A Journey Toward Salvation
By Isabella Ng Emeishan
Road at Last:
hopes an ambitious plan to build a vast, nationwide highway system will
link its remote western provinces to the global economic mainstream
Regardless of the weather, they follow the example of Xuan Zhuang, the
Tang dynasty monk who traveled to India to procure the Buddhist scriptures.
For modern-day Chinese Buddhists, visiting the holy preaching places of
the bodhisattvas is no less important than the journey of Muslims to Mecca
or Christians to Jerusalem. "Every time I go to the sacred mountains,
I feel closer to God," says Chen Meifeng, 61, a retired bureaucrat from
Shanghai. "I always feel I am more protected by God after each pilgrimage."
Even Emeishan, the most remote of China's four sacred mountains, is packed
with pilgrims all year round. Literally "Moth-Browed Mountain," Emeishan
takes its name from its ragged but symmetrical shape. It was here, on
the Chinese-Tibetan border, that the elephant-riding P'u Hsien, the God
of Practice, preached the word of the Buddha. The place draws Tibetan
monks who believe that, since the mountain faces Tibet, the deity also
protects them. Jia Bozhen, 69, a retired farmer from Hongya county in
Sichuan, has saved up her pension for 10 months to make the one-week spiritual
journey. "I want my family to be safe and for everything to be all right,"
she says. "I walk up the hill and back so that God will listen to me."
Detracting from that religious mystique, Emeishan has been turned into
an official tourist attraction, where visitors are charged $1.50 to enter
each of the 10 big temples and $10 to ascend to the 3,099-m peak. While
the pilgrims delight in praying in the temples and burning incense for
the stone deities, the tourists are enchanted by the misty mountain, the
lofty monastery and the experience of being carried in a wooden frame
by porters. "This is cool," says Cherry Lee, 20, of Hong Kong. "I think
taking the sedan chair is more of an experience than going to the temples."
But even among the younger visitors, religious impulses are evident. "I
am so stressed from work," says Yuan Xiao, 29, of Chongqing. "I hope I
can get some peace of mind through talking to God." As China races to
embrace the world's modern materialistic ways, the slopes of Emeishan
are likely to see plenty more pilgrims.
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