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Made in India: Exported to China

CultureMade in India: Exported to China

China and India have through the ages shared not only trade but have exchanged travelers and historians and transmitted cultures and religious beliefs across borders. Disregarding political differences one is curious is about a neighbour with whom there has always been a very cordial exchange of trade, culture, and thoughts. I, fortunately, had three occasions to visit China in the last decade and gathered an amazing wealth of facts so similar to India and to Buddhist and Hindu tradition. Let me first list the sculptures of Gods and Goddesses that are housed in living temples open to devotees. They come in hordes, light incense, offer coins, kneel and pray, yes in China! A prominent Buddhist site, Dazu is a World Heritage site. It is a large rock with carved images. There is a reclining Buddha of 50 ft. a meditating Buddha and also an Enlightenment Buddha. They even depict in stone the Buddha Hell where the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas gaze down at viewers being tortured on Knife-Mountain with its knee-chopping Hall etc. It’s an awesome sight. Some statues of Buddha have an adjacent spring with carved dragons which refer to the Buddha being bathed at birth by dragons.
Dazu has some dark grottos which abound in sculptures based on a harmonious secular synthesis of different philosophical thought patterns in the region. The main religious thought streams depicted are Confucianism, Daoism, and Indian Tantric Buddhist thought. The tantrism associated with Devi particularly Durga and Kali also clearly emerges in the statues. Dharmapals (called as such) are the Defenders of Faith saving Buddhism from the onslaught of enemies. Maha-Kala (also called as such) is one of the most common Dharmapals. In its wonderful manifestation it is depicted like the Hindu goddess Kali ; dark., multi armed, red eyes , tongue out and also adorned with a garland of skulls. From Doa sages to Confucian parental care and filial duty and right upto the famous segmented wheel Transmigration, from Buddhahood to ghosts, the depiction is amazing and establishes how different religions philosophies co-exist during the Tang Dynasty.
Another most extraordinary and awe-inspiring sculpture is the huge androgynous Guanyin or even called Avalokiteswara ( Sanskrit for Lord seen in many forms). This diety has 1007 arms that rise overhead like a thousand flickering flames, holding a different symbol in each hand. So akin to our images of ‘Sahasrabaho’. Even the description of the Lord as expressing himself through thousands of hands and feet in ‘Purushsuktam’ is so akin to the Chinese Guanyin. This image is found in temples across China. Another World Heritage site is Dafo, the 230 ft. High Buddha is carved into a red sandstone hill. The UNESCO looks after it as World Heritage ‘Puxian’ is a mountain that houses a very high temple 10,167 ft. It is called the (Bodhisattva of Universal Benevolence). The climb takes weary devotees three days to reach the top of the hill. On the way, there are food and tea stalls, accommodation for the night en route, and rain gear also sold. The path is steep and slippery, extremely reminiscent of our Vaishno Devi climb. Interestingly ‘Yama is the Lord of Death. You have statues of the ferocious Yama in the temples! Many temples have a Triptych pattern of Three Buddhas together, named: ‘Sa Rymuni’, ‘Maitriya’, and ‘ Dipankara’, these are depicted as the three time representatives, as present future and past respectively.
Guru Rimpoche is called by the Sanskrit term (Padmasambhav) translated as a manifestation of the Purity of the mind. (lotus= Padma) The most common diety after the Buddha is the ‘Manju Shri’ this deity represents Knowledge and Learning like the Hindu ‘Saraswati’. His raised right hand wields a sword of discriminatory wisdom which cuts as under the cords of attachment. It was so reminiscent of the verse in the Geeta ‘Asanga Shastrena Dridena Chitva’. The Emei Shan ( Emei Mountain) Temple dates back to 1611 and lodges the famous golden statue of the Buddha. (Puxian). Devotees flock to this mountain for even one crowded glimpse of the Buddha as the golden Buddha is the most auspicious and attributed with powers of wish fulfillment. However, the most difficult to see, the most precipitous to reach, and the most dramatic in its style is Maiji Shan (Cornrick Mountain). This looks like a corn cob and the bare rock structure houses around 200 caves. Of it, some have been closed to visitors but can be seen through iron grills, with a flashlight or torch. Carved on the surface is a 53ft. high Amita.. Buddha(cave # 98) flanked by two small ‘Avalokiteswaras’. (Cave#13) is another colossal Buddha which dates back from the Sui Dynasty.
In fact, all of them are not hewn from rock. Some are made of clay and stuck on. A huge serpentine crisscross of stepped galleries on the cliff face are the only way to access these marvelous caves. We were told by guides that these were begun in the fourth century AD and the carving work went on up to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). A very interesting stopover was at a place called Hang Zhou on our way from Mogan Shan to Shanghai. There was a thin stream of water working its peaceful way alongside a whole lot of caves in the mountain. Again, the caves were very dark and damp and with a torchlight, one could see Hindu Goddesses like Lakshmi and also Saraswati carved in there. The symbol of the lotus was freely used and a verse to Lakshmi carved on stone in Sanskrit! Lots of Chinese pray there and kneel, meditate ad offer incense to the deities with deep devotion. The main temple consists of levels. Each level represents an evolutionary step towards Nirvana. So after a climb, you have a black, red, green, and white Buddha at the topmost level. Similar to ours the Chinese have 108 as a significant number in numerology. The Buddhist rosary is 108 beads. They say in China that 108 is the possible number of sins and also worries!! Another similarity observed was their practice of what we observe as ‘Pradakshina’. The Chinese call it Kora. Circumambulation of Holy Shrines. The most auspicious surprisingly is Mount Kailash (Mansarovar). This is considered by them as the center of the universe. The Chinese believe that if you take the 108th Circuit of this mount then Nirvana is guaranteed.
Chanting of mantras in Sanskrit, beginning with OM is believed to be highly effective in calming the mind. One such powerful chant which is widely chanted before and during meditation by them is ‘Om Mani Padme hum.” The use of symbols like lotus (Padma) representing purity and Chakra (representing the wheel of time and its laws). The blowing of the conch shell blown to celebrate auspicious beginnings are so akin to India. Another symbol frequently used in sculpture is the ‘endless knot’ representing the concept of endless and beginningless time, just as our ‘Adi Anant’. A striking similarity with Yoga and Pranayam are their deep breathing exercises called ‘qi gong’ based on their concept of ‘Qi”. The Daoists associated long and deep breathing with the longevity of life. Today it is practiced to enhance health and well-being. The breathing is performed along with hand mudras as in our Pranayam. Qi is the central concept of Chinese medicine as seen from the 2nd Century BC. Just like Yoga believes in chakras and the pranas flowing through them, the Chinese believed in meridians in the body through which Qi or life energy flows and circulated through a network of channels which are the vital points for the flow of Qi.
They so strongly believe in it that in almost all public parks you can see people practicing Qi. Most corporate houses, shops, massage parlors make it mandatory for their staff to assemble in the morning and practice Qi before beginning work. What I found most intriguing and needs research into is the Chinese Medicinal Research over centuries. Their medicinal knowledge and research dates back 4000 years!! The endeavor of researchers was to find the elixir of life, therefore the research was encouraged and patronized by the Chinese emperors. Their medicine like our Ayurveda is based on herbs, roots, bark, fungus even dried animal products, such as antlers, nails, bones teeth etc. They are all carefully combined in varied proportions for different medicines. Like an Ayurveda Kashyan it is all boiled and simmered for a given period of time to form a potent decoction. Even though suffering from a severe cold, I of course could not bring myself to take in the decoction that our Chinese domestic help brought one day. The Chinese famous Naturalist Li Schizen (12 Century) compiled all this Herbal knowledge into a book called ‘The Bencao Gamiu’ listing all the known diseases and their possible cures. We also have our father of Ayurveda as Dhanvantari and his books on the shastra of medicine.
There is a famous medicinal market in Chinal called Bozhou’s. It is the largest one in the whole world. They claim that 50,000 traders visit it as buyers and sellers every year. The market boast of stocking every plant, insect, or animal of medicinal value. A very interesting cultural tradition which is so similar to our October Navratras is the Chinese Moon Festival. It is celebrated all over China, culminating on the full moon day of Sharad Poornima. Feasting, celebrations exchange of gifts, and lighting up of buildings, Tea Homes and markets is a night to see. They make Moon Cakes and thread needles in the full moonlight and test their eyesight. This is done in India in the North Indian villages.
The spirit of fun and feasting in those few days (about one week) is holiday time in China. The strong family bonding. The preference for a male child, the respect and care of the elderly are some of the traits in eastern civilizations which are quite common in China too. We share a socio-cultural mind set despite the political and economic games that politicians play. Let us focus on the human family and seek similarities rather than divisive differences and hope for peace and friendship as it existed in the glorious past.

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