Huayan Temple is a Buddhist temple, lying at the foot of Dalaoshan (Big & Old Mountain) in the west of Chongqing. There is a cave in the mountain cliff, and around the cave a temple was built. Water from the mountain stream splashes all year round just like scattering flowers (in ancient Chinese, the word “flower” is the same as “hua”) and thus the temple got its name” Huayan Temple” The grandeur and fame of the temple are composed of three parts: the Huayan Cave, the Reception Hall and The Imposing Sakyamuni Hall. The halls and the houses are solemn and the Buddist figures are stately and respectful. It is one of the most renowned temples in Sichuan.
Huayan Temple Scenic Area, Jiulongpo District, Chongqing
Source: Huayan Temple echinacities
In April 2017, I was invited by a friend and Chinese tea enthusiast to attend and serve my own table at a tea event to be held at Huayan Temple in the southwest quarter of Chongqing.
I’ll confess straight from the start that I barely know anything about Chinese tea, and that I rely on teabags whenever I drink any tea at home.
As a fair few in China may have discovered, local event organisers do like the publicity that a foreign face brings, and this was the principal reason I was invited, rather than any proclaimed connoisseurship towards tea.
About a week in advance, I went to a teahouse in Nanping District where I was given a crash course in infusing tea, and the basic tools that I would need to learn the use of.
I will cover the basic process of infusing Chinese tea in a future post.
The event itself
On arrival at the temple entrance, I was given a loose fitting dark grey cotton outfit with felt shoes.I took them upstairs in the ticket building and changed in a side room that nobody seemed to be using.
A receptionist of the event showed me to my table, and I waited.
Four guests were shown to my table, one I happened to know personally, and the other three kind new acquaintances who, fortunately for me, were more interested in socialising than the quality of tea service.
The organiser and a guest speaker who had flown in specially from Beijing took turns in giving speeches, then we all got up and queued in a straight line to our left of the giant golden Buddha.
When it was our turn, we held out our hands, and a monk poured water over them from a golden pot. We then all took a large candle and three incense sticks to bow before the Buddha and place them upright in the earth filled troughs. Once this was over, we returned to our respective tables and started serving tea.
There isn’t much to tell from the tea service. I re-enacted what I had rehearsed at the teahouse a week prior without any major mishaps. The rest was mostly chatting, drinking, and posing for photographs, including the drone that buzzed overhead every so often.
A unique lunch experience
The most poignant memory of the day was by far the lunch experience. The monks here have a large canteen hall that also caters for tourists with surprisingly palatable vegan meals.
We queued and waited for our turn. We took three stacked bowls and a pair of chopsticks, then were guided towards the nearest available seating position.
The tables stretched from one side of the canteen to the other, with a long bench down one side, and the other kept as space for monks to file down slowly and serve rice and vegetable dishes into our bowls.
Throughout the lunch service, there was barely any sound at all. At the end of our table stood a fierce looking elder monk who stared round fixatedly at anyone who dared speak. Whenever anybody uttered a word, he would crack his cane down hard on the table and yell that it was forbidden to speak.
Once we had finished eating, we filed out silently to the backyard, where we washed our own dishes and chopsticks in the washbasins provided, stacked them neatly into a crate, then that was it. Like many events here, there’s a strange element of charm in the way they start, proceed and finish without any official or organised leadership. Likewise, lunch ended and without any pronouncement, people gathered their belongings and casually left the complex.
Certainly, anybody interested in Buddhism and temple experiences would enjoy visiting Huayan Temple.