Dafo Temple, Xinchang, Zhejiang
(September 12, 2011)

(1) When we arrived at the remote, "off the beaten path" Dafo Si (Big Buddha Temple), the first thing to greet us was a giant Buick display in front of the main gateway. This is the 65th temple I've visited on my list of 142; it's set in a mountainous area and is quite extensive. With limited time and resources, my traveling buddy Mr. Deep and I concentrated on the temple itself (impressive enough) and missed out on some of the other nearby grottoes.

(2) This giant carved figure is the character Fo, the Chinese word for "Buddha."

(3) This pagoda had two scripts: One seems to be some sort of ancient Indian script (Shi Huifeng: help?), and the other is the Roman alphabet. It reads "NA MO O MEE TO FU," a slightly eccentric Romanization of the common Chinese Buddhist phrase, "Homage to Amitabha Buddha," the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life.

(4) There's a lot of construction going on at this temple; the "Main Hall" (Da Xiong Bao Dian, "Precious Hall of the Great Hero") was completely closed; the Heavenly Kings Hall was open, but as you'll see, not yet ready for visitors.

(5) This lute belongs to...

(6) ...this guy who, as you can see, isn't quite ready for his close-up. Whenever I see temples torn up like this, I just consider it an "historic moment."

(7) A cute (-ish) monk asks you to separate recyclable and non-recyclable garbage. He's in a long series of turning alleyways that lead up to the Great Buddha. (They strike me as good for defensive purposes).

(8) This is a look from that spot back down toward the Heavenly Kings' Hall; see what I mean about the alleyways making the place all-but-impregnable?

(9) This building houses the Big Buddha. Inside is a cave into the back of which the Buddha has been carved, with work beginning in 486 and finished sometime later. This building was first built as a three-story structure in 845; it was extended to five at some later date.

(10) Here's the Big Guy himself. He is "Mi-le-fo," the Buddha-to-Come who is usually seen in China as the fat, happy, Laughing Buddha. (A smaller statue in that form is seated in front of him, in the bottom right of this picture, as a sort of indication of which Buddha this is.) For a sense of proportion, let me tell you that the head of the statue in the left foreground is well above my head, and he is nearly life-size. That, by the way, is Bodhidharma, the 28th Patriarch of Chan (Zen) in India, who came to China and became the First (of Six really important ones) here.

(11) See Bodhidharma's little head in the bottom left? The Big Buddha is really big! To the right, on a higher level, is a typical figure: Manjushri Bodhisattva (Wenshu Pu'sa), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom; unseen to the left is his common counterpart, Samantabhadra (Puxian Pu'sa), the Bodhisattva of Great (Meditation) Practice. Also flanking the hall on both sides (not seen here) are glass cases with the Eighteen Arhats (who will be discussed later).

(12) The little (but nearly life-size) figure at bottom right here is Kashyapa (Jiaye), the First Patriarch of Chan (Zen) in India (after the Buddha himself, they say). The full name of this temple is actually "Dafo Chan Si," or "Great Buddha Chan (Zen) Temple." Hence the patriarchs, but I've never seen this configuration (Kashyapa and Bodhidharma) before.

(13) On the ceiling in front of the statue are these seven circles, suggestive of the seven chakras in "Hindu" teaching. Thoughts, anyone?

(14) These ladies and I really hit it off (they tacitly allowed me to take pictures inside the hall/cave). There's an interesting story about this statue: They say that when the Red Guard came to smash it during the Cultural Revolution, the local people had pasted pictures of Mao Zedong all over it to ward them off. I can't help wonder if these ladies weren't part of that pasting crew.

(15) Here's the building again, as seen from uphill. The little stone pagoda is sweet, and I sure wish I could have gotten a look inside that door! Did I mention? The statue is said to be the largest Buddha figure south of the Yangtze.

(16) Further up the hill was the closed Main Hall; past that was this beautiful "Great Compassion Hall" in its own compound, with...

(17) ...this figure of Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion, inside. Note the eleven heads and thousand arms; this is to extend her ability to help those who call on her. Ranged around her were 32 other images of Guanyin; a kindly and very knowledgeable old lady let me in to the enclosure and lectured to me at length on the different figures; unfortunately, because of my poor Chinese and her thick accent, I could glean very little. But the kindness was enough.

(18) Looking down from Great Compassion Hall, one sees the screen wall for this compound. On it are Guanyin and the Eighteen Arhats, enlightened disciples of the Buddha.

(19) A close-up of some of the arhats. We met a Chinese-American, Gregory Lee, a lawyer from San Francisco, when we were in this part of the temple. Though not a Buddhist himself, he was very knowledgeable on the subject, and asked if I knew much about the arhats. Actually, they've been a special study of mine, so we talked about them for a bit.

(20) This is a peek inside a closed hall, called the Huayan Shijie (Avatamsaka World). There are four (three visible) statues of my favorite Buddha, Vairochana (Piluzhena). What's cool, though, is that the hall is full of mirrors, reproducing the Buddha infinitely. This reflects (haha) a story in the Avatamsaka Sutra, called "Indra's Net of Gems," about how the universe is like an infinite, 3D net. On every knot of the net is a gem, and every gem is reflected in every other. So when one gem is moved, all change. This is an image of the interconnectedness of all things, much like the modern "Butterfly Theory." Cool, huh?
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That's it. Tomorrow morning, off to Tiantai Shan.

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