Trekking in mount Heng Shan of Hunan province
07.08.2009 24 °C
I have not been waking up in the deep of pre-dawn ever since I resigned from my former job in Muhibbah Engineering. All these while, I need no alarm clock to trigger my soul away from sweet dream. Of course, I do not need a cock to crow before the dawn either. The dawn was chilling and I was still in the deep sleep. My body was covered with a large thermal blanket made of layers of silk. The silk blanket was huge enough to burrow my neck to the toes and thick enough to retain the warmth of my body.
Occasionally strong breeze swayed in through the pore of the windows. The ancient wooden windows in the room were dilapilated as the joint pieces of woods have dilated apart. The rectangular glass panes situated at the upper structure of the windows were draping to fall. Some pieces of the window glass had been breaking apart. In the silence of the total darkness, the condensed little drops of moist swayed into the room through every open end of the windows. The room had been obscured with wispy fog, bringing the chilling room to cold. At times, the chilling wind punched the windows forcing the panes beside the bed to tremble. I would be far more comfortable if I could wish for a warmer layer of blanket.
At 4.30 am sharp, a loud noise aroused from the narrow passage of the corridor in ground floor. I heard some wood clapping sound. The wood clapping sound was loud enough to break the silence of dawn. The clapping sound lasted for around 5 minutes. I was groggy and disturbed by the clapping noise. With eyes half opened, I searched for my slippers beneath the bed. I was not the only person jumped off from the bed. I opened the door to find out what had happened. The pilgrims in all other rooms too were awaken. In less than five minutes, I did not see anymore pilgrims leaving themselves behind in the room. I was puzzled.
This is a dawn scene in a monastery named Sang Fong Si (Sang Fong monastery) located in Heng Shan (Mount Heng). Heng Shan is elevated at 1,290 m, situated in Nan Yue district in the central of Hunan province. It is amongst one of the sacred mountains in China, a popular destination to pay homage to the "Sen Wang Yeh", a deity of the temple located in the mountain summit.
There are many Buddhist monasteries and Taoist temples dotted along the terrain across the ridge of the mountain. It is an unique pilgrimage mountain as both the Buddhists and Taoists commonly share the mountain since long past. Each of the monasteries and temples possesses its own unique record of history. For example, the Sang Fong monastery was built around the 6th century, it is an 1,500 year old monastery.
At the foot of the mountain, situated a huge temple known as Nan Yue temple, recognised as the entrance temple to the sacred mountain. Heng Shan is categorised by the Chinese authority as a five As (AAAAA) national heritage, promoted for its pilgrimage and national tourist attraction.
The life in monastery is simple yet compact. At 4.30 am, all the resident monks will rise from bed when the wooden clappers are hit for the first time. After having done with their personal hygiene, they will start the day with a dawn prayer at 5.00 am. The dawn prayer is performed at the main prayer hall located in the southern wing lasting for an hour.
At 6.00 am, the time-keeper monk will hit the wooden clappers again to assemble everyone to the dining hall. By then, the long oblong tables and bench stools would have been neatly arranged and a simple basic vegetarian breakfast is served. After the breakfast at around 6.30 am, all the resident monks will leave the dining hall to attend to their daily duty.
At 11.00 am, lunch will be served. Late comers will not be served by the kitchen attendants and will strictly leave them with no food. At 4.00 pm, the resident monks will assemble for dusk prayer. The dinner will be served as early as 5.00 pm. At this time, the mountain fog would have been heavy enough to obscure the monastery. After the dinner, everyone will prepare themself to call it a day, ending their duty of the long day since early dawn. A night prayer is held at 8.00 pm. At 9.00 pm, all the lights are off.
In the ancient China, people used a set of two pieces of wooden blocks to create sound. The wooden units were shaped into a set of solid oblong blocks with a hollow cavity bored into the centre of each block. These wooden blocks were usually less than one foot in length and handy to carry for clapping.
When the set of wooden blocks are hit, it created a series of clapping sound. The Chinese society used the clapping sound to signify various meaning. In ancient China, clapping sound was created by the street watcher at night as an alarm device to tell time. A specific rhythm was clapped to signify specific hour. One would understand the time telling by listening the rhythm. In another usage, the clapping was used as a bell to assemble a crowd before the electronic alarm system was invented.
I was astonished to encounter the usage of this ancient clappers in the monastery. Though electric alarm is a common use elsewhere, the wooden clappers still serve fit for daily use in this monastery. That reminds me of a proverb - the existence of an aging entity has its own reasons to be in existence, the older it gets through, it deserves more to be in existence.
The huge monastery is built in several wings, the north, south, west and east wings. Each wing serves its own specific purpose. Certain blocks of the wings are opened to pilgrims for overnight stay. Visitors and trekkers are also allowed to lodge by paying a small charge. After a 5 1/2 hours hike, I arrived at the summit. Fortunately, the day was not a busy pilgrimage day. Unoccupied beds were available. I was allocated a bed in a shared room.
In the afternoon of the following day, there were a sudden swamp of pilgrims thronged to the monastery. The monastery was crowded. "Today all the visitor beds are occupied, many visitors will need to share beds. Perhaps some will need to sleep on the floor", uttered the lady administrator. I asked, "Why sudden swamp of people?". She replied, "Tomorrow is the holy day, the 19th day of the sixth month in the lunar calendar, a day dedicated to the Boddhisatva Avalokestivara - Goddess of Mercy. The devotees hail to devote their prayers for blessings from the Boddhisatva". In the dawn of the following day, many visitors participated in the spiritual prayer. I was awaken but falling to the indulgence of the bed again.
The Japanese invaded China in 1931 taking advantage of the confusion in China during the nationalist uprising and the civil war between Kuomintang and communist in the 1930s. With the communist took over, People's Republic of China began its day as a bankrupt nation. Since the inception of the communist era, China was then totally shut off from contact with outside world. The communist brought a draconian ideology to the society, ruling by iron fist and forcing a principle of social equality. The communist believed in no god and the Chinese nation became atheists under the rule.
With the rampage of religion practices, temples were ransacked and monasteries were disbanded. The communism ideology brought an unwavering belief in the existence of no god. With this ideology, the vast majority of populous Chinese society were transformed into an atheist community for more than 50 years.
Until 1979 post cultural revolution, the communism gradually liberalised its principle to restore the damages took cause in the upholding of freedom of religion. China was then gradually worked towards restoring its acceptance and the formation of religion belief again. Today, the choice of acceptance of religion underlies with freedom in the hands of the people but however, there remain a vast majority of Chinese stay steadfast with their atheist belief.
Heavy chilling fog has been covering the summit. The mountain fog obscures the ground. Vision is blurred by the heavy fog. I could not see anything beyond 5 feet. The wide blue sky seems disappeared. During the 2 day stay in the summit of Heng Shan, the morning seemed to arrive too early yet the night approached too quickly. I shall pack my belonging and get ready for the next destination. But, I have no plan yet. Where’s next? I’ll only decide tomorrow morning.