Outside the Main Courtyard

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on May 30, 2016.)

An island in the West Garden's small lake, Daming Temple, Yangzhou

Outside of the temple's main compound there are other features. Many temples have a West Garden, an earthly representation of the Amitabha Buddha's Western Pure Land.

Often, these are lush, Edenic places, featuring ponds, bridges, and pavilions. Some have artificial mountains built of rock, or they might feature ancient trees. They are excellent places for walking and sitting in contemplation.

Some West Gardens will contain a pagoda, which usually holds the relics of the Buddha or some other prominent Buddhist. There may also be a "Pagoda Area" (Ta Yuan) with the remains of past abbots of the temple.

Aside from ponds, water features may include springs, wells, waterfalls, and, in newer temples, fountains. One temple where I lived had a lake stocked with fish, and a platform in front of a pavilion where visitors were invited to rest and feed them.

Plantings may be luxuriant, with lots of greenery and flowers. Or they may be austere, almost Zen-like. Some temples, especially in the mountains, have given over their garden area to the raising of vegetables. This is especially true in Chan (Zen) temples, which maintain Chan Master Baizhang's (720-814) ethic of "no work, no food."

The story is told that as he grew older, Baizhang's disciples felt more and more that the Master should retire from laboring in the temple's fields. So they hid his tools, knowing he was too stubborn to quit on his own.

What did the Master do? He went on a hunger strike! He insisted that any day without work would be a day without eating. The disciples reluctantly returned his implements.

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