Danielle Thai is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A resource economics major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she is studying abroad in Shanghai this semester.
In this week's post, Danielle visits a Buddhist and Confucian temples, and practices some different customs.
Let me ask you this. What is one of the first things that come to mind [other than the Great Wall] when I say, “Asian” or “China”? Just for a moment; let the image or word form in your head. You might not be saying it at first but you are probably imagining some kind of Asian place of worship – a temple possibly. Temples are seen as places of worship just like a church is for Christians or Catholics or a synagogue for Jews. Religion plays a significant impact on cultures and societal relationships. People generally have a set of beliefs or guideless they follow in their life and some of the ideas are rooted from their religion. If some peoples’ ideals do not match then tension arises and conflicts occur. That is one of the many reasons why religion can be a tricky subject to discuss.
In many areas in China, temples are eye-catching and iconic that it becomes tourist attractions. Asia is one of the few continents where temples make it on the list of places to visit and see in each region. A majority of worship places, people generally do not pay for entry instead they are asked for donations. To gain access to some of the temples here, there is an admission fee. For some people it may not seem worth it but it is such a different experience that it is worth the price.
In one day my friends and I visited two temples in Shanghai. Temples from the United States differ from the ones in China. The ones I have visited in the States are typically building that have been renovated into a temple. They tended to be basic and had very little in the space in terms of decorations and statues. The temple consists of one building in the States while the ones in China consists of many elaborate buildings, courtyards, moments, statues, and activities. The temples were busy and there was so much going on that it made it easy to blend in and observe the practice.
Another difference is in China, people pray on their own time and whenever they would like. On the other hand, in the States prayers tend to be altogether conducted by a monk. We visited the Longhua Temple (Buddhist) and the City of God Temple (Confucian). Out of the two my favorite was the Longhua Temple. Both temples were swarmed with people and they were both specular. At the Longhua Temple my friend and I bought incense and followed what everyone was doing. We had no idea what we were doing. We lit our incense with candles in the middle of the courtyard. Then we proceeded to watch what everyone was doing. They bowed in each direct (north, east, south, west) so we did the same.
When visiting a religious place of worship that differ from your own, it is best to keep an open mind and be accepting of the religion to really understand and experience all that you can while you are there. Try to be a part of the activities and you will not only feel a connection with the place but the people.
Until next time,
Danielle's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned!