It is 10:05 pm and after sharing dinner and prayers, in addition to learning some concepts about Zen Buddhism and meditation rules, it is time to turn off the nightlight of this modest room formed just by a few beds and one (maybe -or not-) excessive austerity
Shijiazhuang, an unknown megacity on the routesALTITUDE 83 m No, Shijiazhuang is not on the road between Shanghai and Xining, our gateway to Tibet in this adventure. It becomes like that detour on the road rather than justified at the moment that Youlan Tours, our specialized agency in China with which we will enter Tibet, tells us about The only active Zen temple in China where monks agree to share their day-to-day life with foreigners even under strict regulations but also for discover a stone villa of unique architecture throughout the country or enter the Cangyan mountains in search of the landscapes of "Tiger and Dragon". Despite knowing where we were going, I slept great tonight on the night train from Shanghai to Shijiazhuang
It's 6'14 in the morning when after 11 hours and 23 minutes from our departure, we set foot in the still quiet town of Shijiazhuang (nobody asks me how to pronounce it) where they are already waiting for us to take us to breakfast. How hungry!
Shijiazhuang is an "absent" megalopolis on tourist maps, "capital of Hebei Province, of immense residential skyscrapers. The impression we get is that here has been developed another of many unknown industrial cities with more than 10 million inhabitants and where foreigners who drop are just looking for business. That is why large hotel chains such as Intercontinental have impressive infrastructure for them ... and today for us. What if I tell you that I have not seen such a breakfast buffet in my life with more than 8 and 9 different food zones (usually it costs about 18 EUR -us included-)? We also take the opportunity to locate
Our guide Zoe is coming from Beijing since our access to Bailin is allowed from the meal, so we will take the opportunity to meet some Shijiazhuang attractions. And do you have any? Yes, the first is to know life outside the tourism of Chinese society and for this we turn to the main lung of the city, the Century park
We assume that day-to-day stress leads people in mass both early and last to try to relax. Today is very windy and the Tai Chi It has been reduced to individual sessions but it is usually a good place to see how they practice it. The walk is very pleasant and more in the middle of April with the flowered trees. We can also see the television tower from the city, located a few meters.
From the park you can access many of the local markets where the commercial transactions of the population are carried out
Meat, fresh fruits, nuts, pastries, kitchen utensils and all kinds (chops come on) ...
... but the most surprising thing is to see seafood in a city that is quite a distance away. Something like that exciting Guangzhou Huang Sha fish market called the "largest underwater market in Asia" but in small. Of course, those mollusks, oysters, clams and "indescribable" bugs that have always surprised me about this country are not lacking
We have also used to change some money for gifts in a bank (although work has cost us). There is no doubt that as travelers (or tourists, as we want to call it) we do not stop getting partial visions of those destinations that we step on for, generally, less time than we would like. Perhaps because of this, this trip prepared and designed on average makes us so excited from the beginning. Being able to enjoy a morning in China every day, no more or less authentic than the one you see on the classic route, but if closer, where the locals do Tai Chi or dance and chant music, it is a privilege. It's time to take the car because Zoe has arrived and we're going to Bailin.
Bailin Monastery, the experience of sleeping in a Zen templeALTITUDE 135 m Reach Bailin Monastery in Zhaoxian County, just 1 hour from Shijiazhuang, makes it a very appealing experience (combined in 2 days / 1 night with Yujia and the Cangyan mountains or without them) for anyone arriving from Xi'an (4-hour bullet train) or Beijing (1-hour bullet train) , in addition to the night from Shanghai.
They should not have many foreign visitors (it shows that we are off tourist routes) because they were hallucinating to have us there and, in the end, they wanted to take a thousand photos with us
We have to recognize that ... we ate fancy!
Time to enter! He ancient Bailin Buddhist temple seems to date from the 13th century and has always been one of the most prominent monasteries of Zen Buddhism in China. Just the fact of approaching your environment and knowing what awaits us, puts goosebumps ... and that we enter through a back door
Zoe checks us in a kind of booth prepared to receive guests while Sele and I, excited, do not stop taking photos. Do you realize in the place that allowed us to stay today?
After a little exploration of the area, An accompanying guide accommodates us in our bedroom (It is not allowed to stay without him, he will be responsible for enforcing the rules). They are very austere rooms, with bunk beds and distributed by sex (men and women are not allowed in the same even if they are from the same family - children are also allowed-)
You have to be aware in the place that one is, a location where the "monks beat you" (then we explain it) if you do not eat the whole plate. The room is shared and cold although it has blankets and today we will be alone (so we "steal" those of the "no" companions), the mattress is a harder board than my washing machine, the bathroom is a mere hole on the floor where there is no paper (we bring it in the backpack) and the towel they have given us serves to cover our neck although as the water comes out frozen, there is not much to dry. The decoration shines by its absence. READ IN IRONIC TONE since it is a privilege to be able to share an enabled stay as they live inside their monastery, there was more
But ... are we really going to make life here rather than sleep? The experience begins when you go out the door of your offices and see that huge pagoda under which you will spend the night
It is a Chinese octagonal brick pagoda of about 40 meters built in 1330 during the reign of Emperor Wenzong during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). On the 7 floors you can see works of art by musicians, celestial guardians or animals.
It's around 15.30 when our companion appears, the monk who will accompany us until dinner and that explains a series of rules. From the moment we have entered the domains of the Bailin Temple, the schedules are stipulated: lunch, dinner, meditation, ... We are not allowed to speak, the food is the same vegetarian of the monks and the same canteen is shared. This promises, right Zoe? Zoe is our young guide fromYoulan Tours and although he will accompany us these two days, here it is his turn to respect the same rules.
Our devoted companion explains that originally Bailin was known as the Guan Yin Temple but since the Yuan dynasty it received the name of Bailin Temple or something like the Temple of the Cypress Forests due to the many cypresses that grew vigorously in the temple courtyard at that moment.
Bailin as a temple also suffered times of decline until finally in 1988 it reopened as a monastery with the only legacy of a Stupa of Master Zhaozhou and some cypresses on the ground, later it would be rehabilitated by Master Jinghui
Currently the monastery it consists of several buildings that congregate the Luminaire of the Hall of Light, the Main Gate, the Guan Yin Temple, the Bell Tower, the Meditation Hall, the Yunshui House and the Huixian House,…
They are around 16.30 when the monastery has closed its doors to the public and we are only monks and guests. Everything transform! Is the reading time and to start interpreting concepts of Buddhism and meditation
Zen seeks the experience of wisdom beyond rational discourse but, beyond theory, the Zen is the true essence of the Chinese Buddhist tradition. Zen practice began to flourish in the Tang dynasty when Master Huineng established a very special form of teaching. In his line of success appears the master Zhaozhou who led a traveling life in search of teachers until at his age of 80 he would arrive in Bailin
Our teacher sends us at 6:00 pm, dinner time in the canteen, and leaves us a Free time to take some photos.
The privilege of being able to enjoy the Bailin monastery completely alone is something that I believe we do not value at this moment of exaltation. It is a true wonder!
The afternoon begins to fall and it is time to say goodbye to Zoe, who has her own room in another area, and return to the rooms where our gloomy room is located. Will we really be able to sleep something tonight? Who cares!
Ready Sele? Time to overcome another challenge ... dinner!
The spirituality of a night in the Bailin monastery
"No! Not there!" Several monks, although without saying a word, they get mad at our presence in the wrong place and our teacher, until then dispersed in other functions, runs towards us to go to a long table run much further back. We have not had the best possible entry into the canteen and above we have managed not to go unnoticed to be observed by all. If we add some basic rules to this, dinner becomes a "wonderful" moment of the strict rules of the monastery.
Don't talk ... or they give you a stick. Do not ask for anything that you are not going to eat ... or you will not look up. Do not leave anything on the plate ... or you will end up with hands redder than the colors of the monastery. Then the reality is that Sele did leave something (I already asked for less thinking about the cookies we had in the room) and as much as I tried to sneak up to capture the scene, there was no way to "get hit". Anyway, with what I love you friend ...
The night has fallen upon us while Bailin now has a magical atmosphere, unrepeatable. All the doors are closed and even one gets lost in the labyrinthine fences that are directing us to places that look like others we saw during the day
Now it is another meditation session but we have skipped it. Ours is going to be in front of the main rooms in the light of the stars
It is difficult to explain but as we walk alone, in silence, it is as if the ghosts of the great historical figures who have passed through this place were talking to us. Bailin has always been an important Buddhist center throughout history and has seen eminent Zen masters pass by like Master Zhaozhou, Guiyun, Yuexi and Luyun from different eras, still well known to modern practitioners.
And if we tell you that the best was yet to come? They were around 9:00 p.m. when we approached the Bell Tower where there was a particular event every night although we don't see anyone. We look here and there and find no entrance until a lady appears from an almost imperceptible side staircase and indicates a climb. There we found a small room with a strong smell of incense and several images of the Buddha, with no more than a dozen people, a bonshō (an ancient Chinese bell-shaped instrument), some floor mats and the explanation of a kind woman which, unselfishly, explains a series of prayer movements that will be useful for the following minutes
What the next half hour happened I don't think I'll ever be able to describe it since some drums begin to sound coming from some upper floor and give us goosebumps until a monk appears praying in a singing way while ringing the bell at different rhythms. Unique experience! (and laces for the next days)
It's almost 22:30 when, still with the creeps, I finish these lines. In part, whether or not it is more touristy with the opening to foreigners, I have to admit that spending a few hours in a historic place like this surrounded by people who have decided to dedicate themselves to a full spiritual life brings me much closer to understanding something to which I have always been far away, to see a world absolutely contrary to the one of overinformation and madness in which we live. Good evening from the Bailin Buddhist Monastery, the only active Zen temple in China that accepts travelers (and I hope they don't kick me out because I've spent a few minutes of the curfew)
Isaac (with Sele), from the Bailin Buddhist Monastery in Hebei (China)
EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 0 CNY (approx. 0 EUR)