Yesterday I went searching for Confucius. In my effort to investigate and research the inter-religious mechanisms of the Tang Dynasty I found information in a book and an image of Confucius in a tiny mountain village of Shiz Huan Shan not far from Chongqing.
I armed myself with pictures, memorized Chinese phrases, and maps of the location of the village of Fohui. It is about 25 kilometers southwest of Dazu a main tourist center famous for it’s Buddhist cave. What is important about the cave that contained an image of Confucius and his students is that it is mixed with other religious images such as Lao Tzi, the Patriarch of Taoism, and Buddhist images. My theory is that such places of inter-religious imagery and inscription should also have Asian Christian evidence. It is true of the Caves of Turfan and the Tarim Basin in northwest China and it should also be true of other parts of ancient China.
Halfway to Dazu I got off the bus and took a small bus westward up into the mountains. It was an unpaved road. My kidneys were bounced more than NBA basketballs. The floor of the bus was caked with mud which gave me a clue as to where I was going. I was showing people on the bus my pictures and maps and asking them in my best Chinese the location of this Confucian Cave. Nobody could read the map. Dozens of discussions later, even yelling and shouting. They told me to get off the bus. I am not sure if I was asked to get off the bus because it was the right place or because I had abused their hospitality. It was clear I was in the wrong place. The name of the town was Baoxing. The women there make wire mesh soup strainers. There is one little machine shop with a wire cutter. This supplies them with wire of the proper length. After chatting with people and showing my pictures, maps, and speaking Chinese to confused looks someone asked me in Chinese if I wanted to pray. Sure (Dui, hun hoa) I said. So several old ladies took me on a realitivly short walk up on a muddy path up a hill and into a beautiful little valley. As we descended into into a second valley I saw what looked like a small brick factory. I wanted to turn around. I was sure there could be no place to pray in this place I figured by nowthey just wanted to show me hospitality. I could not have been more wrong. They took me into this brick building. Light could be seen through holes in the roof. In the back of this building was a cliffside which formed the backwall of the building (why build a wall if you have a stone cliff). In the darkest area was a cave. Inside the cave was a chapel filled with Taoist figures, some were about 20 feet tall. In the very back was a 1000 arm Guan Yin. It was her birthday they told me (her birthday was actually on October 19 but we were close enough).
Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion was a minor Indian diety who came with Buddhist believers to China during the Tang Dynasty. She was adopted by both Taoist and Christian communities in the 7th-9th centuries. She underwent a transformation in China. In India she was male and rather unimportant. In China she became female and for Christians represented the Mother Mary, mother of Jesus. Out of respect to these elderly women and an 80 year old Taoist monk who showed up I kneeled down to pray. I said the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. As soon as I bowed and kneeled a thunderous boom of a drum and the clanging of a bell announced the time of prayer. Heaven seemed to descend on this hidden cave. Several others then joined me and the Heart Sutra and another prayer to Guan Yin was chanted.
After a few minutes of prayer the monk took me into a deeper room of the cave only enlightened by distant light from outside the building. I could see these were peope who kept their faith alive for many decades. It was an underground temple that protected them from outside threats. I could see their suffering in the lines on their faces earned by worry and safeguarded by prayer. In the inner part of the cave was an ancient iron bell. The monk told me they ring it for Guan Yin. It was an interesting construction and not made in a European way with a sand mold. I was made in several pieces and hand welded by severe pounding to form seams. On the surface was several sutras to Guan Yin. There was no clapper and it was rung but an external hammer. The top was open.
They invited me for a communal lunch. Some people arrived after prayer and ate with us. It was an act of true community hospitality. I excused myself after taking some tea and continued on my adventure.
I caught another bus and headed west to the next village of Sanqu. I met a university student on the bus and she invited me to her home and visit with her family. By this time I figured I was not going to find Confucius so I said yes. Over the years I have found that delightful things can happen when one is open to experiences not planned. When we got off at Sanqu we took a motorcyle north (I brough my compass) into mountains. We went up a dirt road a few miles. The motorcycle driver told us to get off and we walked up a bamboo lined road past portions of the road that were washed out. A family was repairing part of the road. We walked down into a valley and through small gardens of rice, beets, and vegetables I did not recognize. Then we hiked up a very steep mountain on switchback trails, through a rock quarry and to a mountain top.
I learned from the girl that her family lived on the mountain. She was the first in her family to go to college and she was visiting her family this one day and would have to return to school the next day. I had such respect for her and admired how far she had to walk and travel just to go home. Along the way we met uncles, aunts, sisters, cousins. Once we got to the top of the mountain She showed me many native plants. Wild chive was growing on rock moss. We picked and ate Hawthorn berries. The site was clearly a neolithic site. I had seen and studied such places in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey where I lived for many years. There was evidence of Dolman foundations, water collection system, and carved stone floors. Dolman edifaces usually consisted of three large stones: one for a roof and two or three for the sides. These sites usually date back about 10-12 thousand years. I have measured and researched these sites in the Middle East and Central Asia. I am no expert on these places but I have worked with enough archeological teams and experts to have learned about recognizing them. This site reminded me also of the Anisazi sites of New Mexico. On these high rock cliffs and mountains these stone cultures find refuge and protection.
Although I was happy to find this place I was not so sure once again about where I was being taken. But just as we got to the other edge of this mountaintop jewel I saw a monastery. We climbed down some stone steps and I could see Buddhist worshippers inside a temple doing a walking meditation. We entered and joined in the prayers walking to the sound of a wooden clapper. We circulated through several rooms. It was an unremarkable room and I past several statues that revealed it was clearly Buddhist. Most of the worshippers were very elderly. My student guide pointed out her grandparents and grandaunts to me.
We left after a short visit to a few rooms and I received a blessing from the priest. No one asked for any money. They were clearly grateful that I had come and the student guide I am sure received points from her family for bringing me to this temple.
After a long walk back by a slightly different route we found the motorcyle driver (turned out to be her uncle) I was taken back to the town of Sanqu.
On the way back I made the motorcycle driver stop at a graveyard. Nearby was a Manichean temple. Manichism was a third century religion that came to China during the Tang Dynasty. Mani started out as a Christian but fused it with Buddhism to create a popular Asian religion. There are still believers in China today.
Then the cycle driver said he knew the location of Confucius. I was not sure if he knew or just wanted a way to earn more money. I said OK but I did not want this to take a long time. I was tired and wanted to get back to Yongchuan by dark. After a 30 minutemotorcycle ride I ended up at a family owned cliffside shrine. A man arrived and unlocked a gate. He took me to a cave and there was Confucius. I could not be more surprised. About 50 feet away was Lao Tsi and further on a beautiful image of Guan Yin with children figured around her and at her breast, an image often seen in European paintings of the 12th -16th centuries. Mary is pictured with Jesus at her breast. Could this be a Christian influenced Buddhist carving? It was a late carving no earlier than 13th-14th century. I have a very strong feeling that this is an example of inter-religious cross-fertilization of meme-like ideas that are well understood in cross cultural art. This was a Jesus cave/ It was far from the other carvings which demonstrated it’s minority status. Also the face of this Guan Yin was Central Asia (Persian). All of this adds up to my strong belief that this is a Christian (Nestorian) image. The age of this statuary may even suggest there is early Catholic influence.
I really had to get back. The motorcycle driver insisted that I go to one more place. Ok, I said one more time. My intuition to not go was proved correct. We drove up another valle. This time it was at least on paved roads. We came down a hill and slide out at the bottom. I flew off the motorcyle and landed on my rear-end and slide across the road to the other side. I got up and saw that the motorcyle had gone over a small cliiff. The driver was on the road rubbing his leg. It was not broken but now beginning to swell. He told me to walk up the hill and he would meet me there. He went to get help for hauling his cycle up to the road. I got to the top of the hill and met a wedding party at the foot of a quarry They were waiting for a bus and gave me directions to a small temple.
An elderly lady and care taker of the temple took me to a cliffside cave were I saw many inscriptions. I took a few photos. I found one inscription in the language of Pali (an Indian language used by Buddhists in the early history of Buddhism of China). It showed that this may be an ancient Buddhist site. In the temple I saw a wooden fish. This is a musical instrument used to call people to prayer and help with chants The image of the fish is to signify the awakened state of the believer. A fish has no eyelids and therefore is always awake. It is to remind the believe to be the same in a spiritual sense. It is the largest wooden fish I have ever seen although it is not think it is very old.
Then I was taken into another room and there was a thousand arm Guan Yin again. This was an enormous carved image. Each hand had an eye. The many arms of Gyan Yin represent her compassion and the arms are a reward for giving her arms to her father in hell. The eyes represent her all-seeing awareness of suffering in the world. She easily was accepted by Confucian society as representing familial piety and loyalty.
The motorcycle driver limped into the temple. He thanked Guan Yin for protecting us.