Amituofo – our week at a Buddhist Monastery

My Travels
We made our way south to Vietnam, and with great success.  We randomly bumped into friends from Winnipeg in Tavan- a village a few kilometers from the city we mostly stayed in, Sapa.  We decided to join a group hike through neighbouring villages, and our friends happened to be sitting down to lunch when we walked by!  What a great coincidence.

After our week in Vietnam, we made our way back into China, north back to Kunming.  The heat was incredibly humid just hours away from Kunming, so we were a bit more comfortable after that.  From there, we took a 7 hour train ride to Dali, and quickly grabbed a bite to eat before moving into the Monastery.

Yes, you read that right!

A Shaolin blessing: Ami tuo fo – “Ah-mee-twoh-foh”

We had found out about a Buddhist Monastery that allows foreigners to stay there one week at a time, and learn their choice of Kung Fu or Tai Chi.  Upon arrival, we were shown our rooms (men and women in separate quarters), and rushed to dinner.

Everyone has their own bowl and chopsticks which they clean after dinner, and keep in their rooms. This was the first of many rules. Dinner etiquette was at first complicated: we were not to eat before the Master (ShiFu) starts eating, and must serve dishes to everyone, then yourself last. Switch chopsticks to serve dishes to others. No talking. Hold your bowl in your hand- don’t leave it on the table while eating. If you just take food off the serving dish, it’s okay, but if you lift the plate, then offer to everyone else first. Eat everything you take, including if you drop something. Done eating? Wait until someone else at your table is also done, and then go to every other table and say the blessing in unison, bowing- however, do not leave before the Master leaves. Stand up when he says the blessing to you, and respond back in the same way.
The blessing? Ami tuo fo.  We may have said it dozens (hundreds?) of times over the week, but no one as much as the Monks.  These words were repeated  in the 1.5 hour morning prayers, replaced ‘hello’ in general greetings, and -what’s more- whenever anyone sees the Master, they are to stop and greet him with “Ami tuo fo”. It makes for somewhat of a challenge- as he can come around a corner and it is easy to forget that you need to stop and greet him formally.  This practice grew on me, and even after leaving the temple it passes through my mind.

Tai chi training was less intense physically than Kung Fu, which suited us just fine! We learned 1 form from start to finish, which comes out to around 4 minutes of movement. The slower, the better.  
Training itself came out to around 6 hours a day.  The morning prayers start at 5:30 am, so we woke to a gong, then singing and drumming until 6:45. Optional, so most people ‘participated’ from their beds.  The run started at 7:00, and we ran with the sunrise to the river to get a rock, and walked back balancing a rock on our heads.  This is a good example of action without action- I found it to be very meditative walking back balancing a rock, more so than if I were sitting in one place.
After breakfast, we had training again for 3 hours. Lots of stretching, including the famed Shaolin-style ‘power stretching’ where 2 people split your limbs for you as far as you can take.
Lunch, then a huge 4 hour break and again training before dinner.  More power stretching, Tai Chi. Eat, then optional prayers, and a strict lights-out at 9:30. I stayed up that late only twice!
When I say ‘lights out’, I guess it is more of a ‘headlamp-out’ rule. None of the bedrooms and most of the temple had no electricity. This did a great job of keeping us visitors outside entertaining ourselves… one night, we may have played the best game of hide and seek in my lifetime.  There is something special about hiding in darkness and suddenly realizing a huge stone lion is hiding behind you!

& then, barf.
After leaving the temple and enjoying my first shower in a week,  we both got violently ill. Let’s leave it at that in hopes it will never happen again in China!
Ami tuo fo!

View from a Brad: When playing hide and go seek in Chinese mountains make sure you look where you step in the bush or you might end up with something unpleasant and stinky on your shoe. I know from experience. The worst part being that it was from an animal that walks on two legs…….

(Still having trouble with pics/captions.  If they do work: 1. Yuanyang rice terraces (southern China) 2. The view from our homestay in Tavan, Vietnam. 3. Rock on head! 4. Tai Chi in a rainstorm! Okay, we thought it would make a cool picture 🙂 )

Tai Chi in the eye of a storm (me in the middle)
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