Yesterday went with Minh to the colossal statue of Avalokiteśvara and the pagoda complex on Son Tra Peninsula north of the city. He tells me everything there is no more than ten to fifteen years old. I’m a bit incredulous about that, so I want to research it a little bit.*
In addition to the older Linh Ung Pagoda there was a brand new pagoda or shrine built on a nearby lot (the temple grounds are quite large). A very tall tower which the costs of must be fairly astronomical. Impossible for the monastery to afford I would think, but Minh tells me they get donations and sponsorships from large companies, similar to how in the U.S. so many sports stadiums and arenas are bank rolled by large corporations or banks, and thus, as a sign of their hubris and ego they negotiate with the city to have their name on the stadium. It’s unfortunate because I feel it sucks the soul right out of the thing, not that I feel there is much soul left in team sports; it’s basically just a transactional relationship between ownership and players around who gets paid what. This I find repugnant, or, if not repugnant, unattractive, and so I find myself repelled from popular team sports in general. The fact that this doesn’t exist is what draws me to ultra trail-running. I also happen to enjoy the act of trail-running myself. The biggest names in that sport are the easiest people in the world to find inspiration in, but not just inspiration to become a better runner or athlete, but inspiration in being and becoming a better person, for they all are compassionate, warm-hearted, empathetic, grateful, humble, sincere, human beings without the inflated egos of the stars of the popular team sports. In short, they’re just great people who, because of the notoriety they receive for being the athletes that they are, cast a broad net and pull many people into their life-affirming orbit. Nor is there a need for giant sports complexes to be built, thank God, or better and more advanced training facilities just to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. There are only races to be run through some of the most beautiful natural places on Earth. So, I wonder if one day these temple complexes will be named after a sponsor or a donor of a large sum of money.
The fact that there is all this money that flows into these pretentious little palaces completely turns me off of them (except for the photographic opportunities afforded by the hordes of tourists who visit and make a mess of the place by leaving litter all over). They’re no different than the tacky mega-churches seen all around the U.S. Is it necessary to build something so tall? No, of course not. What is the purpose? If the spirit of a people lay in the height and size of a temple or church structure, then the city of Changzhou would have the most spiritual people, and the rest of the world would be struggling to catch up, to outspend ($38.5 million) and outbuild (~154 meters) the Chinese. These are not, unfortunately, structures built by the toil and sweat of the monks living on the grounds, or the populace of the city or town that might benefit by it, but are built by companies with cranes, employees, and huge bank accounts. There is no spirit. It’s mere commodity, and this is reflected in the tourists who visit them with their false piety, striking poses around the various Buddhas and statues of ancient sages, or anywhere there might be a beautiful view behind them. I saw a woman yesterday posing on the steps leading up to the main courtyard who stood with her back to the ocean hundreds of meters below and behind her. Her palms were pressed together against her breast as if in prayer or a bow, and I could feel my face flush in anger at her hollow pose. This woman was like an empty, rusted watering can which, because it can hold no water has absolutely nothing to give, serves absolutely no purpose. Place it in a corner of your garden though and it might look like a nice bit of decoration. If you get close enough you can see that it is useless. So much of this posing and posturing, largely by the Chinese and Korean tourists, I witnessed here that it turns my stomach (The fact that they leave their trash—snack bags, and plastic water and soda bottles—littering the grounds of the complex doesn’t encourage a friendly attitude towards them either.). But this of course makes it an excellent place to witness a strange, to me, sort of human behavior, no matter how repulsive it may be at times.
*the complex itself dates back to the nineteenth century, however parts of it have been renovated and rebuilt over the years, other areas are new as the site has been developed further, and the giant statue is only nine years old dating from it’s completion, or fifteen years old dating from when the first stone was laid.