Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Novice

Although they were a pleasant way to break up the journey, I'm not really one for temples. I usually enter, am generally impressed by their ornateness and the human creativity, both materially and spiritually, it represents, admire the aesthetic features, and then get restless and ready to go. Maybe if I knew more about Buddism and its symbols, or if I had some specific question, I would be more occupied. But as it is, the sanctuaries and grounds quickly become picturesque places only; and no matter how charming a place I am, I want to do something there, or go somewhere else and do something.

detail from Erdene Zuu Khiid

Take, for example, this painting from another temple. Although the technique by which the image was produced interested me, there was nobody around who could explain it. Temple guides can often elaborate symbolism only in very limited terms, due either to the loss of the knowledge within their own culture or language difficulties; and I've never crossed a guide who could explain technique in any detail.

In modern Mongolia, emissaries have been sent from Tibet on a religious re-education campaing. Along with the physical destruction of temples and monks during the communist purges, tradition and knowledge were lost too. But I'm not participating in that campaign; to me, this is something that was painted somehow, and as far as I know means, "Be kind to little men who bring you fruits."

one of several symetrically placed pagodas, Amarbayasgalant Khiid

My disinterest in decoding ancient religious systems aside, Amarbayasgalant had its charms. It shares structural characteristics with Korean temples, but it didn't have the same solemnity and rigid self-regard. The high ceilings, supported by rows of well spaced columns, with many-colored tapestries streaming down, and large number of windows created a sense of greatness and joy, as if the immensity and wonder of nature and the world had been somehow replicated one room. Still, it was freezing in there, and I wanted to leave shortly after I arrived.

pagoda detail

But, this was only the main sanctuary, and there were three outlying structures to see. This was when I first noticed a boy wearing a dirty, mismatched, polyester tracksuit; pants of red, a jacket of blue, and white stripes running down both sides. On his face he wore a veil of dirt, beneath which a few freckles were visible.

Having recently come from Ulaanbataar, where there are scores of dirty, Dickensian orphan children simultaneously begging for your money and trying to steal it, I was initially suspicious of the boy. Without the uniform of the other monks, his presence in the sanctuary was questionable.

young monk and old truck

As we left the main sanctuary a young monk accompanied us, and the boy ran ahead to an outlying building. We soon caught up with him, and after the young monk unlocked the door, the boy followed us eagerly inside. In this smaller building, the boy ran from gilt god to gilt god bowing with enthusiasm. At the next building, he was given the privilege of unlocking the door for us, and as we perused still more statues, the boy flitted around the room, his face and eyes sparkling and glowing, energetically straightening the stacks of Mongolian currency left in supplication at the feet of the golden beings.

I asked our guide about the boy who appeared to be enjoying this part of our journey more than we were. She asked the young monk, and he told her the boy had arrived at the temple a few days earlier. He was 12 years old, from a distant province, and he had decided of his own accord that he wanted to be a monk. He was just beginning his study of Tibetan in order to read the prayer books.

stupa outside the temple, probably not Zanabazar's

The last small temple housed a statue of Zanabazar, a descendant of Ghengis Khan, born in the mid 17th century, who is still famous for his contributions to Mongolian arts, religion, and politics. His remains were enshrined in a stupa at the temple, but I'm not sure if they're still there. The point is, his statue made me giggle, because, for the second time, I was reminded of Yoda. There sat Zanabazar, looking pleased as punch, a little golden man with long ears.

If you are offended by this association, let us not forget that Yoda is a master of the force, so strong that he can afford to be gentle. We can only hope it's so with the Dalai Lama and Zanabazar. To be fair, I saw the Dalai Lama on TV this morning. When he speaks English, he does not sound like Yoda.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No it's Yahweh God who is the Master of all universes - whose weakness is our stronger than our greatest strength and whose kindness is His greatest attribute.

4:24 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Marian said...

"Be kind to little men who bring you fruits" is my new motto.

Keep posting decrepit building photos, they are beautiful and sad and I love them.

10:05 PM GMT-5  

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