After a couple hours exploring the various Terracotta Army “Pits” and eating lunch, our “Amazing Race” continued. We set off to visit the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in search of an original Buddhist scroll. It’s our second UNESCO World Heritage site of the day.
Getting to and from places is always an adventure. Thankfully Harrison helped us navigate the bus and subway systems rather effortlessly. Without him, it would have taken us a long weekend to visit the sites we saw in just one day.
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda located in Xi’an. In the photos, you might notice that the pagoda doesn’t look like its standing completely straight. This isn’t an optical illusion or poor camera work, it actually tilts a few degrees to the west. The pagoda has been through a lot over its lifetime. It was originally built in 652 AD and completely collapsed five decades later. It was rebuilt, then experienced heavy damaged during an earth quake in the 1500’s. Each time it was rebuilt higher and more grand. Today it has 7 levels and rises over 200 ft tall.
The pagoda holds several rare and valuable Buddhist artifacts and was the location where very important and prolific translations of Indian Buddhist sutras took place. The Giant Goose Pagoda was one of three largest Buddhist text translating places in ancient China.
The main level includes a beautiful golden buddha shrine. Outside the entrance looking into the main shrine, there is a large vessel where visitors can place offerings of incense before entering. At the time we arrived there was a flame at least three-feet high rising like a bonfire out of the vessel. So many incense sticks had been placed inside that they had caught on fire.
Around the perimeter of the pagoda are several buildings that display the various artifacts. Our guide took us through many of the buildings and showed us the beautiful artwork and shared stories of how Buddhism arrived in china. Many monks live, work and study here. After we had seen some ancient stone tablets and headstones of famous past Abbots, our guide pulled us into a more modern non-descript building off to the side of the pavilion.
She informed us that we were getting ready to enter a very special room where no photography would be allowed. We all looked at each other with anticipation and suspense. What could be on the other side of the red curtain? Once we entered, we were the only ones in the room. There were no lines, and no shinny gold plated sculptures at all. However, there were several large banners hanging along the walls with large, hand-written Chinese characters showing the evolution of the ancient artform of calligraphy. They were very interesting and attractive to the eye even though we could not understand what they meant. But, off to the left of the room atop a little table laid a whole, single, original section (12″ x 3″) of a pattra leaf scroll protected by what appeared to be an inexpensive acrylic box. The characters, although faint, could still be seen quite easily and showcased how time consuming, difficult and what a labor of love transcribing these ancient texts would have been. The characters were carved into the palm leaf with exacting precision much like they had been put through a laser engraver. Boy, did I want to take some pictures in that room. Personally, I had always thought of ancient scrolls as being made of paper that were rolled like a newspaper, I had never realized that they once were pieces of wood or palm strung together by twine and rolled up. It’s amazing that they have survived for so long.
As we left the room through another curtained pathway, excitement grew for what could lay ahead. On the other side we found ourselves inside a cluttered art gallery full of pictures painted and drawn by local monks to help raise money for the pagoda. Our guide shared some stories on the meanings of various themes the monks painted and tried to persuade us to buy a picture or get our names written in calligraphy by a master. I have found when you hire a guide they always include a couple “sales” stops throughout the tour. Luckily our guides haven’t been pushy or angry when we have chosen not to purchase the items.
So what can we learn? Two of the tenets of Buddhist thought is that everyone experiences suffering and everyone would like to live a happier life. So true isn’t it? Such simple thoughts yet profound and not easy to attain. I see hope in the faces of the people we meet every day. In their smile, their flash of a peace sign or a brief stare and call of hello. There seems to be a desire between us to connect and let one another know we are more alike than different. These small interactions bring short bursts of joy and at times a better understanding of each other and ourselves. I know, despite the language barrier, the people we have met have enriched our lives more than they will ever know. I hope our interactions have done the same.