“All acts done by the hands should be good.
The proper ornament for the throat is truth.
For the ears, the best ornament is listening to sacred lore.”
Siddharta Gautama Buddha
September 11, 2010 – It took me thirty years to set my foot on a place that has puzzled me since I was a kid: that is the Seng Guan Temple in Narra Street at Tondo, Manila. The very first time that I got to see Divisoria with my mother, a big yellow tower from the eastern side of the Tutuban area caught my curiosity. I thought that structure was part of building to distribute water or generate electricity. I never knew that it is a pagoda-inspired tower sitting on the roof of the temple, sanctified for the local Buddhist faithful. Thanks to our communication environment field trips, that I have come to know and understand a place in its reality distinct from what I constructed it to be.
Our Communication Environment trip to that temple near Divisoria was to me an experience of bliss for my eyes to behold great cultural artifacts, preservation of religious rituals, transference of belief and evolution of traditions. Recalling and writing about that experience compel me to go over my notes and what other’s teach about Buddha and Buddhism, that brings me to a state of enlightenment on the virtue of the words of Siddharta on human communication.
Less than a hundred meter from our house, right behind our parochial church is a “Chinese Temple”. The neighborhood calls it that way, not a Buddhist or Taoist temple, just a Chinese temple. Perhaps this local attribution is due to the decrepit knowledge of the neighborhood about the faith and religion of our Chinese siblings. This temple in our neighborhood is rather small, housing only two prayer rooms partitioned by wooden dividers with a single to two kneelers, an altar with small bas relief of the Buddha, and with small receiving area. This temple is almost always closed, except during Chinese New Year, Christmas and on the town Fiesta.
The Chinese Temple in our neighborhood is no way comparable to the Seng-Guan Buddhist temple. The only similarity it has is that it houses images of Buddha and etched with Chinese calligraphies. The Seng-Guan Temple is a picturesque of faith and tradition, of Chinese cultural heritage that handed from the ancient times and evolving through generations upon generations of faithful.
Buddhism as a Chinese religion is older than Philippine Catholicism. The Chinese people were tradesmen who bartered their wares and silk to the pre-history Filipinos, coming earlier than the Spanish colonizers. One should not wonder that a grand structure such as this would be built in the busy trade area, because that was the same place where early Chinese tradesmen settled outside of the Intramuros, a place called parian during the Spanish colonial times.
Buddhism is one of the oldest faith in Asia, older than Christianity, and forerunning Islam. The term buddha is a title, both a noun and adjective that refers to the enlightened. Siddharta Gautama, born 576 B.C. was the first human being to have become enlightened and consquently achieved Nirvana – the state of pure of bliss, that is not of this mundane and impure world, reached through higher inner consciousness. Stories about Buddha were passed through oral traditions, and scripts from his faithful followers.
It is the same enlightenment that Buddhists would like to attain for thier afterlife. In Buddhism, the state of one’s afterlife is regulated by the force of Karma – good begets an afterlife of bliss, evil begets an afterlife of suffering. Nirvana or heaven as explained to us is of several layers and so is hell, and a thousand years is spent in each state of afterlife until one’s soul has reached full sanctification to be buddha as well. Buddha is not God, but his enlightenment makes him above other human beings, and one of the many buddhas in heaven and close to the Supreme Being. Where one goes depends on how one lives his life on earth.
The temple is truly reach of many cultural artifacts. Although it was burned down, the community of Chinese people, in the area and in the country, were able to rebuild it splendidly. What used to be made of wood is now standing with stones, marble and other elements, a representation of the Buddhist belief of unity with nature.
Human nature according to Buddha is not all pure, the human thoughts are impure, and human interactions inflict suffering to another. It is to subdue one’s impure mind that one achieves enlightenment. This comes in the purity of one’s inner consciousness. Such knowledge about the mind, consciousness, wisdom and knowledge in Buddha’s time were way ahead of the advances of science. Buddha attained this form of knowledge by thinking about his thinkings and about other’s situations and thoughts. Without any scientific tools, Buddha understood so well the virtue of human communication
Communication which is a symbolic and symboling process is evident in the many ornaments in the Seng Guan temple. Most of them are not understood by others from other faith, especially of the Western Christian Religion. Dragons and bats are commonly believed as symbols of the devil, but for them they are symbolic of heavenly bodies as they can fly to the heaven. For them, communication is not only a human to human interaction, it is communion with nature, and even to the souls of those in the afterlife. Communication is cosmoligical and mystical in many sense, as evidence by the traditions that evolved from the faith and its faithfuls – handed from many generations.
With such knowledge, Buddha imparted so many things about human life, particularly that of human social interaction or communication. To speak of the good, or not to speak at all. To speak of truth. To listen to learn. To use and train the human perceptions and senses in its purity. These all apply to the virtue of human communication. While the world is chaotic, impure or evil, one can stand to be good and so consequently be pure.
But in that temple, it can be observed that believers live and convey some sort of traditions, that do not happen to be part of the Buddhist teachings at all. Since the Chinese have high respect and regard to their ancestors, these traditions have become customs that people do. Just like, thinking of why five different fruits, and why wrap paper money for the dead, or why light some joss sticks. All these are not in the scrolls of Buddhism, but they are wonderful conveyance of the complexity of human culture.
These knowledge about humanity, are oriental. Their truth is something that Asians should ponder upon and value. What applies to make our world a better place to live or what would work to make us more human is there in the teachings of Buddhism. I am not saying that we become Buddhist, nor denounce our faith. There are essential truths in all faith, we just have to reflect on them again and reexamine ourselves as to how they really work to make us better individuals.