Trio of Temples – A Spiritual Roadtrip
[Disclaimer: All statements of a religious nature are based purely on my personal experience at the temple and information I was given on the day. I have not researched the Taoist or Chinese Buddhist religions and cannot verify these statements. I would recommend any person interested in finding out more about these faiths undertake their own research.]
I just had a taste of Taoism at the largest Taoist temple in the Southern Hemisphere, located at Deagon, just north of Brisbane.
A spectacular temple dedicated to the Chinese Taoist religion and philosophies, which focus on understanding the true nature of reality, increasing longevity and morality in this life, becoming a sage, and attaining spiritual immortality in the afterlife as an enlightened Master.
Knowing absolutely nothing about this particular religion I was given some basic information but am still very scant for detail!
The central spiritual text is the Tao Te Ching (Daodejing), but they prefer to teach their principles through personal life experience rather than by indoctrination.
I had the unique opportunity today of witnessing a very special event for the monastic community.
A lovely Taoist Priestess approached me and invited me to join their impending ceremony in honour of the Gods’ birthday, which just so happens to be today. (Unfortunately, no photography is allowed during religious ceremonies.)
Half a dozen monastics in full robes chant for an extended time, banging gongs and beating drums. This is followed by offerings of fruit and incense to the ornate statues representing their Gods.
I’m told that in China the temples are much smaller with fewer Gods, and that the Australian temple is so large because it caters to the wide range of Asian cultures who practice different forms of Taoism here. Different nationalities devoted to various factions of Taoism all come to the same temple, then go to their respective Gods for prayer and worship.
The Gods they worship are immortalised Spiritual Masters who were once living human beings. The Priestess said this gives her hope that one day she too might be able to attain spiritual immortilisation.
If their prayers are answered, they return the following year with offerings to thank the Gods for granting their wishes.
The impressive doors at the entrance to the temple.
If becoming an immortal God is a bit too hard to achieve, then the goal is individual enlightenment – a realisation of the true nature of things. It is said that if you achieve enlightenment your entire household, including pets, will also become enlightened. (The idea being that they absorb the enlightened energy that you permeate).
After death, if not yet enlightened you continue on in a spiritual realm, working to perfect yourself towards this end.
The core values of the religion center around family and looking after both the elders and the next generation.
The Taoist philosophies are handed down at home from generation to generation and lived in day to day life, rather than being a doctrine taught in schools. Often the children will not understand the morals behind the stories, or the significance of what they are being taught until they mature later in life and come back to the Taoist values.
The Priestess I spoke with believed all religions were teaching the same principles, just with different names and processes, and therefore Taoism is very open to other religions.
There was a Yin/Yang flag flying at the main entrance alter which represents the combination of both male and female energy within us. It’s also symbolic of the good and bad (black and white) within each individual The white half has a small dot of black, and the black half a small dot of white.
I’m curious to know what this hand mudra means?!
I really enjoyed finding out a little about Taoism, witnessing one of their ceremonies, and seeing the elaborate and intricate statues, alters and iconography housed within this ornate temple.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
“To regard the fundamental as the essence, to regard things as coarse, to regard accumulation as deficiency, and to dwell quietly alone with the spiritual and the intelligent — herein lie the techniques of Tao of the ancients.” – Chuang Tzu:]
Although I find this religion quite enigmatic, it had a very open, flexible and gentle feel; and the Priestess I spoke with emanated a beautiful, pure energy.
She must be doing something right!
The temple that I visited earlier today was the Chinese Buddhist temple at Underwood, in the suburbs of Brisbane. This was also extremely elaborate and impressive. I particularly loved the artwork on the ceiling in the main temple – a circle of Heavenly angels, brushed with soft pastels and gold trim, serenely watching over me from above.
One of the most impressive pagodas I’ve seen.
From what I gathered here, the focal point in Chinese Buddhism is access to the Pure Lands. This seems to be a highly sought after prize, but not the end in itself.
The Pure Lands is a similar concept to the Christian Heaven, where all is good and life is filled with comfort and ease. I think the idea is that you can use this idyllic environment to work on perfecting your soul without the distractions and suffering of life in the physical realm.
I can understand that argument, but would also think that many things we learn which eventually help us become better people are learnt through the challenges and obstacles in our lives.
But in this tradition it seems the Pure Lands is a special reward, which can be received by having faith in Amitabha, the main celestial Buddha of this sect. Once again, similar to the Christian concept where faith in Jesus Christ is essential for entering Heaven. Calling the name of Amitabha at the time of death will also bring you great merit.
The idea of a Pure Lands realm raises many questions about one’s ripening karma at the time of death, which is set to propel you back into one of the six realms of Samsara (unless you’ve reached enlightenment). As far as I can tell, the Pure Lands seems to be a separate existence outside the normal six realms, so I’m not sure how that works …?
As with most of my questions (especially in relation to karma), I did not receive a satisfactory answer, but was instead offered a tangent to consider to distract me from my original inquiry!
Elephants are revered in Chinese Buddhism for their physical and mental strength.
I remained very appreciative of all the information I received from my self-appointed tour guide (a long-term volunteer who found me in the calligraphy room and offered to give a personal guided tour).
Spread your blessings far and wide on the beautiful resonating waves of the bell.
And so I head on to my third and final temple – the Chenrezig Buddhist Institute on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
This is not my first, nor will it be my last visit to this beautiful serene place that exudes compassion and gentleness.
“And she’s climbing the Stairway to Nirvana…”
The energy here is tangible, bathing you in an overwhelming sense of ‘OK-ness’.
A calm, contented attitude where everything feels absolutely fine. 🙂
I sit here now in my small meditation hut in the bush; still, peaceful and grounded. Smiling in astonishment at how I feel blissfully happy for no reason at all. 🙂
Colourful prayer wheels
I’m here for a week to soak it all in like a sponge, and hopefully squeeze some of it back out into the ‘real’ world when I emerge.
Let the introspection begin!
Chenrezig – Buddha of Compassion