One day in Shanghai, we entered a Buddhist temple on Jin'an Road in Xintiandi. Not the Temple of the City God. Not the Temple of Peace and Tranquility. Just a small neighborhood temple. I never learned its name.
Inside the dazzle of color, the mind-tickling symbols, the solemnity. The air in the courtyard was heavy with incense. The day was warm.
In the main hall, where the Buddha sat, the monks were performing a ceremony. Four or five elderly Chinese people stood in a row before them, heads lowered. The monks droned a chant.
A bell would ring. The supplicants would kneel on cushioned ottomans, clasp their hands before them and bow to the Buddha.
The ceremony ended. The monks stood and removed their red sashes. The elderly people relaxed and wandered into the courtyard.
One old gentleman approached us. He was very short and very dignified. He wore cuffed trousers and a blue jacket, impervious to the heat of the day. "Where do you come from?" he asked. He spoke English very well.
"The United States," I told him. "A place called Oregon. And you?"
"I am from Beijing," he said, proudly. He indicated the other elderly people. "This is my family. We have come here from all over China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth."
Honoring the ancestors, I thought. Very cool.
His next question came out of the blue. "What religion are you?"
I didn't answer. Not that I wouldn't. It's just that I couldn't. So I shrugged.
His inquiry took a new path. "What is it that brought you to this temple on this day?" His tone hinted at destiny.
I realized then that he was trying to reach me, trying to find a way to reveal the mysteries of Buddhism. And that made me like him. But I couldn't find an answer to offer him. So I asked, "Can I take your picture?"
He seemed to take it in stride. He smiled. He waved over his wife and I handed her my camera. We posed with him and she took our picture.
Here it is.
There is a Buddhist Temple here in Inner Southeast, too. Down on Madison and 25th. The Dharma Rain Zen Center. One of these days, I'm going to check it out. When I do, I'll be sure to remember my friend from Beijing.
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