Thursday, April 22, 2010

Organised Spirituality

So last weekend we went for a lovely day out to a monastery. To be honest I didn't have high hopes. I've visited many a religious site in China and generally the standard has been low. I know this isn't really a quantifiable issue but I think you could easily make it one. General religiosity, atmosphere, architecture, composure of visitors they could all be marked out of ten, easy. In which case most Chinese temples would lose points for the fact they're often brand new, garishly painted, full of noisy noisy tourists, with gift shops at every turn.

A big fake-man statue from a Confucian complex we visited on the Yangtze.

But the monastery was actually very nice. It was calm, quiet, secluded and you could almost forget you were in the middle of a city still with the heady incense and prayer music (taped but I'll let that one go..)

Even more impressive was that we actually saw people praying, this side of religion is sometimes rather ignored in the hurry to get to the snack stand beside the alter.

Essentially the monastery almost deserves the high praise of the fact it reminded me of the Shinto shrines in Japan.

Now Japan knows how to do religion. We visited a few shrines and in general they were amazing places to be. I'm not spiritual at all but I do have fairly set ideas about how this sort of thing should be carried out and Buddhism definitely requires incense and calm. Even more admirably in Japan there was a feeling of steady devotion, nearly all the visitors we saw were stopping to briefly pay their respects. Partly as they weren't just tourists, they were just people for whom it seemed a quick dose of the spiritual was just another part of their busy schedules.

Plus like so much of Japan they were designed beautifully, the colours were so natural that the shrines often just felt like an extension of the scenery around. They seemed right, fitting.

Much like many of the Indian temples we saw. With the hotchpotch of different religions in Northern India we saw quite a variety. My favorite being a 'fun house' style temple where we got to twist up and down stairs, crawl through tunnels, splash through a bit of water and bump into ourselves in a million different mirror mosaics. The defining feature of many of them though was marble, India has a lot of white marble and it's a good look.

Worship there was so active it was fairly awe inspiring. As in Japan it felt like a fervent part of peoples lives.
So there.


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