Shanghai is a bustling metropolitan city with no lack of expensive restaurants and fake, money-hungry people. After a while you need an escape, mine is Guang Jue Temple; the residents of which have a refreshing look at the world – they have nothing and want nothing. My city break is a break away from the city, baggage and all.
Slumping as I watch the continuous film out the window, I see skyscrapers gradually shrink to three storey houses, bungalows, shacks… grassland. Our bus comes to a halt in a town surrounded by tea-tree plantations creeping over hills. Outside, we are greeted by a Chinese girl in hiking gear. “You must be Anna and Jason.” She says, pointing at the couple beside me. “And you are…” “Hannah” I say. “Great!” She beams. “let’s go.” We squeeze into the van and a grunting Chinese man battles pot holes and dirt tracks for the next hour, while we battle to keep down our breakfast.
We enter iron gates into a courtyard; dragon tipped roofs look down on us. We get out of the van, rubbing our bruises. A bald man in a brown robe approaches us, smiling with few teeth. “I’m Malcolm! I will be teaching you about Buddhism Pure Land practice. ” We are led to our concrete rooms where wooden beds, clean sheets and mosquitoes are provided.
Malcolm leads us into the temple, where the silence hits us. The echo of our shoes as we step inside is unbelievable, I can’t think of the last time I heard my own feet in the city. My senses are heightened; I smell incense and feel it in my breath. We sit in a circle on pews. “Meditation is a useful tool to a skilled worker. Focus on the present. Forget your past, your future, feel alive. Taste the fresh air… hear the wind rustle the trees…” With each deep breath a weight lifts.
Lunch time and bowls of vegetables are being arranged by a muttering old lady bent double. We sit down to eat and it’s delicious. As we get up to go she snatches one of our bowls. She scowls as she licks it clean; “Every grain of rice is a farmers tear”.
Come afternoon, we walk around the grounds and the village. We see washer women in the river, pounding clothes and rinsing vegetables; farmers till the soil and walk the fields with their water buffalo; corn and monkey nuts are harvested into high mounds. Climbing the rolling hills for 2 hours, we look back over the village and the patchwork of colours is just beautiful.
A gong chimes and I feel the sharpness of the air. I check my watch, 4am. Eyes half open, I walk out into the early morning mist. It swells my lungs. The cutting coldness and beauty of the temple doused in mist makes me feel alive. On the mountain I can see deep green branches desperately reaching to get out of the fog. I hear the drum booming, calling us in. I pick up my feet and run into the temple with a wide grin on my face.