A couple of weeks ago I visited the Dongyue Temple.
It was a glorious summer’s day and I was amazed to find I had the place virtually to myself. It is located not far from where we are living in the CBD (Central Business District), tucked between towering office blocks with the eight lanes of Chaoyangmenwe Daji running across what was once the front courtyard and separating the temple from its magnificent glazed paifang (ceremonial four arched entrance gate).
The Temple was built in 1322 during the Yuan Dynasty by monks of the Zheng Yi school of Daoism and is still very much in action.
It is dedicated to Tai Shan, the most important of the five Daoist holy mountains in China, and is under the protection of the God Dongyue.
Once inside I realised how little I know about Daoism, and it’s going to take me some time to get to grips with it. The whole place was extraordinary, with a series of small ‘halls’ ranged along the cloister-like sides of the Temple courtyards. Each of these halls is dedicated to a particular Department of the afterlife – for the record there are 72 Departments and 18 Layers of Hell. Each Department is presided over by a full sized painted statue of the appropriate Deity, flanked by statues of petitioners. There is a large bronze incense burner in front of each Department.
The titles of the Departments are amazing: The Department ofWandering Ghosts, The Department of Implementing 15 Kinds of Violent Death, The Department of Increasing Good Fortune & Longevity, The Department of Resurrection, The Department of Deep Rooted Diseases…the list goes on and on.
People who visit the temple to worship can buy incense and red prayer tokens to leave at the appropriate department – I was amused to notice that there were huge number of prayer tokens left in front of The Department of Morality for Petty Officials – something every local authority should pay heed to, don’t you think!
As a protestant child growing up in Africa I remember going into Catholic churches and mission chapels and being slightly scared by the statues of St Sebastian shot through with arrows, or a figure of Christ exposing his bleeding heart…they seemed so fleshy and gory to me then.
How mankind choses to worship its various gods is really fascinating, what would a Martian make of it all I wonder?