambled through this magnificent Buddhist monument but their gait and facial expressions revealed something else.
Buddhist monastic schools play a vital role in the education of the poor and underprivileged throughout Myanmar, as well as in Laos and Thailand. I often visit these schools when in the vicinity, and watch as young monks are instructed in business maths or English grammar or art, the latter usually based on sculpting Buddhist images or restoring carved panels.
‘ Generally, Burmese monastic schools accept children from needy families who live nearby and are unable to attend government schools. Many of the orphans who attend monastery schools in Yangon and Mandalay are from remote areas and have been sent by senior monks from their villages and small towns. Some operate similarly as boarding schools and some as day schools depending on the situation and support of the public.
The schools are required to cooperate closely with township education authorities to be officially recognized. The operation and finance rely heavily on donations and collaboration from the public. The fees of most of the students at the school were covered by these donations, and some parents were able to make a small contribution.’¹
Fifty years marks a significant milestone for all sorts of events, wars especially. Last week I met an Australian man, a Vietnam vet, who had come to Ho Chi Minh City with his extended family to take part in the Long Tan ceremonies. The battle of Long Tan took place on August 18 1966, on a rubber plantation not far from Saigon. The outcome of that battle, in terms of deaths and injuries, included 18 Australian deaths, with 24 wounded and 250 – 800 Vietnamese deaths (Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army) with 500-1000 wounded.
“245 Vietnamese bodies were officially counted on the battlefield. However, this was only recorded as the official count due to a deadline set by the Australian government. Importantly, many more bodies were found over two weeks after the battle but the official death toll was never adjusted. “¹
The Vietnamese are also mourning their losses this month and this year: small ceremonies are taking place throughout the country from north to south, though these are not newsworthy in the eyes of the international press. Some are public and loud, important to instill a sense of history in the Vietnamese youth: others are quiet and respectful, as they should be, and take place in Buddhist pagodas or simply in front of a family’s ancestral shrine.
Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, is the most beautiful city in Asia and an important centre for Lanna culture and Buddhist temples, with over 200 temples in and around the city. One of my favourite temples is Wat Chedi Luang, which sits at the centre of the old walled city. I like to base myself nearby so that I can visit old Chedi often. It is always the first temple I visit before wandering the town endlessly, discovering new delights. Gleaming with golden Buddhas, colourful prayer flags drift from the ceiling and Lanna glass mosaics line the walls.
Two well established Buddhist temples may be found in Cipanas, West Java. The one on the hill towards Gunung Gede is a beautiful place to visit in the morning, especially on Saturday when the giant candles are lit and vast metal vats filled with incense sticks spice the air. Here, a tangle of fish ( Koi Carp) greet the visitor near the entrance to the temple complex. Travel Theme- Tangle at Where’s My Backpack this week.
Orange has long been associated with Buddhism throughout Asia, where saffron robes adorn young Buddhist monks, orange flags and sashes decorate temples and golden pagodas turn orange in the setting sun.
These Buddha were hiding inside one of the dark interiors of a temple in Bagan, Myanmar.