Sunday, March 04, 2029

What's New at The Temple Guy?

Here's a listing of new, COMPLETED posts and pages, with the most recent listed first. (There are lots more in various stages of construction, but these are DONE.)


July 2019:

May 2019:

Technical Note: Posts are dated according to when I visited the site (or sight) described. That is, if I went to Yufo Temple in Shanghai on August 26, 2009 (which I did), the post about Yufo will bear that date and an approximate time. (For sites visited numerous times, the date of the first visit will usually--but not always--be used.) Any site can be found more easily by using the Guide pages or the Search box.
More recent posts will contain more general information: profiles of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, reminiscences of my travels, etc. I'll also use them to tell you about other activities (like videos or podcasts--soon!)
You can also follow updates on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Thanks!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

"My Lady's Parlour"

I recently ran across a book of short pieces about China, On a Chinese Screen, by the English playwright, novelist, and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham, best known for Of Human Bondage, The Moon and Sixpence, Cakes and Ale, and The Razor's Edge. (Links lead to online texts.) He wrote the sketches based on a 1919-1920 trip along the Yangtze River; it was published in 1922.

You may remember the 2006 lukewarm film adaptation of Maugham's China novel, The Painted Veil, with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. I haven't read it, but if it's half as good as these sketches, I'll put it on the list.

On a Chinese Screen is said to have been more-or-less notes for later stories, but each little pearl stands on its own. Strung together, they not only impressed me with Maugham's style, but actually helped me get a grip on some of the things I never quite understood in my eleven-plus years in the country.

So here's one that's explicitly tempular. It also happens to be the first in the collection (after an introductory note). Enjoy!

My Lady's Parlour

"I really think I can make something of it," she said.

She looked about her briskly, and the light of the creative imagination filled her eyes with brightness.

It was an old temple, a small one, in the city, which she had taken and was turning into a dwelling house. It had been built for a very holy monk by his admirers three hundred years before, and here in great piety, practising innumerable austerities, he had passed his declining days. For long after in memory of his virtue the faithful had come to worship, but in course of time funds had fallen very low and at last the two or three monks that remained were forced to leave. It was weather-beaten and the green tiles of the roof were overgrown with weeds. The raftered ceiling was still beautiful with its faded gold dragons on a faded red; but she did not like a dark ceiling, so she stretched a canvas across and papered it. Needing air and sunlight, she cut two large windows on one side. She very luckily had some blue curtains which were just the right size. Blue was her favourite colour: it brought out the colour of her eyes. Since the columns, great red sturdy columns, oppressed her a little she papered them with a very nice paper which did not look Chinese at all. She was lucky also with the paper with which she covered the walls. It was bought in a native shop, but really it might have come from Sandersons'; it was a very nice pink stripe and it made the place look cheerful at once. At the back was a recess in which had stood a great lacquer table and behind it an image of the Buddha in his eternal meditation. Here generations of believers had burned their tapers and prayed, some for this temporal benefit or that, some for release from the returning burden of earthly existence; and this seemed to her the very place for an American stove. She was obliged to buy her carpet in China, but she managed to get one that looked so like an Axminster that you would hardly know the difference. Of course, being hand-made, it had not quite the smoothness of the English article, but it was a very decent substitute. She was able to buy a very nice lot of furniture from a member of the Legation who was leaving the country for a post in Rome, and she got a nice bright chintz from Shanghai to make loose covers with. Fortunately she had quite a number of pictures, wedding presents and some even that she had bought herself, for she was very artistic, and these gave the room a cosy look. She needed a screen and here there was no help for it, she had to buy a Chinese one, but as she very cleverly said, you might perfectly well have a Chinese screen in England. She had a great many photographs, in silver frames, one of them of a Princess of Schleswig-Holstein, and one of the Queen of Sweden, both signed, and these she put on the grand piano, for they give a room an air of being lived in. Then, having finished, she surveyed her work with satisfaction.

"Of course it doesn't look like a room in London," she said, "but it might quite well be a room in some nice place in England, Cheltenham, say, or Tunbridge Wells."

Posted September 14, 2019

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Me and the Abbot: Venerable Hui Chuan of Hsi Lai Temple

The YUGE Main Hall at Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights, CA

For a half a year (roughly November 2002 to April 2003) I had the privilege of working at Hsi Lai Temple (Wiki) in southeastern L.A. County, which used to bill itself as "the largest Buddhist temple in North America." I'm not sure how that's measured, as there are certainly temples with more land, and possibly more floor space. It may be the largest Main Hall, as I can't recall seeing any bigger. (Now it's advertised as "one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Western Hemisphere.")

Anyway, my job had three parts. Mornings were spent out front in the Bodhisattva Hall, greeting visitors and giving tours as requested. Afternoons were spent mainly in the "International Translation Center" near the back (top) of the property, where I polished texts (mainly of the works of founding Master Hsing Yun) that had been translated from Chinese to English by others.

The Bodhisattva Hall is about dead center; the ITC is in the building at top left, just below the pagoda.
(Image from Hsi Lai Temple's Facebook page)

My third task was only three hours a week, and it was my favorite part of the job. I taught English classes for the "monastics" (monks and nuns): one beginners' class, one intermediate, and one for more advanced speakers.

And my best student was the Abbot, Venerable Hui Chuan (慧傳法師), who--schedule permitting--attended all three levels! In all my years in ESL, I have never met a more avid student.

The former Abbot was at the temple from 2000 to 2005 (with a brief hiatus in 2003), and when he left, became a sort of "Abbot of Abbots," supervising some of the Fo Guang Shan order's 100+ temples and centers around the world (administering them under the official supervision of the Abbot of Fo Guang shan, the main monastery in Taiwan).

Announcement from Hsi Lai Temple's Facebook page

So I was surprised and pleased to see that he will be speaking at our "old stomping grounds" this week; a quick search indicated that he returns fairly often. I hope some day my schedule and his will sync (or I guess I could just go to Taiwan).

One incident from my teaching Ven. Hui Chuan stands out: before, during, and after working at the temple, I was a student at the university sponsored by the same organization (then, Hsi Lai University; now, University of the West). At a graduation ceremony after I left the temple, the Abbot was giving a speech, and said: "Education comes from the verb 'educe,' meaning 'to bring out." Then, gesturing broadly toward me in the audience, he said, "James taught me that." Those around me were dumbfounded!

Another great story: This is a very sophisticated monk, a very well-educated and astute fellow. One day we happened to be in Hsi Lai Temple Museum's "Pagoda Room," in which an (alleged) relic of the Buddha is kept. Feeling pretty comfortable with him, I gave the Abbot a metaphorical nudge and wink and said, "Come on, Venerable. If we added together all the Buddha relics in the world, it would be bigger than the Statue of Liberty!" Taking mock offense, hand over heart, he replied, "Don't you know? When you venerate relics, they multiply!" To this day I'm not sure if he was pulling my leg, or really believed it.

One more observation: If the Abbot was presenting a certificate or award of some kind, he would always take the recipient by the shoulder and turn him or her for the best advantage of the cameras in the room. He always knew where the camera was--and knew how to work it! A necessary skill, I guess, for anyone heading multi-million dollar operations that run on charity.

The Abbot takes a photo op with members of the "Young
Adult Department" at Pasadena City Hall, December, 2002

Last updated July 13, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's Here: The New and
Improved Temple Guy!

Since July of 2004, my old site ( has been serving pilgrims, researchers, and temple geeks the world over, covering my experiences in Japan and, less so, China.

A January, 2019, web search reveals that the site's name appears in at least two print books--a travel guide and a book on geopolitics--as well as on numerous homepages--and even on Wikipedia!

Alas, I lost control of that site (built on a clunky old platform using FrontPage, a software program that's not even available any more). It hasn't been updated in dog's years--in fact, for a full decade now. However, due to the large number of incoming links, I will keep the site online as long as I can.

A screen shot of the original homepage

Meanwhile, this new site (note the "dot-org" extension) will share with you some of the many places I've been fortunate to visit--temples and shrines in East and Southeast Asia, as well as old mission churches and ruins in the American southwest (and churches in the Philippines, too, where I now live).

As I start to crank up my online presence again, this the new and improved version of that venerable-if-clunky labor of love.

Please follow me for more!

Check out The Temple Guy on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram!

Friday, October 22, 1999

In which the Temple Guy "Meets" the Emperor and Empress of Japan

It's ironic that my first official post on the new The Temple Guy blog is not about temples at all (although a Shinto shrine does make an appearance).

My excuse, though, is a good one: I am writing this post on May 1, 2019, as Japan enters a new era. Emperor Akihito abdicated yesterday and the Heisei Era came to an end; he and the lovely missus are now His Imperial Majesty The Emperor Emeritus and Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Emerita.

Today, then, the former Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the Chrysanthemum Throne, #126, they say, in an unbroken chain stretching back to the legendary Emperor Jimmu (660-585 BCE), who was the great-great-great-grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, as well as a descendant of the storm god Susanoo. Naruhito's wife becomes Empress Masako. The Reiwa Era now begins.

In this post, I take you back to October of 1999. I actually wrote this piece a couple of years ago on another huge project yet to be announced; it was part of a piece on the samurai Miyamoto Musashi, who wrote his famed Book of Five Rings in a cave (which I have visited) above Kumamoto, where this story takes place.

I hope you enjoy it. And welcome to the new, improved TheTempleGuy website!

A lantern reading "Welcome"
(This and the banner photographed
in my home, September 2017)
Oddly, though I lived and worked in the Tokyo area during my five years in Japan and passed the Imperial Palace scads of times, I had my only "close encounter" with the then-current Emperor of Japan--the son of the one who presided over the Manchurian invasion and Pearl Harbor--in Kumamoto, on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. The company I worked for in Tokyo sent me there to teach English to tax officers four times, for a week each; I was there  in October, 1999, when a National Sports Festival (or something) was held. The night before the event was to start, I was staying in a government-owned ryokan (inn) out the window of which I could see the Castle, and I noticed a huge crowd gathering in the area. Curious, I went out and discovered that the Imperial Couple was to make an appearance--sadly, in a hotel window, many floors up, and very hard to see.
The kind soul who gave me my lantern and flag
(Author's photo, October 1999)
But a lovely old man thrust a flag into my right hand and a candle-and-paper lantern into my left, and en masse we practiced simultaneously waving the flag, raising the lantern, and chanting "Tenno heika! Kogo heika! BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI!" more or less meaning "Long Live the Emperor and Empress!" Sure enough, once we had been drilled sufficiently (the Japanese aren't big on spontaneity), the lights went on in a window where the Couple waved stiffly side-by-side, we chanted, the lights went out, and people began to wander off.

The Imperial Couple in the hotel window
(scanned from a local newspaper)
(Next day's newspaper said there were 6,000 in attendance--or, as I explained to my friends, "5,999 Japanese and me." The same paper had photos of the Imperial Couple visiting museums and rest homes, and planting a tree. It was a Big Deal.)
Some of the 5,999 Japanese people in attendance
(Author's photo, October 1999)
But the adventure wasn't over.

As I joined in the festivities, I couldn't help noticing dozens of swanky-looking banners hanging around the area to commemorate the Imperial Visit. The red letters across the top read "Celebration," and running vertically below them in black were the words "Tenth Year of the Coronation of His Majesty the Emperor."

I still have
my banner
Determined to get my hands on one, I snuck out of the ryokan in the wee hours, planning to steal one, only to discover that an army of police was stationed at "parade rest" about 15 feet apart all along the area's sidewalks. Mission aborted.

The next day, though, I happened upon an old man taking one down. Girding up my loins, I strode boldly up to him, and in my worst Japanese (intended to elicit pity) stumbled out a request: "Excusing me, sir, but possible is to getting that?" He started to expound on why this simply wouldn't be possible, but perceiving the (not-entirely-fake) foolish look on my face, shrugged in resignation and forked it over. (I still have it.)

Returning triumphantly to my company's office the following Monday, I started to unroll it to show my boss when he made a warding-off gesture and hissed, "James-san! James-san! Put that away! Don't show it here!" It turns out the banner, and the sponsors of the rally I took part in (though not all the participants) were cadres of a nationalistic right-wing movement of which the loyal samurai Musashi would likely have approved.
Banners hanging next to the gate of the small shrine
at Kumamoto Castle (Author's photo, October 1999)

Last updated May 1, 2019

Wednesday, May 10, 1995

The Golden Spike c. 1995

Meeting of the cowcatchers (1995)

Milestones are always happening, and when we look back, we sometimes can't see what the big deal was.

But this one was a big deal.

Thirty years after planning began, and roughly six years after the work started, two locomotives rolled up and touched cowcatchers in an otherwise-deserted place in north central Utah in 1869, symbolically tying the country back together just four years after the end of the Civil War.

This month minus 150 years, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, and the "Golden Spike" (merely symbolic, and removed to a museum at Stanford University after the festivities) was driven at Promontory Point by university founder, former Governor of California, former U.S. Senator, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, robber baron, and at the time President of the Central Pacific Rail Road: Leland Stanford. The east-to-west--or, more specifically, Sacramento, California (680 miles to the west via the Central Pacific) to Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River (1,086 miles to the east on the Union Pacific)--were at last united. Both endpoints were already connected to rails that led to the Pacific and Atlantic, respectively.

Leland spikes it! (1995)

This sped passengers and freight, mainly from the east to the west--no more need for wagon trains or stagecoaches or travel on foot. What once might have taken six months or more could now be done in about 10 days. The country was literally tied (get it?) together. It changed everything.

Ironically, in the early 20th century, the tracks were rerouted; the last regular transcontinental passenger train passed through Promontory in 1904. The line was shut down for financial reasons during the Great Depression, and the tracks removed in 1942 and the steel used in the war effort.

Starting in the 1950s, re-enactors began re-driving the last spike, and in 1957 the site was recognized by the federal government. The Southern Pacific gave the right-of-way to the government, and a National Historic Site was founded in 1965. (Since March of this year, it's Golden Spike National Historical Park, thankyouveddymuch.)

Los dos locos. (1995)

Two sweet little locos, replicas of the originals (hight "Jupiter" and "No. 119"), were added to the celebrations in 1979 (the 110th anniversary), along with a mile and a half of track for them to run on. The originals had been busted up for scrap in 1901 and 1903. (Is nothing sacred?)

This was one of America's first "media events," with telegraphers spreading the news far and wide, but there were some interesting kerfuffles. For one, Stanford missed the spike on his first whack. For another, the spike itself was engraved "May 8th"--but weather and a labor dispute (so American!) delayed the ceremony to the 10th. Finally, though gold is symbolic and beautiful, it's also rather soft, so they pre-drilled the hole in a special laurelwood tie, allowing for gentle taps rather than full-on blows.

This year is the sesquicentennial, and quite a big deal has been made. But I was there in 1995, for the... the... 126th anniversary. (Is there a word for that?) The photos seen here are a bit dark due to poor scanning; I may replace them with better when I have a chance, but I wanted to rush this out.

Praying they won't miss the spike again? (1995)

In 1995, I was living with actor Robert Urich and family in Park City, just two hours away from lonely Promontory. (The nearest "city" to the spike site, Tremonton, has fewer than 8,000 people--and that's nearly 30 miles away. Farming communities lie in between. Mail for the Park goes to Brigham City, also 30 miles away, a metropolis of nearly 20,000--about the number that attended the sesquicentennial whack!) I remember very little about the experience (thank goodness for the photos!) except it was fairly crowded for such a lonely place. It seems today the reenactments and "locomotive demonstrations" run all summer long (11:00 am and 1:00 pm, Saturdays and holidays, Memorial Day to Labor Day--locos only at 1:00 pm); I don't think that was the case a-way back 24 years ago.

The best angle I could get on a truly historic moment--ceremonial champagne! (1995) See below.

Photographer A. J. Russell's iconic shot--champagne in the center. (1869) (Click to enlarge)


Just a few more self-explanatory shots of the purpose-built replicas first rolled out for the 100th anniversary in 1979. All photos in 1995.

Last updated May 12, 2019