THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
The Golden Radiance of
the Buddhist Lecture Hall
By Bhikshuni Jin Run
From the December 2008 issue of the Vajra Bodhi Sea
I was transferred to the Buddhist Lecture Hall in Hong Kong in 2005 after my ordination. The temple was established in Hong Kong after the Venerable Master arrived from China. It has been in existence for nearly 60 years. It looks antiquated and adorned like a small museum. A photo of Venerable Master Hua at a young age hangs on the wall next to Elder Master Xu Yun.
The atmosphere is very unusual here, probably due to a jade image of Shakyamuni Buddha that the king of Thailand gave to the Venerable Master. In the middle you see the Buddha smiling at you as soon as you enter the Lecture Hall. Next to the Shakyamuni Buddha image are holy images of Weituo Bodhisattva and Sangharama-Guarding Bodhisattva. Maitreya Bodhisattva and Guanyin Bodhisattva images are to the side.
One Dharma Master said that the Maitreya Bodhisattva image is an antique image that cannot be found nowadays. The gold on this image had begun to peel and we hoped to find someone to touch it up. However, I could not find anyone. Most people tell me that they cannot refinish this Bodhisattva image because of differences in the quality of the material. In August of 2006, we remodeled and repainted the entire lecture hall so it would appear bigger and accommodate more people. The laypeople were really happy after everything was done.
At about that time, someone told me that a master gilder from China had gilded some of Cixing Monastery’s images before. I was told that the man is a good artist and employers are quite proud of his work. But sometimes the final product is ultimately based on his mood that day. I didn’t know this person. However, I called and he came. He looked at the Maitreya Bodhisattva statue and said that he could do it. Also, he told me that we should do a deep cleaning of and retouch the gold on Shaykamuni Buddha.
I took a close look and the Buddha image really was dirty. The gold was worn out. He said he would like to do this Buddha. At first I thought he wanted to make some money; but he told me that I would only have to pay him a minimum amount, enough to buy the gold and some of his working hours. The rest of the work would be voluntary. I had a meeting with the elder laity and learned that since Shakyamuni Buddha came to the Buddhist Lecture Hall, no one had gilded it. Some were afraid that once this statue was gilded, it would be different. Every visitor to the Buddhist Lecture Hall knows that the smile and appearance of this Buddha image are quite adorned. I have not seen something like this in other temples, assuming they had a jade Buddha image at all. We have the best Buddha statue.
I was feeling the pressure and wondered if I could trust this person. Would he be able to retrace the same intricate lines on the Buddha image after all the gold was washed off? If he did a poor job, people who have seen the adorned appearance of this Shakyamuni Buddha statue would be upset. I talked to Dharma Master Gwei about the case. She said it is good to preserve the Buddha image. The master gilder showed me some pictures of his work in the past, such as his work at Guanyin Monastery (one of the larger monasteries on Lantau Island and quite close to Cixing Monastery). He received a lot of good feedback for his project there. Finally, I agreed because we had a tight schedule, as the Buddha’s Birthday was coming up. He told me that he could do it in three days. We did not believe him and gave him seven days. But he did indeed finish the job in three days. Amazing!
During that time, I experienced unprecedented pressure. It is not easy to ensure a smooth finish to the gilded gold. Not only are we gilding the entire image in gold, but we have to draw out its original lines of detail. He must be skilled with his hands. He told me he had never studied art in any school, though he nevertheless got a job as a painter. He spent many years building up his experience. I remember my art teacher told me how someone who never took an art class but merely painted based on experience could pick up certain skills if someone with that knowledge pointed them out.
Hence, I showed him some of the art work that I had done before I left home.
The Buddha image is seated in a glass encasement similar to the one at Gold Mountain Monastery. Together we took down the glass pane in front. It was huge and heavy. The gilder washed the Buddha with a very strong liquid, rinsing away all the dust on the image. However, all traces of the ears, eyes, nose, mouth disappeared too. Before he did the washing, I took many pictures of the Buddha to be sure that he could create the same lines later. That night I stared at the cleansed Buddha image for long while. I felt as if the Buddha were smiling happily at me -- a feeling I could hardly express!
He came the next day and started doing the Buddha’s face. I showed him the picture I took. He just looked at it once and remembered everything. Even the Buddha’s robe and its lines of décor were exactly the same as before. I told him not to add anything extra. We like it simple, the way it was before. He did a very wonderful job on the eyes, mouth, ears and nose. Very fine, especially the mouth. One drop more or less of paint makes a big difference in Buddha images. He did a very good job on the Buddha’s body (very fine detail). Fortunately, he was in a good mood those few days; while I just kept reciting the Shurangama Mantra.
We were all so happy when he finished. After he placed the huge glass pane back in its place to cover the Buddha image, he turned to me and asked: “I didn’t see him today, how come?” I asked him who this “he” was. He pointed to the Venerable Master’s picture. “Was he here these few days?” I inquired. He nodded. Knowing that, I was happy and relieved that the Master was helping us all along. The Buddha image was refinished in May 2007. For the Bathing the Buddha ceremony, about 170 people lined up at the door.
As we all know, the Buddhist Lecture Hall has four columns carved with verses composed by the Master. Although the verses were painted in gold, they were still not too clear. The gilder also proposed to gild the verses. We agreed for him to do this in June 2007, after his trip to China. This time it took him a week to do these four columns. Many layers of liquid and gold were sprayed on. After he finished the columns, the whole lecture hall looked so adorned, totally different from before. The place was lit up with gold. Coincidentally the day after the job was done, it was the Master’s memorial commemoration. We offered 108 dishes in Hong Kong. The place was packed. Some of the longtime disciples were really glad to see the Buddhist Lecture Hall so adorned. I was happy that they were happy. At least I was able to share and give something to them.
Then it dawned on me that the place was really like a description in the Flower Adornment Sutra which mentions: “The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas’ palace is full of unlimited pavilions.” It looks like a Buddha Palace. One time, one of the Sunday school students joined us for our Amitabha Buddha’s Birthday celebration. After he finished lunch, he told us that during meal ceremony, he looked up at Shakyamuni Buddha and saw the Buddha emit light while sitting in a very bright palace. It is very adorned. The project taught me that no matter how difficult the work, if we put in effort, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and the Venerable Master will help us accomplish our goal.