Suitcase and World: Lama Temple.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lama Temple.

n my last afternoon in Beijing, I went to see the Lama Temple.

Formally known as the Yonghe Temple , "Lama Temple" is a Tibetan Buddhist temple located very near the Hou Hai Lake area.

Walking on the streets outside the temple, I could hear the strains of the Tibetan Bhuddist mantra in song.....Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum. Close my eyes and for a moment, I was back in Lhasa except the scent of burning juniper was not wafting through the air. Open my eyes and while I see Tibetan script on store fronts, there is no one walking the kora around the temple. Street signs and people talking in Mandarin remind me that I'm not in Lhasa, I'm in Beijing. Joss sticks were being sold in several of the stores - those going to the temple for prayer were buying them.

Because of the Cultural Revolution, religion pretty much died in China. Throughout my travels in China, I rarely saw a temple...not even in the small water towns near Shanghai. Throughout any Asian country where Chinese reside, you find Buddhist temples so it felt strange that they are are far and few between in the *Motherland*. Every so often though, I would see a small prayer altar inside a shop or a restaurant so perhaps Buddhism is being practiced but in private.

Considering that Chinese history goes back millenia, the Lama Temple is relatively new. Construction of temple started in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty and it originally served as an official residence for imperial court eunuchs. In 1722, half of the temple complex was converted into a monastery for Tibetan monks while the other half remained an imperial palace.

Though the Lama Temple has elements of a Tibetan Buddhist the Prayers strewn about the complex, it also has the look and feel of a Han Chinese imperial palace. For example, the buildings are laid out in a courtyard style fashion reminiscent of the Forbidden City. The Grand Mosque in Xi'an was similarly laid out.

Relics typical of Chinese achitecture lions guard entrances.

I don't know if it was because it was a weekday afternoon when I visted but the place was comparatively empty. Where were the throngs of Chinese that crammed themselves into the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven? Not that I was complaining, really. Without the masses, I was able to wander the temple grounds in comfort - not being shoved around or having to dart between people to make my way from point A to point B.

There were a few devotees praying and I was respectful to not intrude upon their *space*. Large bronze urns held sand that burning joss sticks were inserted into. The correct practice is to burn three sticks for Buddha. Hand clasped in front of the face and a few nods of the head indicated a prayer was being on prostrated on all fours as they typically do in Tibet.

The Lama Temple is not a large complex so I took my time to stroll the grounds. Compared to the temples in Tibet, the Lama Temple is "new and shiny".

Somehow I wanted the simplistic look and feel of what I had experienced in Tibet. Simple seems more befitting of the personal sacrifices that a Buddhist devotee has to endure in order to reach enlightenment.

All in all, I enjoyed my brief visit to the Lama Temple and I would say it is a "must see" for anyone visiting Beijing.