September 6, 2013

Peace Is All We Need & Strive For In Life

Sha and Jen were visiting from Kuala Lumpur (KL). While Sha is a frequent visitor to this retro Penang island (that I can almost crown her as a half Penangite by now), Jen had not been up here close to a decade already. And so one of the places Jen wished to visit for this trip (she wants to visit again), was the Kek-Lok-Si temple.

Clockwise from left :
The pagoda of Kek-Lok-Si ; View from inside the incline-lift looking down from top ;

The Omnipresent Bodhisatva deity statue ; Stone carved rabbit from the 12 Chinese zodiac animals

The towering 30.2m Goddess of Mercy statue
Kek-Lok-Si with its famous pagoda, temples and of course, the definite star attraction – the Goddess of Mercy bronze tall statue.

Some of the deities' statues...
'Wishing-Ribbons' - purchase a strip of ribbon, different color represents
different wishes-offerings, write a person's name on it, tied it on the wishing-tree'

I've always like to play tour guide to newbie explorers coming to this historical and cultural place of interest. Explaining the history, touring every floor leading up to the temples, going in to every memorabilia shops - in short, checking out every corner of the huge multi-tiered pagoda and clustered temples. And all these activities will usually eat up 2-3 hours if I do make the ‘tourists’ aka friends, to really explore, admire, snap photos and taking short rests in between.

The pavilion built over a man-made pond with its beautiful koi fish
The serene and well-kept lawn beside the pavilion
By then, I usually don't have the time or energy left anymore to take in the beauty and serenity of the place for myself. And I don’t go visiting on my own unless I have an unofficial ‘tour guide’ task to perform.

But, this time around, Sha was there and had been to Kek-Lok-Si a few times. She knew the way around. So she guided Jen with her. With that, I had time – actually quite much time to myself. And I took the chance to do some quiet reminiscences and retrospections while walking around.

Candles offering area, just outside the prayer hall where i was in.

I ended up strolling into one of the prayer halls located at the mid level of the temple area leading to the main pagoda. The prayer hall was empty. The monks had already finished their chanting I guess. They do that a few times a day as I understand – prayers and blessings for the devotees.

A photo file from a few years back - taken when the monks were chanting prayers
in the exact same prayer hall.

The moderate spacious hall felt quiet and remote amidst the noises, hustle and bustle of people’s interactions just outside. The visitors and tourists were all slow-walking around the hall but no one step a foot in although some did peep inside but that was all. And of course by then I realised I was the only one in there. I decided to ignore the outside distractions. So I chose a spot at a corner of the hall to sit. I sat facing the deities.

I captured this moment, from where I was sitting, at the corner

I had wanted to relax, to meditate a bit. I almost succeeded when someone, just at the exact moment, had to hit the temple’s suspended gong nearby. And the resulting gong’s sound-wave reverberated into the hall, ending in echoes. I could feel my eyes darting around the hall, up at ceiling and down to the tiled floor, resonating with the echoes. I lost focus.

Somehow I decided I didn't want to be at present with the moment anymore. So I let my thoughts fly - aimlessly. And it wandered briefly before settling on a distant memory of some 15 years ago. My heart sorrowed and I debated whether I should dig in on the memory further. I relented.

Why did the memory came back so clearly after such long years had passed? Well actually, I caught the sight of a few kneeling-stools lined in a horizontal row - right in the middle of the hall - directly facing the Gods. The stools.

It brought me back to that precise day – where he was kneeling on one of the similar stools, placing his palms together upright, head bowed with eyes closed in prayer mode.

I asked him after he had finished praying, “Why did you kneel and pray to the Gods – Chinese pagan Gods!” I wanted him to explain, also in part wanting to chastise him because he’s a Christ follower. And so am I. Only difference is, he was a born Christian, while I, a convert - from the same Chinese pagan Gods religion – the exact same one which I’m chastising him for.

He looked at me blankly. He was still in kneeling position. He stood up and said ‘‘They are all the same. When I pray, I’m not praying to the statues. I’m praying to the omnipresent force which is beyond the statues, in which the latter is only an embodiment of the force, nothing more.”

Some sense had been put in me. Somehow deep in me, I knew it was a truth, a truth I knew almost all along.  But I was still livid. Maybe my newly self-superiority ego had been put in place. And I didn’t like it, cause I was a new convert at that time. I had to ‘show’ something of myself to prove it.’

But also at the same time, came a little silent question that bugged me in my head. Had I turned into one of ‘them’? ‘Them’ - the exact kind of people, the-holier-than-thou attitude that had once repelled and deter me from converting in the first place? …….

Time must have elapsed quite much. My mind had flew too far, too deep, causing me to jolt when my phone buzzed. A message from Sha, prompting me to head to the main entrance of the main temple outside. She and Jen had finished their walkabout in the temples and pagodas and they were waiting for me.

I got up. Before I put my foot out from the hall, I turned around and looked once again to the stool and thought, I've grown so much mentally, emotionally and spiritually since. And yet I've still so much to learn.

Though my journey with EW, the very man that knelt on that stool, had far long ended. But my journey with omnipresent God is still a beautiful on-going journey. A story that has so much more still to be told.

The resident chubby cat of Kek Lok Si - staying close with its owner in one of the
memorabilia shops.

(will be continued - Snippet 2 …)