Thursday, June 2, 2011

Emily blogs about the Temple

Here is a post from Emily M.
On a particularly glorious and smog-free Monday morning, we visited
Nanputuo Temple. But the word "temple" is perhaps misleading.Nanputuo
is not a single building - a "temple" in the sense of the prototypical
Western Judeo-Christian singular and self-contained house of worship -
but rather is an expansive, multi-structured, religious complex. And
beyond, of course, its materially sensuous and delightful polychrome
ornament, it is the spatial complexity of this place which I find the
most intriguing.
Again, my naming of this place as a "religious complex" is perhaps
misleading. The reality of this space in terms of their
sacred/secular-ness seems to be too multilayered to simply term it
religious. For instance, when you first enter Nanputuo, it is into a
broad multi-tiered courtyard, and when I visited Tuesday morning
(early - the jet lag has not fully worn off) the courtyard served as a
stage for everything from the faithful ritualistic burning incense to
a man using a railing as a support for pushups. And yet, these
sacred-secular activities did not at all seem diametrically
oppositional - like the shady and lit sides of a hill. For what else
is exercise but a devotional ritual?
Beyond the courtyard lies an elaborate arrangement of functionally
separated structures - imposing gilded statues of heavenly worthies, a
niche dedicated to a Bodhisattva who acts as an emissary for the
damned, an elevated rotunda where divination is practiced, and much
more. And even beyond these are a series of enmeshed paths up the
mountain, bejeweled with more monuments and collections of personal
Moving through the complex-ity of spaces, it occurred to me that at
Nanputuo Temple the religious experience may not be focused in a
singular space (as Christianity is - you arrive at church, have your
spiritual experience, then leave) but rather might be tied into this
movement through successive, layered spaces. It's a theory. I
currently do not know enough about the tenets of Buddhism to ground my
claims. However, we are attending a ceremony at the Temple tomorrow
morning, and doing some reading on Buddhism currently. Hopefully, I
will soon have a deeper understanding of the role of Nanputuo Temple's
architecture in its spiritual function.

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