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Ganying and the mountain: devotees' experiences, visions and imaginations at Nanwutaishan.

Qinling-shan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is a mountain range that measures1600 kilometers in length, crossing Chinese territory from the Gansu province ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to the Henan province ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Zhongnan-shanis a part of this range, and is located to the south of the city of Xian ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), in the Shaanxi province (RH).Nanwutai-shan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is located to the south of Zhongnan-shanand is also called Taiyi-shan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Fan, 2003) or Taiyi-feng ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Gaohenian, 1995). (1) Biographies of eminent Buddhist monks who once lived on the mountain or played an important role in the Buddhism of Zhongnanshancan be found in several classics. Buddhist dictionaries, memoirs by devotee Gaohenian ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) about his travels through the mountains, and the content of articles in some Buddhist magazines in the early 20th century are a few other sources that sketch the general map of Buddhism atZhongnan-shan.

In the early 5th century, Master Kumarajiva ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (344-413) (2) arrived in China. This master from the Kuchakingdom settled into the Xiayao-yuan monastery ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), to the north of Guifeng-shan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), onZhongnan-shan. Xiayao-yuan was built towards the end of the Jin Oriental dynasty (317-420). The Caotangsi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which was where Kumarajrva would meet with his group of translators, was built in the same monastery later on.

The Lu-zong ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) or Nanshan-zong ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) lineage, founded by the famous MasterDaoxuan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (596-667),also thrived in the area. It is called Nanshan because Daoxuansought refuge while practicingDharma at the Jingye-si monastery ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) on Zhongnan-shan (orNanshan). Daoxuan'stemple -where it is said the Buddha sent him revelations--became a site on a par with the original Jetavana, which participated in the reality of the ideal or mythical Jetavana (Granoff&Shinohara, 2003).

One of the masters from the Pure Land lineage ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) was the eminent Shandao ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (613-681), who was also known as "The Great Master of Zhongnan", ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]),because he lived and preached Dharma at the Wuzhen-si monastery ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), on Zhongnan-shan. It is said that when he died, his disciple buried his ashes at the foot of Zhongnan-shanand built a pagoda in memory of his teacher (Zhongguo Fojiao Xiehui, 1982). At present, this place is the Xiangji-si Pure Land monastery ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])(see Figure 1) and the pagoda is called Chongling ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Fengmao, 1987).

Zhongnan-shanis also associated with the history of the Huayan lineage. Fashun, ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (557-640) orDushun ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), who is traditionally considered the first of five patriarchs in this lineage, as well as the other four patriarchs, Zhiyan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), Fazang ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), Chengguan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) andZongmi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Ch'en, 1964)lived onZhongnan-shan. It was believed that Fashun's spirit had appeared on the mountain, and thus the name "The Zhongnan Master" came about (Huang, 1989).

Zongmi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (780-841), a Chanmaster and the fifth Huayanpatriarch, is known as Guifeng ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), which is also the name of one of the peaks of Zhongnan-shan. After studying reading material from the Huayan lineage and Buddhist canonical texts for two years, he left the capital in 816 and continued his research in several temples on Zhongnan-shan (Gregory, 1995).

Zhongnan-shan (see Figure 2) played a leading role in Chinese Buddhist history, specifically during the Tang dynasty. The lineages that developed during this period were established at the mountain, and an important number of eminent monks lived on Zhongnan. This historical background shapes the cultural space that simultaneously makes it possible to outline the mental space, the pilgrimage maps, the places where temples and monasteries were built, and the paths leading to the maopeng ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])(3). Physical space is thus hallowed for Buddhists.

This holy space became weakened during certain periods and gained strength in others, which proves that it is in constant change. The degree of transformation will depend on the historical circumstances together with the endeavor of the devotees and the monks to maintain and revive temples. Nanwutai-shan makes this process clear; the ganyingexperience of the devotees that live on or visit Nanwutai today helps us understand how the physical transformations that invade the holy space are fashioned.

Record of Nanwutai-shan

The Nanwutai Mountain, whose name signifies the Five Peaks of the South, owes its name to the five peaks or pinnacles called tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). However, when visiting the mountain it is possible to observe that the area has more than five tai. Not only are there the Guanyin-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Wenshu-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Qingliang-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Sheshen-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and the Lingyin-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), there are also the Songdeng-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Jieyin-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Heihu-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and the Doushuai-tai ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). If the theory of the number five is taken into consideration, the selection of five tai would indicate a naming process that is not consistent with the geographic reality but rather follows the classification corresponding to Chinese cosmology, and adjusts to that sacred order. In addition, the first five taiare considered the most important because they are the five highest peaks in the mountainous area of Nanwutai-shan.

When Buddhism reached the mountain, the five tai turned into the homes of Bodhisattvas. Although only two of the five most important peaks mentioned above carry the name of a Bodhisattva--Guanyin and Wenshu ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Manjusri)--it is common for visitors to associate the five tai with five Bodhisattvas.

"The Historical Memories of the Shengshou-si", by Master Guangkuan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (1997), confirms the legend told by Master Yinguang in the preface to the PutuoLuojia Xin-zhi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The legend tells of what happened on Nanwutai-shan during the Renshou era ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (601-604), in the Sui dynasty. It is about the transformation of Bodhisattva Guanyin into a Buddhist monk and the subjugation of the dragon (Yu, 2001). This legend lays the foundation for the devotion to Guanyin and the different temples where the image of the Bodhisattva is foremost among other divinities. The fact that several of the ganying experiences of the devotees are with this Bodhisattva or are interpreted according to it also stems from this.

Furthermore, one of the legends of the mountain narrates the appearance of five knights who worked together to conquer the venomous dragon. Although the narration only mentions the name Guanyin, the other knights are associated with the Bodhisattvas Wenshu, Dizang ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Ksitigarbha), Dashizhi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Mahasthamaprapta) and Puxian ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Samantabhadra), or the generic name "Bodhisattvas" is simply used.

The Concept of Ganying

Robert Sharf(2002) emphasizes how the concept of ganyingis implicit in Chinese cosmology, where the five elements converge and create the universe by means of this sympathetic resonance or "stimulation-response". From this perspective, Sharfaffirms that ganying is a mode of seemingly spontaneous response (although not in the sense of "uncaused") natural in a universe conceived holistically in terms of pattern and interdependent order. [ ...] It would seem that the development of correlative systems preceded the notion of sympathetic resonance, and Henderson has argued that the former need not entail the latter; that is, not all correlated phenomena resonate with each other (1984:22-25). Be that as it may, by the Han the notion of resonance was explicitly used to explain or rationalize the mechanism behind the elaborate system of correlated categories generally known as five-phase thought (Sharf, 2002, p. 83).

The ideal of the wise king in the Huai Nan Ziis also related to the sense of ganying, mainly by its connection to the concept of wuwei ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]); when the wise king does not act (wuwei), it means that he flows with the natural transformation of things (Sharf, 2002).

Sharfadds, however, that the concept of ganyingis manifested in the principle of moral retribution, because good and badactions are rewarded and punished in it:

While the notion of moral retribution (pao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) meted out in this life or the next was indebted to Buddhist notions of karma and rebirth, in medieval times it emerged as a fundamental principle of Chinese popular religious belief and practice, irrespective of one's religious affiliation. This doctrine was propagated through innumerable tales of miraculous retribution (Sharf, 2002, p. 94).

Sharf concludes the first part of his study by stating that the ganying principle was used to explain celestial omens, moral retribution, ritual efficacy, natural and astronomical cycles, political upheaval, and so on. (4)

It is difficult not to associate the term ganying with a concept that is primarily used in traditional religious studies: hierophany. Eliade (1987) proposes that the term expresses the manifestation of the sanctity of an object. Sanctity is manifested in itself as a power different from the forces of nature. Any hierophany transforms the place where it appears, turning space sacred. It also transforms time, marking a large distance between the profane and magical-religious time. The study of this concept penetrates the meaning of symbolic life and reveals the purpose of symbolism in general (Eliade, 1987).

It is observed that hierophanyis manifested as the appearance of a god or the revelation of a power, which in turn transforms time and space. Ganyingis the stimulus-response, displayed by the appearance of a divinity or by supernatural occurrences, which could also be interpreted as the power of that divinity. Also, ganying transforms a place and makes it sacred.

However, the interaction and connection with the supernatural are different, since the role played by a devotee to reach ganying with the divinity is crucial. The devotee asks, calls or stimulates the divinity to become present and answer to his or her needs. The devotee may not necessarily ask for something specific, but he or she knows that he or she will achieve ganying by being in a sacred place. In turn, this interaction between the devotee and the divinity is not necessary for hierophany to occur, although it is crucial to achieve ganying. Derived from the above, the following concept of ganyingis understood from an elemental viewpoint, the emotional one:

The "stimulus" (gan) is the emotional stimulus and the emotion itself (also gan): a feeling is what moves the heart/mind; the ensuing "movement" of the heart is the correspondence, ying, of event and feeling. As a verb, gan means both to affect and to be affected, also to move or stir (feelings); as a noun, "affect or feeling" (Gomez, 2011, p. 545).

The manner in which the "stimulus-response" is understood herein has to do with the feeling that allows a response to such a feeling unfold. Ganyingis a term that is used both in a universal sense, as occurs in Chinese cosmology, and in an individual one within the mental and emotional space of an individual, in this case, a Buddhist devotee. The latter suggests that the physical space where a devotee experiencing ganyingis located, is renewed time and time again as a holy place, because this space merges with the internal perception of the individual.

Unlike hierophany, which transforms a place into a holy space, ganying comes about in a place that may already be considered sacred. In China, it has been the belief since ancient times that mountains are the dwelling place of gods; that divine presence is called ling. In Buddhism, ling holds several meanings such as "spirit, energy, efficacy, intelligence" (Soothill & Hodous, 1951, p. 489).

Experiences of Nanwutai-shan Residents and Visitors

When carrying out my research during the months of June and July of 2008 at the Nanwutai Mountain, in the Xian Province, I studied how devotees at the Baiyi Temple visualize the image of the Bodhisattva Guanyin. Among the different perceptions, experiences and elements that have influence on their conception of the image, the TV series Guanyin Chuanqi contributes to the imagery of the Baiyi-tang group of devotees.

I analyzed the central consecrated image of the temple, that is, the White-Robed Guanyin. The idea was to know whether this icon of Bodhisattva would be an iconographic reference in the Buddhist imagery of the devotees or not, and whether other elements had influence on their conception of the Bodhisattva's appearance. In order to find out, a study going beyond the iconographic analysis of the image was necessary. A devoteecan give us access to certain meanings that are not obvious in the visual representation, that is, it is the road to understanding a certain image's moral, historical or cultural content.

During the field work done at the Baiyi Temple, I discovered multiple factors that contribute to the conception that the devotees have of a divine image. During the interviews, I observed how fundamental it was to know the story of the temple and the role that the devotees played in its reconstruction. The icon of the White-Robed Guanyin that is at the temple is one of the representations with the most influence on the devotees' perception of the image of Guanyin, as well as the representation of Guanyin from the TV series Guanshiyin Chuanqi. I believe that the TV series is a new element in China, and I suggest that it should be further studied to know more about the Buddhist imagery of the devotees in this country. (5)

Throughout the study I noticed that dreams and visions are the elements that act as means or connectors between the image of Guanyin and the devotee.Similarly, several of these experiences of dreams and visions were answers to the devotees' prayers or a manifestation of the presence of Guanyin on the mountain, and therefore, they reached ganying with the Bodhisattvaon the mountain. Some female devotees said that they had seen a very bright light and then the figure of the Bodhisattva. Others dreamt that Guanyin or Buddha Amituo cured their illnesses. One of them described a dream in which she saw a dragon that blocked the way out. When a serpent suddenly appeared, the devotee became very afraid and started to call for Buddha Amituo again and again. Guanyin appeared at that instant, and the devotee immediately stopped being afraid of the dragon and the serpent.

The visions and dreams of the devotees responded to an iconographic and descriptive aspect of Guanyin, but they were also ganying experiences with the divinity. Therefore, in June 2011, I returned to the mountain and interviewed people who lived on Nanwutaior went there on a pilgrimage. The guohuiormiaohui, a festivity held in the temples, is celebrated during this month each year. Pilgrims ascend to the highest peak of the mountain during this celebration and many lodge at the temples or at the tangfang-miao, or they spend the last night of the guohuion the Guanyin-tai peak. The ganying experiences that they describe were one of the fundamental elements to understand the interaction between the mountainous space and the devotee, which constructs the sanctity of the mountain. In this paper I describe part of the research I conducted from 2011 through 2013. It corresponds to my Ph.D. thesis work, which I will conclude this year. I will next mention some of the experiences that the devotees described to me, and then go into depth with a brief analysis.

The nunFachuan was living in the Sansheng-dian, one of the abandoned temples of Nanwutaithat, with the passage of time, had turned into an abode for monks and nuns--Taoists or Buddhists--that come to practice at the mountain. It is also the home of female devotee Yang, who usually lives in it during the summer months.

The figure of the luohan is an ideal in Fachuan's practice, which is why she goes to the mountains where it is possible to perform ascetic practices. She travels to Zhongnan-shan because she knows the history of the place and because she knows that eminent monks once lived on this mountain.

Since the temple where Fachuan lives is located next to the path taken by pilgrims, several people would often visit her. Fachuan would transmit Buddhist teachings during her conversations with the visitors, and she described herganying experiences with the Bodhisattva (6) on the mountain on several occasions. One of the most common ganying, Fachuan said, was that the Bodhisattva would communicate with her to tell her, for example, of someone's arrival at the temple. This happened when I visited her for the third time, and upon my arrival she asked me if I had knocked on the door; I answered no, that the door was open. She then understood that the Bodhisattva had announced my arrival, a situation that she often experiences whenever someone visits her.

Another Buddhist nun on the mountain was Chengguang. She lived in the Songdeng-tai (see Figure 3), an abandoned temple on the top of a hill with the same name. The first year that Chengguang practiced her religious service, she became disappointed in the life of the monasteries, and therefore decided to follow her own road and isolate herself on the mountain. She says that for her, life on the mountain is comfortable, simple and rudimentary. She has the necessary tools for daily use at the Songdeng-tai temple. For her, the Songdengtai is similar to a xiaoan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), a small hut, where she can live in a simple and isolated fashion. The physical exertion to reach the top of the hill brings her a feeling of well being and mental calmness. She says that these everyday hardships keep her happy; she believes that her reward in the future will be to reach the Pure Land of Buddha Amituo: "my joy is not small, so my heart remains calm, free of all illusion".

Chengguang had never been to the Songdeng-tai until "the Buddha and the Bodhisattva guided her there".

   Here one can advance more quickly in their practice, whereas in a
   monastery, with other distractions, the mind is incapable of
   becoming elevated, and so the process [of release] is slower. The
   Buddha and the bodhisattvas taught me to see the way. That's how
   they planned it, they let me see the negative side of some things
   and that taught me to not be like the nuns in monasteries. This
   way, I no longer walk a path full of curves, but neither is it
   about escaping the samsara and not having compassion. One can find
   the path to release in solitude, and when I have the answer to that
   I will pass it on to others so that they may follow the path of

Also, Chengguang described a supernatural occurrence that happens every ninth month of the year: a red light appears over the Songdeng-tai and floats covering every niche of Nanwutai-shan, to bring times of prosperity to the devotees. On the 16th of the ninth month of 2010, Chengguangsaw something very similar to that light; that day she woke up and opened the door to the kitchen, and perceived a strong red shine in the valley. It struck her very odd to see such an intense light because the sun had already risen and it was not possible for the sky to be so illuminated. At that moment she noticed that the light came from a red cloud that was floating in the middle of the space; "its light was strong enough to light up everything around it". Chengguang went back into her room, and when she left it the cloud was no longer there. Some people told her afterwards that the red light is seen from the Songdeng-tai every year.

Chengguang emphasizes the favorable conditions of the Songdeng-tai to for the practice of Buddhism; "some people have very cluttered minds, but their minds immediately become balanced after a staying here a few days". The nun has prepared a room to receive those who decide to stay for a while to meditate at the temple. She says that she has received several people, including a mother with a sick son who was cured during their stay at the Songdeng-tai. Chengguang asserts that the magic of the place cures their illnesses or heals their mental problems.

The Doushuai-tai, another peak in the mountainous area of Nanwutai, is the home of the nun Kulan. After becoming a nun,she decided to go to Nanwutai-shan in 2000, when her mother died. She does not allow touristsentry, since she says that she prefers to receive people who truly practice Buddhism and not those who only go to the mountain to have fun. This is why the front door is almost always closed and "no tourists allowed" is written on the front.

Kulan has read sutras since before she became a nun. Over time, she reached a point that whenever she started reading, she could not control herself and would cry. Even today, the emotion caused by reading the shtrasis so intense or profound for her that she cannot read without shedding a tear.

Kulan says that at Zhongnan-shan the power of the mind is unlimited, "there are no veils that keep you from practicing; an exceptional mental control is achieved". She says that when one practices on the mountain, the ability to meditate and lead a Buddhist life improves; she declares that the devotees who have gone to Nanwutai-shanand then returned home are capable of helping other people; "not only monks come to have these abilities, lay persons [live as though they were] people who have renounced a home life (chujia [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) or as bodhisattvas in their own homes".

Juezun ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) is a monk from the Xiangjisi monastery (located near the Zhongnan-shan). He arrived in the Baiyi-tang temple in 2008, where he lives for most of the year. Both he and the monk Jingming ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) have undertaken the task to transform and revive activities at the temple. This place was originally a tangfang-miao, where the devotees would gather to celebrate the guohui, but the rest of the year it would remain closed, with only one person to take care of the place. Although the temple is small, at present it is one of the most active ones in Nanwutai; each year it receives many devotees who decide to perform the biguanor participate in the Buddhist ceremonies organized by the monk Juezunduring the summer.

Juezun believes that the mountain is a good place to practice Buddhism, and thus decided to settle in the Baiyi-tang temple. He devotes his time to meditation during the winter months, when the number of people who climb the mountain is considerably smaller.

Ever since he donned his habit, Juezun has studied the history of Buddhism in China and is fully aware of the role played by Zhongnan-shan during the Tang dynasty. For the monk Juezun, the great masters who lived on the mountain and the practices that were conducted there are the main reasons to emphasize the sanctity of this space.

Juezun points out the importance of xiuxing, rigorous practice, and explains that it is the best way to achieve ganying with the Bodhisattvas or the Buddhas. He describes ganyingas gan, that which is felt, and the emotion of this feeling is ying. He also uses the term xiangying ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the connection between the heart xin of the believer and the intention and presence of Buddha. Master Juezun illustrates it with our relationship with Buddha Amituo; this Buddha makes forty-eight vows in which he manifests his compassion to help all living beings; "when we truly understand and accept the teachings of Buddha Amituo, then that is ganying, that is to say, there is an answer in our xinand a strong feeling also surges forth".

Juezun says that when one understands the Amituo Shtra, one understands why this life is full of pain and suffering, and why we are shackled by cause and consequence. He also points out that it is possible to be released from this pain by believing in the Pure Land of Amituo, where all pain fades away.

The Shengshou temple is the home of Master Guangkuan. He is especially devoted to the Bodhisattva Guanyin and affirms that Nanwutai is where Guanyin conducted ascetic practices, the daochang ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (7) of the Bodhisattva. He therefore says that this mountain is propitious to achieve ganying with Guanyin. He spoke of an episode in this regard in which several devotees experienced ganying with the Bodhisattva at the Shengshou-si.

In the past, this was a place of much devotion. Many people used to come, but the number of visitors and Buddhist devotees dwindled when the government took over. However, in 1997 (when the temples on the Zhongnan-shan were restored), a great Buddhist ceremony was held and many people came. The temple was flooded with people coming and going for several days. At that time, the entry fee to the mountain was only 3 Yuan. Many devotees came to practice and did so successfully, because they were able to have ganying with the Bodhisattva.

During the celebration of the guohui, some of the female devotees arrived at the Baiyi temple (see Figure 4) to practice Buddhist rites. One of them mentioned that the serenity at the temple let her attain ganying: "harmony exists here between heaven, earth and human beings". The devotee spoke of one time when she went up to the temple during winter to practice the biguan:

   It was last year (2010) during the second month, when lots of snow
   was falling. Master Juezunbrought food from the village, and he
   made sure to have all of the medicines that we needed while we were
   in biguan. We had performed the biguanin the Donglin-si ([TEXT NOT
   REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in Jiangxi province, and we were given the
   necessary care, but that time we decided to come to the Baiyi-tang
   and we felt the blessing of hundreds of thousands of Buddhas. The
   master looked after us carefully; it was hard work for him.

Another of the female devotees of the Baiyi-tang emphasized the weather conditions. She said that if there were no ganying on the mountain there would be many droughts and fires, and that the crops were prosperous thanks to the protection of the Buddha. She also added that it is impossible to have ganying with the Buddha if one does not meditate.

The Baiyi-tang temple is the favorite place of the male devotee Yang Shenghua, where he feels the tranquility of nature and can perform his practices, which consist of reciting the name Buddha Amituo over and over. One day, during the guohui, I spoke with Yang, who told me about an experience he once hadat the temple in precisely the same room that we were in:

One day last year I was here in my room in the temple. It was noon and I was resting. I fell asleep, but I suddenly woke up and saw the Bodhisattva; she was standing there, and she was tall and was dressed in white. Red, yellow and green lights shone from her body, and a basket of flowers hung from her arm. I didn't know why she was there. I called her, I said "bodhisattva" to her, but it seemed like she didn't see me. Then she disappeared; I remember she was beautiful.

After telling his experience, Yang affirmed that there is abundant water at Zhongnan-shan because Guanyin asked the immortals to water the flowers.

An elderly male devotee called Kang Zhizhong ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) was at the Wumashi, one of the tangfang-miao of Nanwutai. Eighty-one years old, he still attended theguohui. Zhizhongwas a pioneer in the construction of the new Wumashi, which had been destroyed and was raised again few meters away from the first construction.

When I asked him about the ganyingon the mountain, the old man described something that actually happened during the guohui:

Someone came yesterday to offer clothing to the Buddha. (8) I was watching from outside and was glad to see it. When she dressed the Buddha, it shed a tear. The Bodhisattva manifested this way. At exactly that instant the musicians started to play a melody and the devotees lit incense. I wanted to take a photo [of the image] and the eyes [of the Bodhisattva] looked green. An old man said to a young man: "Look, the Bodhisattva has shown itself!

After narrating this event, Zhizhong added that only those with a sincere heart can have ganying and notice this kind of signal or supernatural moment when the Bodhisattva comes before hers devotees. He told of another event similar to the above, when a devotee gave clothes to Buddha Mile:

A person came yesterday to offer clothing to Buddha Mile. I watched from outside, while my tears fell. But those tears weren't mine, they belonged to Guanshiyin. This Bodhisattva took over my body to show its feelings.

Analysis and Conclusion

A devotee who experiences a fantastic event or a miracle, or has ganying with the divinity, tells of his or her experience and transmits it to the people who visit the place. Furthermore, those who know the legends and tell them to the visitors of the mountain emphasize the sanctity of the place in their own story. In this sense, I agree with Gomez, who indicates that the power of narration can create or reinforce religious conviction (2011). We will see that it is not only about the experience that is lived but also that which is told by the people, that is, the experiences that the devotees underwent and that are narrated by the residents of Nanwutai; "in a certain sense, we could say, the act of preaching during or after a miracle becomes the miracle that teaches or the teaching is itself a miracle." (1, 2010, p. 532).

The descriptions and perceptions of the nuns recall the drive of the masters of the past, who isolated themselves on the mountain and were able to achieve even greater wisdom. The nuns' testimonies portray the image of the practitioner on the mountain, they are based on knowledge of the doctrine and on their interpretation of it, and they also respond to the practices that they wish to perform. The nuns themselves become guides for the devotees who go to the mountain to learn and practice Buddhism. The presence of these nuns, their stories and experiences revive the sanctity of the place.

In the stories told by the nun Chengguang--about the vision of red light and healing of illnesses--space acquires an atmosphere, a degree of mystery, where the supernatural and ganying with the divinity are manifested. The mystery of the place is also perceived in Fachuan's narration, since she affirms that the Bodhisattva has been announcing the arrival of visitors ever since she started living in the Sansheng-dian temple.

Fantastic occurrences stand out in the legends, and from them new and original stories are born that, beyond their own authenticity, revive extraordinary events and validate the sanctity of the place once again. Chengguang tells of her own experience with the cloud that issued red light, a fact that is based on an event that happened in the Songdeng-tai temple and that she relives. She was overwhelmed with emotion when she told me about her experience and showed me the place where she saw the cloud floating. Any devotee who climbs up to the Songdeng-tai and listens to Chengguang may create a mental image of his own imaginary experience, which he will tell of when he returns home and tells about his visit to Nanwutai-shan. In this manner, the story is recreated and the devotees' perception of the sacred space is successively renewed. The stories are interpreted over and over again because they are told in personal and new ways, they are heard by others and they become a part of the social environment.

Masters Guangkuan and Juezun emphasize the figure of Guanyin on the mountain. Both acknowledge that Nanwutaiis where the Bodhisattva conductedits practices and where it is possible to have ganying with the Bodhisattva. Guangkuan affirms that devotees saw the Bodhisattva during the celebrations held in 1997. For the "stimulus-response" to be achieved with Guanyin, the monk states that, from his point of view, two aspects were essential. The first is the period; during that year the temples on Zhongnan-shan were restored, which attracted many devotees to the mountain to conduct religious ceremonies. The second aspect is the reading of sutras; the devotees read the texts and the Bodhisattva showed itself.

I believe that it is relevant that the monk mentioned the appearance of Guanyin before the devotees, but even more so the fact that he emphasized the moment when the ganying took place, that is, when the temples were restored. This occurrence attracted devotees, who could see the Bodhisattva by reading sutras. Given the above, it may be deduced that the raising of buildings acted as the "stimulus" for the devotees to arrive and for fantastic or supernatural events to take place there. From this perspective, it is possible to understand why the monk Guangkuan supported the current reconstruction of the Shengshou temple; he possibly interprets the fact as a necessary change and as a new opportunity for "stimulus", which will bring more devotees to visit the mountain and thus increase its ganying.

Guangkuan and Juezun point out that reading Buddhist texts is essential to achieve ganying, and they recommend reading the Diamond Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, and especially the Buddha Amituo Sutra.

There are two Buddha Amituo sutras; both the short sutra and the long one speak of extraordinary beings that possess wisdom, knowledge and extraordinary powers, that is, all of the Buddhas that attained supreme enlightenment. The two sutras accept the supposition that these Buddhas began their spiritual road with the promise of becoming bodhisattvas, and were therefore aspirants to the awakening. Those who were able to reach the end of this hard road act as masters and save other living beings, and also appear in miraculous manifestations and visions during deep meditation (Gomez, 1996). For Master Juezun, the reading and thorough understanding of the Amituo Sutrais important because it allows one to have ganying with the Buddha, to feel great emotion and become free of all pain. Furthermore, by reading this sutra, Juezunaspires to transmit spiritual perfection and to teach the doctrine.

As for the devotees, their experiences are linked with the space where they hold the guohui and the activities that they perform. The latter will be the result of different ways of experiencing ganying with the divinity.

Yang Shenghua refers to the extraordinary experience that he had at the temple when the Bodhisattva Guanyin appeared before him. His story revives the experience told in 2008 by female devotees in the Baiyi-tang temple. These women referred to the dreams and visions that they had, especially with Guanyin, during their stay at the temple. The experience of these devotees has to do with the different representations of the Bodhisattva, and even with the personifications in television series about princess Miaoshan. In addition to this, the temple space has an incredible influence when ganying is conceived with the Bodhisattva. The constant religious practices, and the rituals and duties during the guohui, make the Baiyi-tang a propitious place to receive the benefits of the Budd has and the Bodhisattvas.

The two female devotees from the Baiyi temple emphasized the ganying on the mountain, and connected it with the land's natural richness and fertility, which yields good crops. They also added that there is harmony between Heaven, Earth and Human Beings at Nanwutai; this alludes to the ancient Confucian belief that breaks from the belief that Shangdi, the God Above, and Heaven acquire power of the absolute. At the same time, the figure of man between Heaven and Earth suggests an understanding of ganying, which reflects the ancient cosmological thought of correlation, in this case, between Heaven, Earth and man as an intermediary. Hence, from the point of view of the devotees, Nanwutai-shan would be understood as the space that enables this connection and produces harmony.

The devotees also emphasized the figure of Master Juezun, who maintains the atmosphere needed for the practices and for the devotees to live together harmoniously. The figure of the master becomes a medium for the devotees to achieve ganying and to practice deeply during the biguan.

Devotee Zhizhong from the Wumashi temple spoke of the ganying produced when an offering of clothing is made to the image of the Bodhisattva. This occurrence corresponded to an extraordinary situation that took place in front of all of the devotees who witnessed the moment when the image was dressed with the clothing. It was interpreted as the way in which Guanyin showed itself to all of the people celebrating the guohui at the Wumashi. Unlike Yang's story, this event is a shared ganying, in which several devotees witnessed the moment the Bodhisattva shed a tear.

The fantastic events and accounts used to narrate the experience of ganying on the mountain become a constant, they become occurrences that are not beyond the natural law of Buddhist believers. This is why, for those who witness the incidents or listen to the stories, these situations are expected but are still amazing and extraordinary. For the Buddhist devotee, the story transforms into a miraculous fact that validates the emotional aspect of the virtual world that is present in the imagination (Gomez, 2011), and renews the supernatural power of the mountain by increasing its sacred facet. In this sense, beyond what is real and fantastic, the conception considered "true" or "historical" for the devotees becomes the history that prevails on the mountain, as a complement to the physical history of the place.

It is observed that the use of space and the celebration of the guohui are elements that sway the manner in which the devotees or pilgrims reach ganying. Their experiences create a connection to Buddhism, the Bodhisattva Guanyin and the mountain. The devotee and monk or nun becomes a part of this space, of the story surrounding the extraordinary incidents on the mountain. Elizabeth Weiss (2006) analyzes the transformation of the pilgrim when he joins the sacred space during his experience along his journey. Weiss alludes to the ideas of Westwood (1997), who mentions that the transformation of the world that surrounds us is the result of our own transformation (Weiss, 2006). The place is made holy again in this manner.

From the perspective of normative cognition, posed by Jensen (2010), an interaction between the cultural aspect and the mind of each person is produced, in which culture allows the individual biological brain to relate to the world and act within it. According to our analysis, the concept and interpretation of ganying are a part of this interaction, as well as the combination of local elements with teaching in the Buddhist doctrine. This interaction works like a motor that, time and time again, turns on and breathes life into the holy space. This motor, like culture, evolves and adapts to the social reality being lived at the place.

A devotee's physical, mental and cultural spaces merge together (Lefebvre, 2013) during the process to reach ganying and in his/her narrations, perceptions and imagination; this is manifested by an interaction between the devotee's mind and culture (Jensen's normative cognition). This interaction is linked to the real and imaginary religious story that prevails on the mountain, which the devotees believe and ratify to be true. At the same time, they incorporate supernatural events that they believe are real and, therefore, expect to be repeated. Their experiences, just like Buddhist texts and mountain legends, insinuate ganying or "stimulus-response" between the doctrine, the magic and the story (Gomez, 2011:545). The seesaw between the personal and the collective, the individual and the social-cultural, between the search for release and the call to devotion, displays the variety of ideas that converge in a same space and that simultaneously transform into the sacred atmosphere of the mountain.

The fantastic tales, legends or explanations of the Buddhist doctrine create a space that can be experienced, perceived and imagined, and they become so powerful that they can truly affect those who listen to or tell the story (Robson, 2009) Physical space takes on another meaning for devotees who know the legends or fantastic stories of the place, or for people who live on the mountain and narrate these events.

Although the purpose was to display the idea of ganying and its experience at Nanwutai-shan, some other factors that also interact with the imagination of the devotees remain to be studied. The objective is to study the revival of sacred spaces on mountains and the figure of the devotee in the conscientious, emotional, reflexive individual within a social context, and thus produce new research regarding the sacred mountains of China and related religious practices. From a local analysis, I aim to find and recognize modes of action (Blackburn, 2010) that probably occur on other sacred Buddhist mountains and that can be of interest to those who research other sacred spaces in China.

Note. Figures (photography) in the paper were taken by the author.


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Maria Elvira Rios Penafiel

International Relations Study Center, Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile

(1) The name Taiyiis derived from the god Taiyizhenren ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The sixth chapter of the book Feng-shan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), from the classic Shiji ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), indicates that an altar was built to the southeast of Chang-an in honor of this god. It is also considered a divinity of the mountain (Simaqian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], chapter VI). In the Taoist pantheon, Taiyizhenren appears as an immortal or a god who saves people from suffering, whose power is similar to that of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, who releases people from suffering in hell. He is also the protector of merchants who sell hen and duck eggs (Wang, 2004).

(2) He worked with hundreds of academicians and specialists, and together they produced thirty-five translations, which include the Amitabha Sutra, Amituofo-jing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the Lotus Sutra, MiaofaLianhua-jing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), the MahaPrajnaparamita Sutra, Maha Boreboluomiduo-jing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and the Diamond Sutra, Jingang-jing ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (Tang, 1991).

(3) Maopeng is translated as "straw hut". These are places on the mountains where hermits take refuge to perform activities to cloister themselves. It is common for nuns or monks to isolate themselves at these places.

(4) The second part of the study by Sharf describes the meaning of ganying for the Tiantai School. The author explains that the comments made by Master Zhiyi ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (538-597) influenced Buddhist writings from eastern Asia. Zhiyi understands the Buddhist cause and consequence, yinyuan ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), in terms of ganying (Sharf, 2002).

(5) For more information, see "Guanshiyin Chuanqi: Guanyin's Image in a TV Series and Its Contribution to the Buddhist Imaginary of the Bodhisattva Devotees" (Rios, 2010).

(6) Fachuan does not mention a name nor does she refer to a specific Bodhisattva, she only mentions pusa([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in a general manner.

(7) Daochang (Bodhimandain Sanskrit) means place of enlightenment. The place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. A place, a method to reach the Buddhist truth. An object or a place for religious offerings. A place to teach, learn or practice religion (Soothill, Hodous, 1951). Here it is used as the place where the Bodhisattva performs his or her practices.

(8) The devotee uses the words Buddha and Bodhisattva to refer to Guanyin.

Correspondence to:

Maria Elvira Rios Penafiel

El Colegio de Mexico, CEAA

Ciudad de Mexico

Castana 134, colonia Nueva Santa Maria

Azcapotazalco, CP 02800, Distrito Federal

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Author:Penafiel, Maria Elvira Rios
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Date:Apr 1, 2015
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