Frankly, my mind had been so used to Hollywood depictions of Kung Fu monks that I thought we'd find ourselves in a huge castle-like building that had a ginormous open area for practicing martial arts. That was really a silly thought, for I quickly realized that though Seng Guan Temple is a gargantuan place, it is nothing like its Hollywood counterparts.
It was breathtakingly exquisite, nonetheless.
Above photo: These were the first three Buddhas that greeted us. The security guard warned us not to take photos of the people, which made me wonder if it had anything to do with the belief about souls being trapped in pictures. In any case, I tried my best to keep people out of my camera except for my classmates.
Each of these golden totems represents the departed. Many of the totems here are paired, meaning that many of them were married. Photographs of the departed are inserted into the circular picture frames. If their spouses are still alive, the frames that represent the spouses would be painted red and these would hold no photos.
Living relatives usually come here to pray for their dead, bringing with them food. Meat are not allowed into the sanctuary as the departed are considered vegetarians.
I also learned something about their dietary beliefs. Apparently, not everyone is required to become vegetarians. It's just that there are certain conditions for meat to become forbidden: (1) If that animal was slaughtered in your name; (2) if you see that animal being slaughtered; and (3) if you heard the cries of that animal while it was being killed. I think I could live with that, since I don't want to eat anything that I have seen while it was alive. (That's why I never eat meat, fish or chicken that came from our Tagaytay farm.)
Mr. Tan's earlier tale of Ten Thousand Buddhas quickly came to mind. My classmates and I tried to come up with a theory as to how someone (err, not Mr. Tan), who came back to life, could list down the names of 10,000 Buddhas he had met while in the afterlife...
Seng Guan Temple has recently been holding masses for the victims of the recent hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand. Their practices are no less solemn than their Christian counterparts.
See the intricacy of the artworks on the walls and ceilings? Magnificent! I stayed the longest in this room. I couldn't get over the architectural details.
Can you imagine that this temple started out pretty small? It was almost just a room and then it expanded over the years until it grew to these proportions. Chitchat talked about how rich Eastern culture is, how their arts flourished just as much as their sciences. Beholding these lovely panels, I couldn't agree more.
Thing is, the grandeur of this hall does not stop right in front of you. You need to look at the sides, at the floor and up the ceiling to appreciate all of it. And maybe, even that wouldn't be enough.
I had to take a photo of that ceiling in proportion to the giant Buddha. That area where the light pours in? A closer look would reveal yet another artwork. You need zoom lens to capture it, though.
This actually reminds me of the stained glass panels usually found in Catholic churches. It's fascinating to see that a Buddhist temple could also have something similar to those.
Above photo: I asked about what kind of Buddha this statue represented and I was told that this isn't Buddha. It's a female deity, whose name I wasn't able to catch. That's a lot of hands and I only know of a female deity with ten hands at most, but she had three faces: Pratishara. This is not her.
On our way out, I noticed more of the Chinese artwork on the front door. (I can't believe I actually missed seeing these on my way in.) I wondered how long it took for these stone carvings to take shape. The process must be similar to printmaking, and goodness knows how tedious and painful that is.
Notice the dates on that post? It's commemorative of the Japanese occupation during World War II. This temple has been through a lot and it's been up for decades. I am truly relieved that it had survived, especially since so many of our historical landmarks did not live to see this day.
Oh, and here's a map for the readers who have expressed interest in visiting the place. Click the image for a larger view.
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