Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anne Lykes
      On our March 10 class trip we visited the Jade Buddha Temple,
玉佛禅寺.  This site is important to China both historically and culturally, but
what stood out most to me, is how it embodies many of the cultural paradoxes
that run throughout Shanghai’s society.  The juxtaposition of old and new,
between sacred and commercial is inescapable in this city, and the Jade
Buddha Temple is no exception.  One of the oldest temples in Shanghai, its
construction was prompted by the donation of several important jade statues
of Buddha.  The current structure was completed in 1928, which gives the
temple a fairly long history in Shanghai-years.

           The “front” building is called the “Chamber of Four Heavenly
Kings” and houses several statues.  The “Grand Hall,” the back building, is
much larger and has a somewhat somber tone. Three Golden Buddhas, massive,
impressive statues, greet visitors upon their entrance.  The two side walls
are lined with The Gods of the Twenty Heaves covered in gold.  Each of these
statues is different, but their details are masked by the shadows in the
dark hall.  A closer examination reveals intricate features that meld into
the mass of gold.  On the back wall is a large gold statue of Guanyin,
accompanied by likenesses of his 53 teachers.  These too are greatly
detailed works of art.

           The day of our trip was somewhat overcast, and the temple was
not overly crowded during our afternoon visit.  While most of the other
visitors seemed to be Westerns or tourists, several people were worshipping
outside the temple with sticks of incense.  These acts of prayer were
important reminders that behind the gold gilt and gift shop, this site is at
its core an important spiritual site.

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