BURN­ING IN THE NEW YEAR

新年上头香,万人祈福忙

The World of Chinese - - Editor's Letter - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY XU JING (许敬 TEXT BY LIU JUE (刘珏) )

Throngs of pil­grims and be­liev­ers rush to Hangzhou's Lingyin Tem­ple to burn their first in­cense of the lu­nar year. It is be­lieved that this tra­di­tion be­stows spe­cial bless­ings on the faith­ful, and it is one of the most in­spir­ingly beau­ti­ful ac­tiv­i­ties of the Spring Fes­ti­val.

The Lu­nar New Year at the Lingyin Tem­ple in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, al­most al­ways starts with an in­flux of pil­grims in the early hours of the morn­ing to “burn the first in­cense” (烧头香)—a mil­len­nium-old tra­di­tion across China’s Bud­dhist tem­ples. Ac­cord­ing to Mas­ter Guangquan, Lingyin’s ab­bot, the first in­cense you burn in the New Year is sym­bolic re­gard­less of the time, but be­liev­ers show up ex­tra early to pay homage to the Bud­dha as a sign of sin­cer­ity.

An­cient cus­toms re­gard­ing burn­ing the first in­cense were more strict. Records state that the bless­ings went only to the first per­son to burn in­cense for the Bud­dha. Meng Yue, a Song Dy­nasty (960 – 1279) scholar wrote about this cus­tom: “Many pil­grims com­pete to burn the first in­cense in early morn­ing. Some of them lodged in the tem­ple, others got up in the mid­dle of the night.” Not much seems to have changed in the cen­turies since.

Cater­ing to the faith­ful, Lingyin Tem­ple, one of the most no­table monas­ter­ies in south­ern China and a na­tional cul­tural her­itage site, of­ten stays open on New Year’s Eve un­til 2 a.m. to re­ceive pi­ous wor­shipers, which can reach 8,000 at peak times. On New Year’s Day, there are ten times as many vis­i­tors.

First built in 326 CE by an In­dian monk called Chan Mas­ter Huili, Lingyin Tem­ple has long been the cen­ter of Hangzhou’s re­li­gious life. Known as the heart of the “South­east­ern Bud­dhist King­dom” since the 10th cen­tury, Hangzhou has a flour­ish­ing Bud­dhist cul­ture.

It can be cold, crowded, and com­pet­i­tive, but with the other op­tion is sit­ting through the Spring Fes­ti­val Gala in front of the TV, there are far less in­spir­ing places to be than Lingyin Tem­ple at the New Year sea­son in Hangzhou.

A MAN PRAYS BE­FORE THE BELL STRIKES AT MID­NIGHT ON LU­NAR NEW YEAR'S EVE AS WOR­SHIPERS FORM LINES AT THE GATE OF LINGYIN TEM­PLE, EA­GER TO BURN THEIR FIRST IN­CENSE

WOR­SHIPERS RECITE BUD­DHIST SCRIP­TURE ALONG WITH THE MONKS THE IL­LU­MI­NATED HALL OF DEVA KINGS OF THE MAITREYA BUD­DHA IS GUARDED BY SKANDA, THE DHARMA PRO­TEC­TOR PO­LICE ARE AS­SIGNED TO THE TEM­PLE PERIME­TER TO MAIN­TAIN OR­DER AND EN­SURE THE SAFETY OF THE LARGE CROWDS

A WORSHIPER OF­FERS IN­CENSE TO THE BUD­DHA

EACH WORSHIPER HAS THREE PIECES OF IN­CENSE; THEY LIGHT THEM IN THE BURNER AND BOW IN THE DI­REC­TION OF THE BUD­DHA STATUE IN THE PRAYER HALL PIL­GRIMS THRONG THE COURT­YARD OF THE TEM­PLE SUR­ROUNDED BY PIL­GRIMS, BUD­DHIST MONKS EN­TER THE GRAND HALL TO PRE­SIDE OVER THE CER­E­MONY

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