Wisdom Path, Ngong Ping April 2021

Many people visit Tai O together with Ngong Ping in the western part of Lantau Island, home to the Tian Tan Buddha. Tian Tan Buddha is also known simply as the Big Buddha and is the 2nd largest outdoor bronze seated buddha in the world. I have visited the Big Buddha before when it was first unveiled, but I have never been to the adjacent Wisdom Path created in 2005.  It is about a 10-15 mins walk to get to the Wisdom Path.  The Wisdom Path is made of a series of 38 timber columns placed in the shape of the symbol for infinity with each column 8-10 meters tall and carved with a verse from the Buddhist Heart Sutra (心經). The intention is for the columns to blend with the natural environment going up a hill.  The column placed at the highest point of the hill is left blank to stress the concept of “sunyata” or voidness/emptiness which is the central theme of not just the Heart Sutra but also of Zen Buddhism. Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra or the Heart Sutra is one of the best known Buddhist prayers and is also the shortest with only 268 characters in Chinese translation rendered by Master Xuan Zang who ventured to India in order to bring back Buddhist scriptures and was immortalized in the novel Journey to the West.  The Heart Sutra is an extraction from the great volume of the Pancha Vimsati Sahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra or Large Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (大品般若經).  The calligraphy of the sutra here was the work of the late Professor Jao Tsung-I who was one of the world’s most distinguished Sinologists.

You can see here how the Wisdom Path is designed in the shape of the symbol for infinity or a figure 8.

 

The Heart Sutra takes the form of Buddha’s address to his top disciple Sariputra (舍利子) who was known for his wisdom.  It begins by saying that when the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan Yin) had understood the Prajna Paramita or Perfect Wisdom, he realized the that five skandhas (aggregates 五蘊) that we are made up of are all but an illusion and impermanent.  And with this understanding he was delivered from all sorrow and suffering. The five skandhas are rupa (material form 色), vedana (sensation 受), samjna (perception 想), samskara (volitions 行), and vijnana (consciousness 識).  These five skandhas are said to be impermanent and without self or essence thus described with the word “sunyata” which means empty of self-existence.  Sunyata, often translated as Emptiness or Voidness, does not mean non-existence.  Instead it talks about the concept that everything perceptible exists or happens because of conditional causation as stated in the verse “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” and how the other aggregates are also the same way.  All perceptible entities including ourselves and all phenomena are ever-changing and hence empty of absolute self or permanence.  They are all dependently originated.  Just like the wave and water, the wave is a perceptible form that happens with the strength of the wind.  After it is formed and crashes onto shore, it becomes water again. When there is acceptance that all things are in a state of constant flux and when there is no longer any identification with these five skandhas, then there will be liberation from the cycle of life and death and enlightenment can be attained. This is the core of the Heart Sutra.

From right to left: “觀自在菩薩行深般若波羅蜜多時” When the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan Yin) practiced and understood the state of Prajna Paramita (the Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom) “照見五蘊皆空” He perceived that all five Skandhas are but an illusion and impermanent “渡一切苦厄” Thus overcoming all sorrow and sufferings.
The verses “照見五蘊皆空,渡一切苦厄” are said to represent the core of the Heart Sutra. The simple translation of these two verses is: “When one can perceive that the five skandhas (aggregates 五蘊) are all but an illusion and impermanent, then one can be delivered from all sorrow and suffering.” These five skandhas are said to be without self or essence thus described with the word “sunyata” which means empty of self-existence. When there is acceptance that all things are in a state of constant flux and when there is no longer any identification with these five skandhas, then there will be liberation from the cycle of life and death and enlightenment can be attained.
“色不異空,空不異色” translates to form does not differ from the void, and the void does not differ from form.
“色即是空,空即是色” translates to form is void and void is form. Sunyata, often translated as Emptiness or Voidness, does not mean non-existence.  Instead it talks about the concept that everything perceptible exists or happens because of conditional causation.  All perceptible entities including ourselves and all phenomena are ever-changing and hence empty of absolute self or permanence.  They are all dependently originated.  Just like the wave and water, the wave is a perceptible form that happens with the strength of the wind.  After it is formed and crashes onto shore, it becomes water again.
The column placed at the highest point of the hill is left blank to stress the concept of “sunyata” or voidness/emptiness which is the central theme of not just the Heart Sutra but also of Zen Buddhism.
“遠離顚倒夢想” translates to staying far away from delusional dreams. This is one of the steps required to ultimately reach the state of Nirvana.
This is the last few verses of the Heart Sutra which is the Prajna Paramita Mantra and these Chinese characters are the sounds of the mantra in Sanskrit.
“揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶” – Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.

After visiting the Wisdom Path, we made a short stop at Po Lin Monastery founded in 1906.  The monastery began as a simple wooden hut and grew into what is now several buildings including the large five-storey Grand Hall of the Ten Thousand Buddhas completed in 2014.  The original triple arch white stone “pai lau” with three pagoda statues can still be found here though it has been moved around a few times.  There is also the two-storey Welto Temple with a smiling Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha who will be born after the Dharma has been forgotten by our world) and Welto Bodhisattva. In the Main Shrine Hall of the Buddha here are three large Buddha statues: Sakyamuni Buddha (center), Bhaisajyaguru Buddha also known as Medicine Buddha (left) and Amitabha Buddha (right).

The original triple arch white stone “pai lau” with three pagoda statues outside Po Lin Monastery can still be found here though it has been moved around a few times. 

Opposite the Po Lin Monastery sits the 34-meter high Tian Tan Buddha completed in 1993.  The Big Buddha’s facial features were said to be modelled after the Buddha Vairocana of the Longmen Grottoes while the clothes were modelled after the Buddha Sakyamuni in Dunhuang Grottoes.  There are a total of 268 steps up to the base of the buddha statue. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the Big Buddha is undergoing renovations and hence covered in scaffolding and closed to visitors.

The Big Buddha covered in scaffolding

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit to the Wisdom Path. Coming here gave me a sense of peace as well as a newfound motivation to learn more about Buddhism as a way of life. Life is a journey, filled with ups and downs and with each new challenge, we are offered an opportunity for growth. With that in mind, I hopped onto the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for the 25-min ride from Ngong Ping back to civilization in Tung Chung.

That’s a wrap. Thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned for more posts on Hong Kong 😀

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Kom Ombo Dec 2018

We return to our boat and continue our cruise south to Kom Ombo, an agricultural town famous for the unusual double Temple of Kom Ombo. 

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