...... previous day next day ......
Hong Kong Hong Kong

18th March 2012

A Visit to Big Buddha, a Walk Along Wisdom Path and an Evening with Ned Kelly

Path of the Twelve Emperors
Big Buddha on the Hill
Praying to Big Buddha
    We headed off to Lantau Island under a clear blue sky. About 230 islands belong to the territory of Hong Kong, most of them uninhabited. Lantau Island is the biggest of them, almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island. The new town of Tung Chung next to the airport is bringing more people to Lantau, yet the island is still largely unspoilt and undeveloped. A chain of mountains stretches from the higher elevations in the west to the lower ridges in the east, the highest being Lantau Peak at 934m. The whole is encompassed by an impressive rocky coastline with pretty white beaches, more than 50% of the island being covered by country parks. The general atmosphere is tranquil with many hiking trails snaking across the rugged peaks and lush landscape.
    Via a mixture of trains, we arrived at Tung Chung, with the intention of taking the 5.7km cable car, the longest in Asia, which would deliver us to Ngong Ping. Sadly, it was out of action, so we joined dozens of others in a long queue for a bus up to the village. The ticket office ladies, who only understood place names, grasped that we were wanting to travel on a circular route on the island, and sold us cheaper day passes.
Gateway to Po Lin Monastery
    The journey was long and circuitous, bumping and winding along narrow roads up hill and down dale through forest clad hills and mountains, and past stunning beaches.
Getting Close to Big Buddha
    We all poured out of the bus at Ngong Ping, a recently constructed village, a mass of souvenir shops and eating establishments. A wide path lined with 12 emperors carved out of stone brought us to a rotunda. Here, Chinese people of all ages were taking turns to kneel, facing in one direction, with their hands clasped together in prayer. They were praying towards the Big Buddha.
Dan Viewing Islands off Lantau island
    The Tian Tan deity, seated on a lotus leaf pad with a serene downward gaze, sits serenely atop Ngong Ping plateau in the middle of wonderful mountain scenery of Lantau Island. The majestic figure of the seated Buddha, a seated representation of the Lord Gautama, is 34m high and weighs in at 250 tons; the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha. It was cast in China and took 10 years to complete, and was unveiled in 1993. There are more than 260 steps to climb to reach the podium on which the Buddha is seated, but it is worth the effort because of the wonderful view of Lantau, the little islands that surround it, and the blue South China Sea.
Po Lin Monastery
    We made the climb in stifling heat, and joined hordes of Chinese folk who were making a pilgrimage to this Big Buddha. The podium contained six statues of Bodhisattvas, or Buddhist "saints", each weighing in at 2 tons. A chamber inside contained paintings and ceramic plaques of the Buddha's life and teachings. A large bell within the statue rings 108 times throughout the day to symbolise escape from what Buddhism terms the "108 troubles of mankind". Sadly a lot of the text in the museum inside the statue was lost on us, our knowledge of Cantonese is lacking.
    Standing right next to the Big Buddha, it is easy to see why few statues anywhere in the world have such a powerful pull on the imagination as this Big Buddha gazing serenely on the Po Lin Monastery from its hillside site at Ngong Ping on Lantau Island.
Closer View of Po Lin Monastery
    We descended the steps, and at the base Dan spotted our Brisbane chums from last night; perhaps they had sobered up. We made our way across to the Po Lin Monastery, the largest and best known of the dozens of Buddhist monasteries on the island. It is located on the dramatic Ngong Ping plateau 460m above sea level where reclusive monks settled in the early part of the 20th century to establish the monastery. Po Lin ("precious lotus") is not a historical site; its present buildings date from 1921 and 1970. The main hall has two floors, is covered with an elaborately decorated roof, and hosts three big, golden Buddha statues representing the past, present and future. The bright, vermilion interior also features dragons and other Chinese mythical figures on the ceilings, and large cylindrical prayer wheels hang from the ceiling. Within the building, a continuous haunting chant rang out, bringing a deeper level of reverence to the monastery.
Inside Po Lin Monastery
Hendrix Predecessor
Spring Has Arrived
    Once a peaceful haven for Buddhist monks, this monastery is now firmly on the tourist trail. Around the temples, gorgeous views of the surrounding lush countryside can be taken in. One point worth noting is the vegetarian cooking served by the monks in a huge unadorned dining hall. Huge dishes of soup, vegetarian dishes and rice are unceremoniously delivered to communal tables, and folk just grab bowls and chopsticks and help themselves.
    We left the holy place, and took a walk through bamboo groves which occasionally opened out to small plantations guarded by scarecrows. The odd tea-house lined the trail, ramshackle affairs with old ladies going about their business with handfuls of vegetables. The trail brought us to the Wisdom Path at the foot of Lantau Peak, an outdoor replica of the centuries-old Heart Sutra, one of the world's best known prayer.
    While on a visit to China in 1980, Professor Jao Tsung-I saw the Buddhist stone carvings of the Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra on Mount Taishan in Shandong. This inspired Professor Jao to create a monumental calligraphic work of the Heart Sutra. The Heart Sutra is a treasured text revered by Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists alike. It is written in a simple and concise manner, yet its message is truly profound.
    Professor Jao completed this calligraphy of Heart Sutra in 2002 and dedicated it to the people of Hong Kong in June the same year. The work is now presented in the form of a large-scale wood inscription display in an outdoor environment. The calligraphy has been carved on to wooden columns reminiscent of bamboo tiles (zhujian) used for writing in ancient times.
Wisdom Path
    Construction of the "Wisdom Path" was completed in 2005. The path consists of 38 columns in total. The height and positioning of each column are designed to correspond to the topography of the landscape, and are planted in a figure-of-eight configuration symbolising infinity. The column located at the highest point of the hill is left blank to suggest the concept of "emptiness" (Sunyata), a key theme in the Heart Sutra. The other towering wooden pillars each bear a portion of the Sutra in Chinese characters
Tai O Market Delicacies
    The full title of the Heart Sutra is Prajna-paramita Heart Sutra of which Prajna-paramita is a Sanskrit term. Prajna means wisdom, paramita means perfection; accordingly, Prajna-paramita Heart Sutra means "the perfection of Wisdom". This sutra is more briefly named the Heart Sutra. It is called the "Heart" in as much as it subsumes the essence of the Perfection of Wisdom of the Buddha. It is the best known Mahayana sutra, and, at 260 words, it is also the shortest.
    The Heart Sutra articulates the doctrine of "emptiness". But this "emptiness" must not be understood as the denial of phenomenal existence - it is not nihilism. What it teaches is that everything is dependently arisen from conditions: an event (a "thing") occurs if and only if the adequacy of conditions arises. Since everything is dependently arisen, there is no such thing as an eternally abiding entity. The doctrine of emptiness also spells out the relativity of all views. When one acquires this Wisdom of "emptiness", one will realise that all physical and mental events are in a constant process of change, and accordingly everything can be changed by modifying the conditions. Understanding the relativity of all standpoints will also prevent one from becoming irrationally attached to things. In this way, one will come to be free from all mental obstructions, and attain to perfect harmony and bliss. At the same time, with the understanding that all are dependently arisen, one will treasure and make good use of the conditions that are available, realising the ideal of benefiting oneself and others.
Pink Shrimp Paste
    Since the 3rd century A.D. there have been a total of 21 Chinese translations of the Sutra. Of these, this version by Xuan Zang is the best known. The Heart Sutra has been extensively transmitted throughout China, Japan and Korea, and for over a 1000 years has been recited daily by the East Asian clergy and laity alike.
    Initially, one may find it difficult to understand the Heart Sutra, not least because of its unusually profound doctrine. But if one persists with receptivity, reading and meditating on it, one will eventually come to comprehend the secret of the universe and the truth of life contained therein. Hmmm .... I will have to read and meditate for a while.
    There were lots of hikes to be had around this part of the island, but we decided to grab a bus, and follow another winding route towards the western end of the island to the small town of Tai O.
    Tai O, once a garrison town, has now been a peaceful fishing town for more than three centuries. It is located in the northwest of Lantau Island, and is also known as "The Venice of the Orient", with crisscrossing canals running the length and breadth of the small fishing harbour. Tai O retains most of its historical setting such as waterways, fishing boats and stilt houses, the latter serving as a tourist attraction. Before a drawbridge was built, the only way to cross the creek was via a rope-tow ferry, hand-pulled mainly by elderly Hakka women.
    In the market, a traditional Chinese food of dried salted fish, a local specialty, was to be found on many of the stalls. Some stalls even had small stone grills on which the dried fish was laid. I couldn't quite get to grips with the grilling of dried fish, but the Chinese seemed to adore the resulting morsels.
Tai O Stilt Houses
    We crossed the drawbridge and followed the sea-wall, passing more seafood stalls, and blue plastic barrels full of locally produced pink shrimp paste. A host of shacks painted silvery grey seemed to be the homes for many families, and properties by the waterside were standing on stilts.
    We arrived at the end of a stone pier extending 50m out into the sea, and shared it with a hundred or so Chinese folk engaged in fishing, yattering, cuddling or staring into space. We decided to engage in the pastime of ship watching, with quite a few large containerships anchored out in deep waters. Numerous small craft whisked parties of gleeful, shouting folk around a headland to view spectacular cliffs and beaches I guess. A few other small craft just came as far as the pier we were standing on in order to entice people to take the quick route back to town over the blue waters. We took advantage of this option and soon we were back in town and queuing up at the bus depot waiting for a bus to Wai Ho, from where we would catch a ferry back to Central.
    Once in Wai Ho, we decided to dine in the small port, and discovered the area is full of expatriates, many in the same eating establishment. Many expatriates, who pose in their business suits in bars after work, are resented a little for their excellent terms of employment and frequent paid leave. Such expatriates have been given the generic description "FILTH" - "failed in London, try Hong Kong".
    On the ferry back across the harbour to Kowloon, a woman plonked herself next to me, a little flustered. "We've been together for only 2 hours and we're already arguing," she told me. She had recently arrived from Chicago, on a separate plane from her other half who was strutting around the ferry. I was not sure of the chap's nationality, but I gathered he had some phobia about the passport he carried and the different authorities of different countries. Some people live complicated lives.
    They had only arrived 6 hours ago, so I gave her a quick review of places to visit, which she seemed grateful for, and as we left the ship, I wished her the best of luck.
    Dan and I took a stroll up Nathan Road, the eagle-eyed Dan spotting the Brisbane couple across the road again. Were they stalking us? We decided not to attract their attention. Blimey, folk would think we were trying to avoid them.
    We wound up the evening at Ned Kelly's Last Stand, a bar that has live traditional and Dixieland jazz playing every night. The band was very competent, and managed to get some folk up swinging their hips.
    We got chatting to a couple of Dutch guys who sat at the same table. They had been to Quangdong where they were getting a piece of equipment manufactured, which they hoped would make their fortunes.
    The technical guy raised the issues people have with existing keyboards, such as repetitive strain injury. What he had designed was a small book sized keyboard, that could be opened up and held as a book, and the keys were underneath the book. Users would simply balance the "book" on their knees or table or whatever, and touch type the keys hidden away from them. The side of the "book" visible to them would have a set of keys printed, each of which would be lit up as the corresponding key below it was pressed. This was a more natural process for typing, well it was for him, but it seemed alien to me. Other function keys lay along the sides of the "book".
    "The Chinese are having difficulty trying to work out how to test it during the manufacturing process," he told me. His colleague was the business arm. His job is to now push the product out and launch it onto an unsuspecting world. The concept goes under the name of Yogitype. Watch that space.

...... previous day next day ......
Hong Kong Hong Kong

Uploaded from Ipswich on 29th March at 00:10

Last updated 28.3.2012