This week we return closer to home. I took the (then-new) fast train up to Shaoguan, where I began exploring sites from the life of Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan.
Although he was ordained in Jiujiang, most of Huineng’s career was spent in Guangdong. He was born south of Zhaoqing, shaved his head in Guangzhou (at Guangxiao Temple, which we have already visited), spent most of his career in Shaoguan, and died back near his birthplace. Many of the next several articles will relate to his life and career.
After checking into a hotel near the old train station, I walked west into the heart of Shaoguan, where I searched out a temple I had been to only once before. Dajian (Great Mirror) Temple is the alleged site of one of the most famous events in the history of Chinese Buddhism: The giving of a teaching that has been recorded as “The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch,” the only document originally written in Chinese that has been given status as a sutra, equal to the words of the Buddha himself.
The temple was once a grand place. Today it is more humble, squeezed into mere alleyways, and most of it appears to be more of a glorified apartment building than a temple. (Frankly, I’m sure much of it is just a re-creation.)
But there is a pair of old trees, indicating that something has been at that location for quite some time. They speak more of the temple’s past than do any of the buildings.
Authentic or not, it was a good place to start on my journey in the footsteps of arguably China’s most famous historic monk.