Friday, September 10, 2010

Burning Incense without Prayers

This is the only Buddhist Temple I have been to in China. Not that I frequent Buddhist temples for religious reasons, but I tend to visit temples because they are the symbols of believing in something bigger than yourself. For that feeling, I love to look at the expanse of the sky to realize how small I am, but in the neon haze, it often can be difficult to feel that sense of smallness we often need.
In this temple, the monks are completely vacant. There were no nuns, just the statues remained with a few people keeping up the temples, selling incense and prayer papers. I watched a woman carefully go through the practiced ritual with almost a moment of hesitation as she shoved her prayer bucket into the flames.
I looked at the flames and wondered for a moment if the ashes would speak for her. Half of the time I stared at the flames and wondered how often we do little things like this in times of trouble to make ourselves feel a sense of peace about the circumstances that pass through our lives like seasons. When we think of past wounds, are they still there or have we covered them up with rotting bandages?
It was my turn and I was kind of wrestling with the plastic covering the incense. A flame tender assisted me as I decided to burn them; not for myself, but for all of the people that seemed to lack hope. With all that my eyes had seen in China, I felt I had much to be thankful for, so without prayers I took the incense and placed the sticks in various places, spreading them out so the scent could waft through the temple. There were no names, just silence. There were no bows, just my paces.
I followed the young woman who modeled the way for me. All along the way, I thought of the people without names who I had only seen. Without belief in anything but the stars I could see that spiral out into galaxies, I felt small, and smaller still did my life seem to appear. I could not feign any sort of reverence, but I did pay respect to the purpose of the place. I had no complaints in the heat of the day. But, for a moment I understood why people pray. Life can be hard. The task is living, not dying. There is pain in life. You can do everything possible in the world to avoid it. You can protect yourself from others.

However, in doing so, a person then gives up on living by being too afraid to live and only thinking of all of what 'might' happen to them. In focusing on what 'might' happen, you might might miss all of the good along the way.

Here is to walls coming down in order to be free...wherever you are.

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