Heng and Ha in the Mountain Gate

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on March 28, 2016.)

Heng and Ha in the Mountain Gate of Hongfa Temple, Shenzhen

Today let's begin a walk through a typical Buddhist temple, from the front to the rear.

The first structure encountered is the Mountain Gate, so-called because it was once either at the base of the mountain trail that led up to a remote temple, or because it opened from the temple precincts out onto the mountain. Today it is more likely to be simply a gate into the temple's compound.

In many temples, the gate is guarded by two towering, fearsome warriors, the generals Heng and Ha. Their proper names are Zheng Lun and Chen Qi, but they are known even more colloquially as "Snorter and Blower." The former has his mouth firmly clenched closed; the latter's mouth is open as though he were roaring. Each stands in a dynamic martial arts pose, and each holds a formidable-looking weapon--as if about to pounce on the visitor.

They say General Heng is able to snort white light from his nose with the sound of a great bell, confusing and debilitating his enemies. General Ha can store up yellow smoke in his insides and devastate his enemies by blowing it out of his mouth. These powers are sometimes reflected in the colors of their faces: Heng's may be white, Ha's yellow.

But there is more symbolism: The two represent the Yin and Yang, the pairs of opposites. And when we pass between them, we are on the Middle Path--to where the Buddha can be found--leaving behind our fears and desires. They are analogs to the Door Gods in Daoist temples--and to the Janus figures that used to grace the doorways of Roman houses.

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