Right, Left, Or Middle Way

By Stephen | October 15, 2013

6,483 km so far.

Quick note before we begin. There have been a couple of days now when we haven’t been able to access our blog. Not sure why, but it doesn’t always load. So don’t be alarmed if we don’t post regularly. We’ll be back soon.

We had a lot of planning to do today, and were very fortunate to have the help of the staff at Chinese Box Hostel. We want to head to Pingyao, and the staff recommended taking the faster train to Taiyuan, instead of the 12-hour overnight to Pingyao.

Planning this involved a lot of questions about taking bicycles on the train, which trains this was possible on, how to load our bikes into the cargo train car, when we had to be at the station, and booking a hostel in Taiyuan. Without the help of the hostel staff and their fluent Chinese this would have been much more difficult, time consuming, and we really wouldn’t know where we were headed. We think we have it all worked out now.

Lama Lama Ding Dong

Once it was all resolved and train tickets were ordered, we were hungry from all the brain work. So, we went to Veggie Table, a vegan restaurant that had been recommended to us by a Hong Kong lululemon employee.

Very close to the Lama Buddhist Temple, our one tourist destination for the day, Veggie Table is in a hutong with several vegan restaurants (strict Buddhists are vegan). They make delicious organic food, and with musical accompaniment from Eels (the band, not the animal), we had delicious vegan burgers with vegan mayo and chunky potato wedges.

Burger and fries at Veggie Table in Beijing.

Burger and fries at Veggie Table in Beijing.

Very American-style and very tasty.

Then we headed to the Yonghe Temple, also known as the Lama Temple. This is an active Lamasery, or school for Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, in the heart of Beijing. It is part of the Gelug (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism, which was founded by Je Tsongkhapa in the late 14th century. The school’s most famous adherent is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

The Yonghe Temple is said to be the most important Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. The complex is made up of many temples, each containing an incredible array of ancient statues of the many incarnations of Buddha. One of the most important, definitely the most impressive, is an 18m statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from one massive piece of white sandalwood and robed entirely in yellow embroidered silk.

The temple buildings are works of art in and of themselves, as the photos show.

Bow Down Before The One Who Serves

Jane was very patient with me today. I bought a box of 108 incense sticks in the temple gift shop (yes, they have a gift shop) and joined the many pilgrims paying homage to Buddha. Outside each of the temples there are candles with which to light incense, then a place to repeat a mantra, and then somewhere to offer the incense to Buddha.

Jane was surprised by my actions because they seemed religious, and I tried to explain to her how it wasn’t, at least to me. She didn’t really buy it. I will try and explain this now for all of you.

Buddha, before he became Buddha, was a student of Tantric Yoga. I am a student of Tantric Yoga. When the Buddha became the Buddha, that is, when he became Enlightened, his Enlightenment took the form of a teaching he called The Middle Way. The Middle Way, to my understanding, is a lot like the Indian tradition of non-dual Tantrica, which is the philosophy that underpins my yoga studies and teaching.

When I lit incense today, held my hands in prayer, bowing before the statues of Buddha, I was repeating mantras thanking him for spreading this amazing philosophy far and wide. I was not praying to a God and asking for things for myself or others. I was simply offering thanks to a real man, who did an amazing job of getting millions, billions of people to hear the philosophy that I hold dear.

This philosophy says that God is not separate from us; true greatness lies inside each of us. This includes all living things. We have a responsibility to love everything as if it were part of ourself, because we are all one, we are all the same.

Tantric philosophy, and the Middle Way, go on to say that it is not enough to be a renunciate and it is not right to indulge in the excesses of life. There is another path, which Buddha called The Middle Way. This is a path of living life fully. Living in a way that aims to benefit all life, to benefit the earth, the solar system, the universe, and everything that is in it.

Buddha in silk, Lama Temple.

Buddha in silk, Lama Temple.

I spent my time in the temple honouring the work that Buddha did in spreading this message, and in helping make the world a better place.

We Ate It Our Way

For dinner tonight we went to SUHU – Vegetarian Tiger, which online reviews told us was the best vegan Chinese food in town. It was definitely the best meal we have had in Beijing.

The restaurant was quite fancy, but the prices were very reasonable. We had an amazing vegan fish plate, which was made to resemble a real fish, with head and tail included. The fish was a popular dish at other tables and we couldn’t resist trying it. It reminded us of the sweet and sour pork we’d tried in our pre-vegetarian days.

Our friend Dominic really wanted us to have Peking Duck while in Peking, and they had a vegan version on the menu, but we’ll have to save that for another visit.

There is so much we didn’t get to do and see in Beijing, we definitely have to come back.  

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