Dec 15, 2022
This is Chua Phap Hoi Buddhist temple, where I went the other day. I just felt a need to pray in some sacred place for a friend who is in great distress as well as for all others who may be. While I am not Buddhist, I do align with much of what that spirituality is about. Had I not been staying in a city right now I'd have gone to the forest as any wilderness area is my true sacred place...my cathedral...and I would have prayed there. But that seemed very far for me to walk to from here, and also I am not yet very familiar with this place. I'd be too afraid just walking off alone into any wilderness here, what with venomous snakes and even some sharp fanged and very smart and brazen monkeys who may not want me there in their jungle. Also I do fear unexploded land mines that may still lurk off any beaten path (but that is a whole other (and extremely tragic) story waiting for me to write about sometime.).
Anyway, I just felt a very strong need to go outside my apartment and find a temple where I knew I could light some incense and pray in front of statues of calming peaceful Buddhas and be surrounded by beautiful adornments created by humans with much reverence and loving hearts. All big temples/pagodas here are very ornate and lavish-looking, and in this particular temple, that meant right down to the big square gold trimmed and olive toned velvet floor cushion with a beautifully embroidered pink lotus flower in the center. This is the cushion which I learned is the one you kneel on to pray and which lay in front of and directly beneath about at least an 8 foot tall sculpture of a very kind looking Standing Buddha, carved of deep grey marble, polished to a glint and standing on a pedestal.
When I first arrived at this two story temple, which was about an 8 min drive from my apartment and in the inner part of the city, I was not even sure exactly where to go to pray. This is all so new to me and I am not at all familiar with how one even prays to a Buddha, let alone exactly where to. After I took off my shoes on the bottom step...which at least I did know that to do!... and climbed the rest, I saw 3 elderly Vietnamese women sitting and chatting at a table just inside the temple entranceway and I went to them to ask for some incense. None spoke any English or recognised the word "incense" at all though, and so I did a little mime of lighting a stick which they got pretty quickly (thank goodness, haha! 😅), and as one of the women passed me 3 sticks of it we all laughed together at our little struggle to communicate as well as at my funny mime.
They understood then that I was there to pray because many tourists/foreigners just go there, and to other temples, just to take photos. One of the women pointed upstairs as she knew I was still a little perplexed as to what I should do or where I should go now with my incense, and then another got up and motioned for me to follow her. We went up some steps that took us up to the 2nd floor and into the part of the temple where I should light my incense and pray. It was an entire open floor, with very high ceiling and polished dark wood pillar supports and filled chock-a-bloc with gold framed glass cases containing small Buddhas in varying poses and their "sentinel guardians", and then in the centre a tall Standing Buddha statue and behind an even bigger Sitting Buddha, and everything surrounded by and hanging with gold gilded adornments and ornamentations, big and small, as well as tall vases full of fresh cut flowers sitting on massive long dark jungle wood tables and tall lovely gold and crystal glass lotus leaf floor lamps...and lots and lots of offerings of fresh fruits in giant bowls as well as beautiful traditional looking Vietnamese white and blue urns for burning incense.
She turned on the lights for me and everything glowed golden. Like reeeeally golden. Pools of liquid sunshine glittered everywhere I looked in the room. The woman who I felt like a giant beside... because, although I'm just under 5'6" I always feel gigantic here as Vietnamese women (and men too) are generally much shorter, and the women in particular are really petite with many only reaching my shoulders in height, at most.... could tell I was new to all of this and she took the incense and motioned at me to follow her. She was talking to me the whole while in a very hushed sweet sing-song voice but I didn't understand a word...but I knew she was explaining where I should place the incense. The first place was in a big urn sitting on one of the massive polished dark wood tables that was directly in front of the Sitting Buddha...and which you had to get up on a stool that she pointed out to me in order to reach. As I didn't understand what she meant exactly as she patted the stool and then pointed to the direction of the urn, because I couldn't see as it was tucked in and surrounded by all sorts of different ornaments, she lit a stick and went up on the stool herself to place into the urn. Then she pointed to another urn off to our left, also surrounded by ornaments, but which this one I could see and she passed me a lit stick which I placed in a hole in its top and beside countless other sticks that were already burned with just their dark pink wooden bottom parts remaining.
The incense in Vietnam is a beautiful scent which I think is sandalwood, and that sweetish woody perfume will always and forever remind me of Vietnam, and in particular the big limestone cave temples beneath The Marble Mountains of Da Nang. It is burned so much and so often in those temples that the cave air is always almost thick from all the smoke rising from it. An amazing and mystical sight to see, as the only bit of natural light that streams into those caves is through some cracks and crevasses in the ceiling high up above during daylight hours, and when that bit of light shines through and touches any of those rising spiraling clouds of burning incense they appear to almost glow. It is so hazy and misty in those temple caves from all this burning incense, like you are being cloaked in a gossamer veil, and combined with all the fantastical looking sculptures there, "other worldly" is the feeling it all evokes in me.
After placing that second incense stick into its proper place I now I had just one stick left. The woman motions me to follow her again and this time it's to the other end of the room and to the right of the big Buddhas. We are walking on gorgeous soft velvety carpets that I'm sure are of fine wool and silk blend that remind me of Nepal or Tibet...which are both places not too terribly far away... and all my senses seem fully awakened because everything feels so foreign and exotic to me. And very peaceful and safe. I feel very very safe. It is just her and I on this whole floor of the temple, and if Buddha isn't feeling for me or looking out for me here, I know this woman surely is. We are two women from entirely different cultures, languages and backgrounds....but we had a connection. An instant bond. Womanhood for one thing, for sure, but also humankind. We know we both need the same things...as I believe most, if not all, humans really do...which are light, love and peace.
She pointed to the urn for my last stick of incense. She lit it and passed it to me and I placed it in the top. I pointed to the cushion I saw in front of the Standing Buddha and she smiled and nodded, and so I knew that was for sure where I should pray. I walked to it and knelt down facing Buddha. Without turning around I knew the woman was gone by the time I had knelt down. She had left me to my privacy. I broke down and wept, and then I prayed. 🙏
Da Nang, Vietnam 🇻🇳 🌸
PS> I did not take any photos of the inside of this temple...although I was allowed to I just didn't want to. I feel some things and/or times are better left to memory, and this just felt like one of those things and times.