Discarded Deities

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on March 21, 2016.)

Discarded statues in the gate at Tian Hou Palace, Chiwan, Shenzhen

After visiting the main halls, strolling the garden paths, or dining in the refectory--all popular activities--some temple visitors like to poke around a little more, looking for the hidden gems of a temple.

The luckiest of these explorers may come across an area inside a main gate (as at Tian Hou Palace in Chiwan, Shenzhen), a covered area behind a hall (like the refectory at Hong Fa Temple in Luohu, Shenzhen), or even just an old household-type shrine standing outside in the rain. And what they see there are statues, large and small, old and new, carved from wood or cast in plaster, plain or painted, broken or whole, male figures and female, properly Buddhist and quaintly folk.

I have called these "discarded deities." Suppose one of your loved ones, a devout person, had acquired a statue, and for years lit incense in front of it, made offerings, and generally focused their piety on that figure. And then that person passes away. What does one do with this precious item? It can't be simply thrown away!

If one is lucky, one will find a new "host." (I myself treasure a statue of Guanyin given by a dear friend after his mother passed; it has followed me through many moves, one of them across the sea).

But if not? These "homeless" figures can be donated to a temple. There they are cared for, even venerated, until either adopted by a new host (I also have a fine small Buddha I got in exchange for a donation to Hongyuan Temple in Shiyan, Shenzhen), or ritually "returned to the earth" (destroyed).

Next time you visit a temple, look around for this "orphanage." It can be a good way to meet a wide range of figures.

Discarded statues under a cover at Long Wang Temple, Fenghuang Mountain, Shenzhen

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