This last weekend, Krista and I found ourselves with a nice day and nothing to do. So we went to Changzhou, a nearby city that features the tallest wooden building in the world: Tianning Temple. The Temple of Preferred Heaven.
And of course I got a cold.
When we got there the first thing we noticed was the people slowly meandering throughout the various prayer rooms. The first was the Hall of Heavenly Kings. You can light incense and if you are a Buddhist, pray on the mats in front of the giant Buddha statue. At every corner was a king of old, watching with happy wisdom or what looked like dangerous fury. We left as quietly and as quickly as we could.
Our quick exit landed us in the hall of the Arhats. Life sized statues of monks that lined the hall on one side. Each one had a different expression and unique features making it seem as if 500 hundred monks were living, breathing and speaking behind a glass wall. The sight was interrupted when thirty middle-aged women entered the hallway and began singing in unison.
It made the entire trip worth it.
We watched in rapt silence as they passed by singing praises in their own language. They walked slowly and we followed them out to where a giant three-tiered vessel dominated the courtyard. The women began throwing single coins into the air trying to land them inside one of the three layers. I asked what they were doing and they explained to me that the coins were offerings for their good health. I drew a coin from my own pocket and thought about my head cold. It took about four tries but I did manage to land the money inside the middle tier.
I did not feel better.
That left the pagoda itself. It was 13 double stories high and each one was decorated with Buddhist art from around China. We stopped to marvel at many of the works before reaching the sixth floor. Much to our surprise we were forced to take the elevator the rest of the way. Floors 7 through 11 of the pagoda were still being completed.
A short 30 seconds later we arrived at the top of the pagoda looking at the 33 ton bronze bell that calls the monks to prayer
A velvet rope had command over that part of the floor. For the low price of 300 Yuan we could cross the threshold and ring the bell. However, you still had to wait for the appropriate time to call the monks to prayer. Not wanting to confuse the day's schedule for the monks, we made our way to the exit. We enjoyed a stroll through a nearby park before heading off into the sunset for home.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 22, 2012