Buddhist Mahayana Temple Living Color Experience - Madhav muralidharan Menon

The Buddhist Mahayana Temple is the ideal option for the China Living Color Project for all future eighth graders because the temple embodies the legacy of Ancient China through the core beliefs of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism which in turn enhanced my understanding in class, while at the same time also providing a calm and welcoming environment.

The Mahayana Temple is a Chinese Buddhist based temple that resides deep in China Town, Manhattan. On first sight this temple seems to be strictly Buddhist. Though instead the temple is a place of worship for Buddhists that also incorporates many Confucian and Daoists principles. The temple is extremely busy with carrying out events to do with the well being of the congregation. For example the temple respects their deceased members through memorial/ancestor walls and through oracle bones (shown through fortunes) which in turn helps support their congregation. The temple is open to the public and welcoming. This is seen with the two decorative lion statues that stand outside the temple and in the two statues of the Buddha that are seen in the entrance of the temple and in the great hall. This temple helps reinforce the core ideas that eight graders have been learning in class and in an overall sense help students understand what they are learning in a more thoughtful and coherent way.

The legacy of Ancient China is most prominently seen in the temple through Buddhism. Buddhist ideas can first be seen in the entrance of the temple. At the entrance there are two decorative lions which seem to represent two Bodhisattva’s. Bodhisattva’s are humans who have reached nirvana (or enlightenment) and were able to become a Buddha. Though these Buddha’s decide to stay on earth to help others also reach enlightenment through following the eightfold path and abiding by the four noble truths. These statutes also serve as a decorative and artistic peace that helps welcome in citizens.

When entering through the doors and into the temple I was met by a statue of the Buddha. There were many offerings that were being laid out for the Buddha. Most of them were oranges and many people were also lighting incense. The Buddha was seen holding an Abhaya Mudra meaning that the Buddha was welcoming the visitors and worshipers. I saw this as a sign that this temple was informative and at the same time welcoming to all different people. The hand signal is also used to represent the dharma and the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha also seems to be meditating and staring down in this idol. Therefore I believe that a meditating/scholarly Buddha is being depicted. Finally through seeing many citizens pay respect to this idol I realized that proper way of worshipping in this temple was to bow and kneel towards the statues. This means that by bowing and kneeling one would be exhibiting inner ren through proper li.

The legacy of Ancient China was also shown through Confucianism. The first evidence of Confucian beliefs in the temple was shown in the fortune telling area. In this station one can donate to the temple and in return can receive a fortune. This seems to have something to do with the Confucian idea of oracle bones. Oracle Bones are bones (that were believed to be dragon bones) that priests used as medicine in the ancient world. Oracles also heated the bones and found cracks in them. These cracks were supposed to portray a message to the recipient. This message was said to be from the ancestors of the recipient which is similar to what the fortune seemed to revolve around. This relates to the idea of cult of ancestors which is that ancestors help determine what happens in one's everyday life. This also relates to filial piety which is stating that family is of the upmost of importance. The next evidence of Confucian ideas is shown in the Dead Ancestor Memorial Wall. The Memorial Wall also represents the importance of cult of ancestors and also exemplifies how filial piety is extremely important. This memorial wall was also created using proper li which means that the congregation of the temple must also embody proper ren. The final evidence of Confucianism in the temple is shown on the dragon portrait that is on the upper wall in the main hall of the temple. I believe that the dragons represents Confucianism because dragons are associated with oracle bones. In class we have also seen that sometimes ancestors can be thought of as dragons, or possibly as sacred as dragons since ancestors are of the upmost of importance.

Finally the most important part of the Mahayana Temple was the Great Hall. The Great Hall was a large room with the life of Buddha portrayed on the wall with the help of 32 paintings. Though the main part of the room seemed to be a 16 foot tall statue of the Buddha. This statue seemed to be the main point of worship. During and before the service many Chinese Buddhists approached the Buddha and spent time bowing, offering and praying to the giant idol. This statue of the Buddha also exhibited an Abhaya Mudra continuing to show how this temple was an kind and open to the public while at the same time providing a perfect learning experience. The Buddha was illuminated by large lights behind him that represented flames and a wheel behind him that represented reincarnation and samsara. This wheel could also represents karma and how previous actions will bear fruitions eventually. The Buddha also appears to be sitting on a lotus which has been seen before as a symbol of seniority and power. This lotus is seen in many places throughout the temple and seem to be a common iconography that is seen in art involving the Buddha. The Great Hall is were I noticed one of the only Daoist symbols that I saw in the temple. Behind the head of the Buddha was a mirror and I believe that this mirror was meant to represent the mirror mind that is accepted in Chinese society even if it is not a core belief of traditional Buddhism. Another major part of the main hall was the 32 paintings of Buddha which helped illustrate the life of the Buddha. What I observed in this part of the temple perfectly mimicked what I learned in class about the life of the Buddha. It revolved around the Buddha witnessing the four sights. This led to the Buddha realizing that he needed to be free of suffering and he decided to do this by starving himself under a tree. Though he realized that instead he needed a middle way and this led to him being fried from suffering and led to the Buddha reaching Nirvana. The tail end of the paintings described the Buddha and the sermons that he led in hope of spreading his teachings of how to escape suffering through the four noble truths and the eightfold path.

The legacy of Ancient China is also exhibited in the service that was ran in the temple. The service first began with the sangha (community of monks) chanting. Other members of the congregation joined in this service. They all dressed in black and chanted hymns for a long while. Some of the elderly ladies in the front had small percussion instruments and were attempting to keep a beat. It became quickly apparent that Chinese Buddhism and Indian Buddhism are very different based on the fact that there hymns are written in completely different languages. I think that this confirmed my suspicion that Chinese Buddhism is a mix of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism while Indian Buddhism is more of a traditional Buddhism. At the end of the service the members of the congregation that were participating walked around the great hall four times. At first this seemed extremely confusing based on the fact that four is an unlucky number because in Chinese the Chinese word for four phonetically sounds similar to the Chinese word for death. Also it seems that walking around the great hall four times would be exhibiting improper guanxi or in ancient times not demonstrating proper li. Though now I believe that walking around the great hall four times means that the members of the congregation have the blessing of the Buddha and they believe that they are therefore safe from common harm.

The Buddhist Mahayana Temple is a welcoming temple that deeply cares for its own congregation. The Buddhist Mahayana Temple also exemplifies the legacy of Ancient China through Buddhist, Confucius and Daoists beliefs. This means that as a Living Color project the Buddhist Mahayana Temple presents solid legacy observations that can easily help comprehension of facts in class (if one is confused in with Chinese core beliefs) and at the same time provides a calm and welcoming environment.

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