Culture Clash THE CULTURE CLASH Western civilization has generally progressed along the path of reasoning and a quest for external truths and facts. Contrary to this, the cultures of eastern civilizations have embarked along a more spiritual and mystical course. Eastern civilization has developed into an almost completely different culture that relies heavily on internal explorations, communion with nature, and mystical superstitions. I was able to observe these differences firsthand when I visited a Buddhist temple downtown on Chinese New Year. Buddhism is the belief in Buddha and his teachings and doctrines. The word Buddha itself means enlightened and that is the word I would choose to describe my experience upon entering the realm of this cradle of eastern beliefs.
The temple was a pristine, brilliant red roofed building encompassed by a high brick wall. Two heavy metal doors, supported by gigantic wooden pillars on each side, supplied the only entrance to the temple. Two great golden lions stood on the side of the door, glaring menacingly, as if to frighten off unwanted intruders to the temple. Upon entering the gates, I was informed that I was not to step onto the raised wooden footstep that ran across the entrance through the gate. It would have been rude and disrespectful to do so because it meant you put yourself at a level above that of the monks in the temple.
As I passed the gates onto the grounds of the temple, I was greeted by the deafening sounds of hundreds of firecrackers being set off in unison. As the smoke from the firecrackers cleared and I waited for my ears to stop ringing, a beautiful sight greeted me. The scene inside the temple was a mixture of serenity and peacefulness entwined with a feeling of jubilation and celebration. As my eyes spanned across the grand pavilion leading to the temple itself, I was awed at the sights around me. There were beautifully arranged trees and shrubs growing harmoniously with the surroundings.
The trees and shrubs, of bonsai fashion, looked like an intricate piece of a marvelous sculpture arranged by some magnificent hand. Though engulfed by hundreds of people, the temple seemingly blended into the surrounding as if to form some ideal picture of harmony. The people were a great marvel to see. Informed by my friends that it was a tradition to get new clothes, new shoes, a new hair-cut, and so on, for the Chinese New Year, I had expected people to be dressed up, but I was caught unexpected by some of the people around me. Some girls wore delicately woven Chinese dresses, imprinted with beautiful designs of flowers, dragons, phoenixes, birds, and other detailed figures. The men were divided into two main categories; the younger boys wearing brand new suits and adorning newly cut hair, while the older men wore the traditional Chinese coats and pants. The whole scene was one of great jubilation and joy.
People were cheering and dancing, with an occasional prankster shooting off another firecracker. My friends told me to get use to the sound of the firecrackers all night, for though the firecracker had been originally used to scare off unwanted spirits, it had now come to symbolize a time of great joy and prosperity for the Chinese people. My experience was not fully complete till I walked into the main worship hall of the temple. The room was filled all around me with brilliant gold sculptures of Buddha and other Chinese deities. Each was set on a lavishly decorated table, garnished with an assortment of appealing foods. The aroma of the food was offset by what seemed liked millions of incense in a rice filled pot located at each table.
The incense let off an aura of calmness and tranquillity that I had never felt before. I was told that the food and incense were an offering to the gods as well as a tribute to dead ancestors. Also found in head of the room was a large, bronze sculpture of Buddha lying down under a bodhi tree. Directly in front of the sculpture was an old, bald monk that was chanting some strange words to the beat of a drum-like instrument (I later found out it was Buddhist sutras or doctrines that he was chanting). The image of Buddha’s calm, peaceful face, mixed with the strangely alluring chants of the old monk, brought a feeling of serenity that engulfed me. After leaving the temple, I looked back at the ornately shingled roof of the temple in the background, and felt a sense of respect and admiration for the strange culture that I had just had the pleasure of being introduced too.
Though I had been in a seemingly different environment in which I felt I didn’t belong to, the temple had somehow been able to reach out to me and leave me with the sense of fulfillment. Religion.