I visited a nunnery in the northern part of KL today. The situation here was much more organised and institutional, but did not have the kind of focused outreach to lay Buddhists that I saw at Tsem Tulku's place. The community consisted entirely of women, of which there were at least a dozen living on site when I visited. The new building had three floors, with an entrance and greeting room on the main floor with office space, living accomodations on the second floor, and the shrine room on the top floor. The main shrine room was really large, with a white jade Buddha Sakyamuni in Thai style (seems very popular in Chinese Buddhism) and a Guan-yin:
Went to visit Tsem Tulku's place today. Took the LRT out to a suburb and walked to the centre - the taxi driver at the subway didn't know how to get there. Later someone said this is more and more common - there seems to be a problem with the training of taxi drivers, and you need to know where you are going if you want to go somewhere off the beaten track.
Tsem Tulku's centre is called Kechara House, and it is big - it covers several buildings, and takes up most of a block. There is a shrine room, and several offices, as well as a number of other projects that he has sponsored. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take photos. The shrine room is on the second floor, and is very large. There are several fixed chairs in the centre of the shrine room - sort of like cinema chairs, and a big throne for Tsem Tulku when he is teaching. Everything is set up for multimedia and so forth. Around the ground floor are several boutiques and workshops for the production and preparation of images. There are also services like a travel office and flower shop. I was shown around by a couple of very nice young people who explained to me the history of the organisation and its social goals.
This centre seems to represent a second wave of Tibetan Buddhism in Malaysia. See my discussion of the Kagyupa centre based in downtown KL in a couple of days.
8 June pm.
Had a nice day meeting Rongdao's teacher. She lives in semi-retreat in a residential house on the side of a hill. The ground floor is full of images from several different periods of Chinese history. She also has a garden outside the house, and a calligraphy room to the side. She kindly allowed me to spend the better part of the day with her. I have a few photos to share that show the kind of altars she has set up.
A Chinese Buddhist temple has certain common elements: a main shrine, a shrine to Guan-yin (the Chinese Avalokitesvara), a shrine of the 4 Guardian Kings, and representations of the 18 Arhats, who represent the human accomplishment of Buddhist practice. The images show the main shrine, The Guan-yin shrine, and the shrine to the 18 Arhats. Sadly my picture of the shrine of the 4 Guardian Kings didn't turn out so well, so It's not here.
You can see that there are several images on the main shrine. The white figure in front of the golden Buddha in the centre is the so-called 'Laughing Buddha,' which is the most popular image of Maitreya Bodhisattva, the future Buddha who will appear in this world. To the left and right of the Godlen Buddha are white images representing Samantabhadra and Manjusri, two of the great Bodhisattva disciples of the Buddha. On the far left is an image with a light in front of it representing an oath-bound protector, and to the far right another. Just right o fthat you can see an image of Tibetan style, but I didn't get to ask about it. In front of the shrine are the offerings, and also the musical instruments for practice.
The Guan-yin shrine has three images of Guan-yin and offerings on the table. The central image is above an engraved text, while the images to each side are inside a crystal stone with lights in front.
The Arhts are placed on the upper levels of a very nice shelf. There are also lots of other things to look at. The 18 Arhats are interesting - In the Indo-Tibetan tradition there are 16 Arhats, but in the Chinese tradition there are 2 more added. The Ven Abbott took these down so I could photograph them. I have a close up of these two below. I don't know the story of these yet, but when I find out I'll let you know.
8 June am.
Hello everybody! It’s about 09h30 here.
I’ve had a good trip to Kuala Lumpur. My seatmates for the 15hr haul from Toronto to Hong Kong were Norm and Kevin - good companions. Slept maybe 2 hours on the plane, then waited in Hong Kong airport for the afternoon –just too tired to go out. Slept for another 3 hours on the flight to KL, arrived at about 21h30. Rongdao picked me up at the airport and we went for dinner with some of her friends. Got home at about 12h30, slept from about 01h30-07h00, and up and about. So I’ll be tired today but after that I think I’ll have adjusted – no real jetlag to speak of (touch wood).
Rongdao has arranged for me to be put up in a highrise condo – even have my own bathroom. The condo belongs to her nunnery. I have a roommate for the daytime, a nice man of about 85 years who is Rongdao’s teacher’s father, but the place to myself for the evening. It’s in a suburb, and seems to be about 10-15 years old. Very nice, but a little out of the way. Here is a view out of my 12th floor window. The blue building is a cricket pitch, and the condos built on the side of the hill are very similar to the one I’m staying in.
Kuala Lumpur is a very green and spread out city with many hills. It’s built on a river delta, and over the last couple of decades there has been a lot of filling in of wetlands, so the city is expanding rapidly. In the next picture you can see the work that is going into filling in a wetland, presumably for future housing - it's the big empty lot. There is actual wetland on the other side of the cricket pitch, but it is being filled in as well.
As for downtown - I went yesterday and it’s a very ‘western’ city for a developing nation. The traffic is heavy, but there is very little honking, most drivers respect traffic rules, and many people have some English. Many of the signs are English or bilingual, and the transit system is bilingual. The LRT is very easy to use, but the city buses a little more complicated. There are several companies that run the various parts of the transit system, so you can’t just get a through ticket of you are using LRT and buses.
I have visited Rongdao’s nunnery and met her sisters there. There are three nuns who live there full time. It’s a little bungalow in a newer garden (suburb) just a couple of kilometres from here. The ground floor has a shrine room at the entrance, and a kitchen at the back. Upstairs are the nun’s rooms, but I’m not able to see them. I also visited Rongdao’s lineage teacher on Friday for a few hours. A very interesting woman – she wears the insignia of abbot, which Rongdao says bothers some of the more conservative monks in town. She is both devoted to the nun’s life and socially engaged. She lives by herself in a house well up a hill, has a large garden, and a very large collection of images and statues, some going back to the Ming. I might put some photos of these up in a little while.
Well that’s it for now. Hope everyone is doing well. I will be meeting Rongdao’s other lineage teacher later today, and will be going to Cameron Highlands, a hill station from the time of the British for a few days this coming week. Till next post!
Hello everyone! This is my first attempt at uploading to my blog, so please bear with me - it's taken a little longer than I thought to get it right.
I've been keeping a sort of journal, which I hope to get into a publishable state during the train trip to Shanghai this weekend. In the meantime, here is the first of entry - I hope it's interesting.