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09.05.2014

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Every weekend, scores of Shanghai urbanites descend on a quiet Buddhist temple in the countryside of Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province looking for a spiritual retreat; the disciplined life here is a stark contrast to the frenetic modernity of Shanghai just 80 kilometers away. The retreats have become increasingly popular, especially for nearby Shanghai residents seeking salvation -- or merely peace of mind -- from the urban chaos.
One woman comes to the retreat looking for answers, angry that her children refuse to take over the profitable factory business that she spent her life creating. But Buddhism is often said to be a philosophy rather than a religion, with no forgiving God to guide or rescue its followers. These disciplines are the foundation of an idea that the Buddhist masters repeatedly bring up. Since the Chinese Communist Party came into power in 1949, all religion was subordinated to the central government and largely suppressed or persecuted, and traditional culture was all but destroyed during the so called Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Since enrollment opened on July 2, over 500 applicants were received by the Jade Buddha Temple for its two day meditation retreat. Meditation retreats are becoming more frequent among urban citizens who may not necessarily hold religious beliefs, but see the benefit in finding some peace amidst lives made busy by being part of a highly money-driven society. A visit to Nan Hua Buddhist Temple in Bronkhorstspruit – There is no greater peace than contentment. In 1992 the City Council of Bronkhorstspruit donated six hectares of land to the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order.


The order follows a humanistic approach, which means that the village actively promotes Buddhism through education, culture, charity, and purifying human hearts and minds through practice.
In the village are some 66 self-catering units, usually used for visiting groups or for the meditation retreats held at various times during the year.
And, almost every aspect of life at the temple, especially for those here on a spiritual retreat, is designed to reinforce mindfulness. Meditation features strongly in the retreat programs, requiring participants to sit still for as long as a half an hour at a time, concentrating on their breathing.
The Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple has opened enrollment for its second meditation class, and city dwellers are competing to be accepted.
The 70 participants were selected not based on their beliefs, but largely on their perceived mental and physical fitness to undergo 48 hours of continuous meditation and mindfulness. Only in reception are there murmurs as people come and go past the little shop that sells various Chinese Buddhist trinkets and curios to which my son is immediately drawn, as his grandmother has given him R20 to spend.
There is a meditation in full swing in the Kuan Yin Shrine (the Great Compassion Shrine), and a series of shoes are lined up outside.
The Venerable Master Hsing Yun sent one of his long -term disciples, the Venerable Master Hui Li, to build this Chinese Buddhist, cultural and educational complex. They have a strong global perspective, in other words, and have over 16 Buddhist colleges and 190 branch temples across the globe, three universities and numerous schools.


They also supply vegetables to nearby schools on a weekly basis to make sure children have a decent meal. The shrine to Samantabhadra is the Bodhisattva of Great Strength, whilst the six tusked elephant is a symbol of the six Paramitas – charity, morality, patience, effort, meditation and wisdom. Ahead of me in front of the central Buddha, a Chinese couple and their baby, tied to his mother’s front in a kangaroo, are busy bowing and praying, sticks of incense in their hands.
The centre trains monks as well, most of them local South Africans, and the whole place operates on donations, not all of them financial, given to help spread Buddhist principles in South Africa. I’m a little intimidated by the quiet and the spoken Chinese, and decide that my coffee cravings will have to wait. Meditation, the monks explain, trains the mind to recognize the floating nature of thoughts and disciplines it to concentrate on one goal.



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