As good fortune would have it I just received, via email, a link to an article on receiving the Buddhist Precepts. There is a lot of good teaching in it for those who have received lay ordination and those who have not, and may never do so. I should mention that we do not follow the practice of new aspirants sewing a rakusu (small kesa) and to not give a Buddhist name at the time of Jukai, (Ten Precepts Meeting). The teaching given in the article about the making a giving of the small kesa still stands very true though. Lay Ministers of our Order wear a blue/green small kesa which is made for them and given by a senior monk when they become lay ministers. Here is a photo so you can see what a small kesa looks like and to take you into the spring heat of China in May…
I’m wearing a small kesa. Iain Robinson who is a lay minister was not wearing his at the time. Taken this May during a visit to Tiantong Temple near Ningbo, Zhejiang where Zen Master Dogen came to practice in the 12th Century. That’s the Abbot and his mother in the middle with other relatives and attendants.
Looking back on early postings I realize that there is hardly a mention of the visit to this temple. Making postings while in China at all was quite a struggle though. Got anything to say Iain?
2 thoughts on “Passing on the Teaching”
When we were in China we didn’t have much opportunity to get onto the internet and afterwards you had a busy schdule in Taiwan and Malaysia.
Tiantong. I still can’t find the words to begin to express how I felt. I’d arrived in China with no idea what we would find there, it’s not a ‘tourist temple’. Maybe we might have found even just a museum or an archaeological site. And then there was a whole chain of lucky circumstances that led to two monks from the Tiantong community turning up to collect us at a hotel in Ningbo.
This was the first Chinese temple I came to, so everything was new. It’s just so utterly different to Japan in form and feel, but the essence is the same. How could you even begin to explain? It’s a bit like only ever having known Christianity through a visit to a Lutheran church in Switzerland or Holland and then coming face to face with a big Catholic festival in Latin America, or a Russian Orthodox service. In China you suddenly experience the original energy of wider Mahayana practice. Bowing, so much bowing, wonderful. Just bow.
So Tiantong was very special for me as the first place I experienced all that. And of course the historical context of the place for us was in my mind. When we were taken in to meet the abbot I was thinking “Good grief! This is probably the room where Dogen met Tendo Nyojo …”
But far more than that too. It’s up in the forests about fifteen miles from Ningbo. There’s a community of about 100 monks there and quite a substantial group of lay Buddhists too. It’s almost like a Buddhist ‘village’. If you have ever seen Holmes Welch’s book with pictures of Chinese temples in the 1930’a – well – it’s exactly like that!
There’s a kind of serenity at Tiantong, it’s a place for meditation and for bowing. It’s the same serenity I notice at Throssel Hole Abbey and a big part of it is the harmony that has emerged between people and nature, I was in awe of it. I can really understand why Dogen tried so hard to find a site back home in Japan where we could create a temple in this image.
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Just as an aside – it’s something Rev. Mugo mentioned too in May. China is amazing to visit but if you aren’t young and don’t speak Chinese I’d really advise against going there – and certainly going anywhere off the beaten track – other than with a group. It’s not like travel in Europe, North America or Japan. It can be exhausting and plans could go very wrong. In our case for example a landslide blocked a railway and without the help of one person we would have been really stuck.
Uh! I’d forgotten about the landslide. And thanks for the input Iain. I need to get my mind in gear about that segment of the travels as I need to write it all up for the Journal. (put out by our Order). Perhaps I will publish it in installments here first…