The Sleeping Buddha Hall

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on June 6, 2016.)

The Burmese jade "Sleeping Buddha" at Xichan Temple, Fuzhou, is 3.7 meters long and weighs 10 tons.

Many temples have a Sleeping Buddha Hall, usually somewhere outside of the main compound.

"Sleeping Buddha" is a misnomer. Though he is reclining, he is not sleeping: he is about to pass away.

At the age of 35, after six years of searching, the historic Buddha we call Shakyamuni had achieved Enlightenment, and what is called "Nirvana with remainders"--that is, he was still in his body, but he would not be born into Samsara (the realm of suffering and conditioned things) again. It was 45 years later that he achieved "Final Nirvana" and left the world for good.

Knowing that his time had come, the Buddha asked his personal attendant, his cousin Ananda, to prepare a couch for him which lay north-to-south. It was between two sal trees--the same species of tree under which he had been born some eighty years earlier--and the pillow was to be at the north end of the couch.

When all was prepared, the Buddha lay down on his right side. This pose was said to create pressures on the body useful in alleviating delusion. It also meant that, with his head to the north, the Buddha was facing west, the direction of death, as he lay.

With his main disciples gathered around, he gave his final teaching, which went like this: "Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation." (In some temples today, we still see statues of his Ten Great Disciples around his reclining form.)

And with that, he was absorbed in meditation, from one level to the next, until he passed into Final Nirvana.

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