Tuesday, 12 January 2010

tour tale ends

Well, our tour of Vietnam ended a couple of days ago. Towards the end of the 5-day tour of Buddhist temples and sites which spanned the whole country, the organization became increasingly haphazard, but still we visited some holy gems.

On the final day, we were taken to "the caves near Bai Dinh". No-one knew what these were, but we faithfully followed the tour leader, driving through misty semi tropical valleys framed with steep, tree-clad rocky mounds. Imagine a romantic chinese landscape watercolour - steep mountains clothed in fog, with a lake in the foreground, and a single boat on the still waters. Add a pink bus driving on a winding road, and you have something reminiscent of that drive to the caves .

At our destination, we were ushered onto 30 small boats, and cast out into the lake. Quite soon, we reached a small cave entrance that took us into the heart of the limestone mountain and then after 120 metres of gentle paddling, out the other side.

This site, which is the second place in Vietnam where Buddhism was founded, back in 1 BC, is a series of 11 cave systems which snake through the majestic mountains on streams of clear fresh water. So, for a couple of hours, we were lulled with the rhythmic beat of the wooden paddles skimming the water, and we chanted a variety of mantras through stalactite laden caves. It was certainly like stepping back in time, and offered gracious respite from the otherwise gruelling tour schedule.

Nearby, we visited what will surely be a major tourist attraction in years to come - a nearly completed pagoda mega complex, the Bai Dinh Buddhist Cultural Centre. I think we all had mixed responses to this display of grandiosity: three enormous pagodas spread over 800 metres, one pagoda for each of the three times, and a temple bell larger than a local house, and somewhere, hidden to us, a 1000 year old temple built into the mountain.

500 Arhant statues are being carved (2 / 3 of these are complete) - each taking 2 months of labour, in three shifts a day. These flank the large walkways which enclose the whole complex.

Some of the 500 Arhant statues carved from stone, each 2 metres high.

We were shown great kindness by our host, but that did not dampen the sadness that many nuns felt as we prepared to farewell each other.

The ritual of exchanging emails was a small comfort for us all, as is the trust in the laws of karma. The familiarity that we all felt amongst each other from the day we first met, on the 28th of December at the start of the Sakyadhita International Conference for Buddhist Women, is a sure sign that our connections span beyond this lifetime and, if we do not cross paths again in this life, we are sure to maintain connections in lives to come.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, dear sister, for the lovely memories of your Vietnam tour. I was at the Conference, but as I've seen most of Vietnam, and my root temple is in Vung Tau, I decided to stay there. The next conference, I will do the tour with the nuns, as it seems such a valuable experience.