Finding Yunnan Magic In A Traditional Chinese Temple; Part Two

by bria4123 on October 15, 2012


The temple’s white outer walls looked purer than the rest of the town.

When I entered I was so immersed in old China that the place seemed idyllic.

A shrine housing several spirits presided across the courtyard.

Inside a characteristically Chinese assortement of gods were roomies.

The Buddha’s in the middle, within the glowing halo. He rubs shoulders with Confucian and Daoist deities.

Back outside, I looked across the courtyard and admired this elegant building with a hall on the upper floor. I couldn’t resist going inside.

More elevated spirits were awaiting their due honors.

The plentiful incense sticks in a well-worn box showed that they’re getting lots of business.

So far, nothing was different from what I had seen in hundreds of Chinese temples. But several things made the place grow on me so much that I still treasure the memories of lingering in it.

1. Balance between closed and open spaces. Above, I’m looking through the area under the upstairs hall, towards one of the 2 courtyards. The yards are about the same size as the cluster of buildings around them. Yin and Yang felt harmonized. Other Chinese temples have this spatial balance too, but this one’s small scale gave it an intimate atmosphere.

2. Community. A group of elderly men chatted, sipped tea and played cards in an open hall behind me. I didn’t photograph them because I wanted to respect their space. This was a small town with no tourists or English speakers. Secular and sacred often blend in Chinese temples–people go there for communal functions, and sometimes just to enjoy each other. This temple blended sacredness and worldly life so well that I wanted to let them stay balanced.

3. There were a lot of paintings on the buildings.

They’re traditionally Chinese in style, but new. China’s artistic traditions are still living, and these paintings show nature as a balance of colors and energies. Like the temple’s spaces, everything is in harmony.

4. The roofs flow together, as though they have energies that make up a circuit that harmonizes the whole compound.

The roofs and the mountains seem to flow into one field that embraces the whole town.

So everything in the temple was in harmony:

1. Multiple dieties together

2. Open and closed spaces

3. Spiritual and worldly life

4. The past and present

5. Flows of energy

6. Buildings and nature.

No courtly work of art has expressed balance better than this intimate temple in a humble Yunnan village. Back in Silicon Valley and dodging SUV’s again, I still think of this place.

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