I hesitate to use the word ‘mystical’ to describe the feeling and events of the day, lest it somehow damage my credibility. However, the way the day played out could not be told of under any other heading.
I am no stranger to such happenings, one of the most recent ones being at the temple above the Le Shan Giant Buddha where, although the front part of the temple thronged with tourists snapping pictures and devouts genuflecting, it was behind the spectacular altar where the meat of the matter played out for me. (see The Giant Buddha, posted June 2011).
Here again was that feeling of impending… something. I walked through the portal that was guarded by two giant stone turtles, each housed in its own pavilion. I was struck by the silence and a sense of timelessness.
This abandoned temple is built like so many other such relics, along the east-west meridian line. Except for high noon, the main path is highlighted by the sun’s trajectory. Building archways all line up with and coincide with the width of the meridian path. Courtyards or lawns fill the spaces left and right of the path, between buildings.
The first building’s passageway was occupied by a young couple, benefiting from the shade to play with their small daughter. As they were the only people I encountered directly during my entire time there I asked them why there were no other people. They replied: “The weather is too hot for people to be outside.” Strange… people were outside this time yesterday, and it was equally hot.
Never mind. I continued on after giving their little girl a small treat.
Come the second set of pavilions housing giant turtles, about midway through the park I decided to picnic under the watchful if not slightly menacing gaze of one of the turtles. I sat on the pavilion steps, unstrapped my pack, pulled out last night’s leftovers and set to. In spite of the heat I was good and hungry. The shade and a small breeze afforded me comfort while I ate.
During my meal, not an ant or fly came to investigate the smell of food. I ate at a leisurely pace but still only a handful of people walked up the meridian, and no one seemed to notice me at all. Even a couple whose dog was off the leash did not have to call their pet back. I would have thought that the dog would have smelled my food and come running.
I felt invisible.
All during that time the feeling I woke up with that morning, that I should go home grew to a certainty, and then to an imperative.
Pulling out my phone I sent a text message to my friends of the day before. Not making any excuses but leaving no room for doubt, I informed Celine I would not be able to visit her home, spend the night or travel to Yi Chang with her, as we had previously planned. She did not send a reply. Whether I had offended her and thus caused her to snub me or whether she even received the message never came into question. I was acting on pure impulse, directed from somewhere much greater than where I was.
One doesn’t argue with such a voice.
Picnic finished I disposed of my trash in the provided containers. So… it was not as though the park was totally neglected. It did have some modern touches like those waste cans, and some sprinklers in the grass. It was just mostly devoid of people. I walked on.
To the right, beyond the original boundary wall, a small stream. Back into the enclosure and straight ahead, a few outbuildings, no doubt the home and workshop of caretakers past. Now skirting the facility rather than walking the meridian path I came to the absolute back, and then followed the boundary wall around until the meridian line manifested itself again.
This last building, the greatest, was the Taoist temple. It too was deserted, somnolent in the midday heat. Well, not completely deserted. After traversing its width I met a monk seated at a table to the right of the main enclave. We exchanged silent greetings.
In all, the temple had 5 separate altars. I paused in front of each one. Here I did not have that feeling of profound mysticism like I did at the temple in Le Shan, the feeling I had been looking for and in fact been expecting atop the mountain yesterday, but I did feel the reverence and awe true places of worship instill.
That inner voice was clamoring again. TIME TO GO! It insisted. GO HOME…NOW!!!
Bowing, I took my leave from the monk and the temple. Following the meridian line straight out I emerged back onto the main road and the noise associated with daily life. There I pondered on how to get home with no train ticket currently in my possession.
I recalled from the previous day that my friends had to board a long distance bus, and that our driver friend had dropped them off at a blue fronted building, not far from where I had emerged back onto the main road. I was unable to locate that building, even after asking a couple of English speaking residents for directions.
It seems Wu Dang has more foreigners living there than many other places I’ve visited, and more than I usually see within a comparably small area in Wuhan. These two men, one older and more dignified, the other substantially taller than I, clad in a ‘wife beater’ type Tee-shirt and tattooed, were very friendly and approachable but unable to direct me to the bus station.
Spying a fleet of green buses and knowing that such buses make the run to the train station I headed toward them. The first person I encountered was a bus driver who, without knowing I needed a train station, gestured for me to board his bus. I asked him if he was bound for the train depot. He assured me he could get me there. A fare of 8 Yuan guaranteed my passage. Within minutes of my boarding the bus filled up and we were on our way.
That feeling of ‘meant to be’ was still with me.
When we came to the train station I had arrived at two days before the driver instructed me to debark. The ticket taker, presumably his wife argued with him that I needed to ride further. Now I’m a bit disturbed, knowing I am to be on a train, Wuhan bound. How was I going to do that if I’m riding shuttles all day? It was already mid-afternoon. The likelihood of my finding passage on a train was lessening the longer I rode the bus.
I had to force myself to obey the flow of things. So far everything had worked out perfectly, why would I presume to defy circumstances by imposing my will?
There is a concept in Taoism called ‘wu wei’ – literally ‘active not doing’. The idea is that one is not to oppose the natural force, flow or order of things. Kind of like when Obi wan Kenobi instructed Luke to ‘feel the force’ and ‘let the force’ guide him. Not that I think of myself as a Jedi, but the concept is similar.
Another thirty minutes saw us in a town of middling size. Now seated at the front of the bus I heard the woman instruct the driver to let me off. She then turned to me and gave me directions to the train station, about 100 meters ahead. The bus was headed into a tunnel and further down the road. I thanked her, shouldered my pack and followed her instructions.
As you might have guessed I was indeed able to get a train back to Wuhan that very afternoon, scheduled to leave in just over an hour. The money in my wallet was exactly enough to pay the 173Yuan fare. Go figure.
Again, that sense of fate. Had I insisted on catching a train from the small station I had arrived at two days ago, I would not have had the wide variety of choices this larger city and train station offered. I might even have had to spend the night. By going with the flow I found I had bought first class passage on a bullet train. I was scheduled to arrive in Wuhan a little after 9PM.
That was going to make it difficult to get a bus back to campus. Most buses headed that far out stop running right about that time. Once in Wuhan and at the bus stop, consulting the itineraries I found that only 1 bus line ran later than 8:30. Turning around I saw that that very bus had just pulled up. A rush to board, a flash of prepay card and I was on the final leg of my journey home.
The next day, waking up in my own bed, I noticed that the knee pain from my injury incurred during my spill into the lake the week before, so severe as to nearly cause me to forego climbing the mountain was completely gone.