Why devout Buddhists shouldn't be with sick people

Trip Start Feb 26, 2006
Trip End Sep 16, 2006

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Flag of Taiwan  ,
Monday, March 13, 2006

Our latest travels took us to the mountains. It was hard to believe, that after the intense urban grunge wallop that Taiwan's cities deliver so effectively that there could be peace and tranquility at any place on Isla Formosa. We found that beauty in the region of Nantou, in the interior of the island, where we visited Chung Tai Chan monastery with Eva's friend and former junior high school instructor, Teacher Ho (that's her name-- in Chinese you say something approximating Ho Lau Shu) and Teacher Ho's devoutly Buddhist mother, Ho Ne Ne.

Ho Ne Ne's religion will play a significant part in the story I'm about to tell.

We returned from a long bus ride the night before from Taipei, and I was extremely tired and feeling slightly sick. I'd been battling a sinus infection for a month.

I knew that Eva had arranged plans to visit Nantou with Teacher Ho for about a week now, and Eva did not want to disappoint her (or more specifically, Teacher Ho did not want to disappoint Ho Ne Ne, who was eager to meet the Foreigner).

Quite unlike teachers in the United States, teachers in Taiwan (and indeed throughout Asia) hold venerated positions, and age is similarly respected. Teacher Ho did not want to disappoint her mother, Eva did not want to disappoint her teacher, and I did not want to disappoint Eva by calling in for a sick day. Climb on board the Wheel Of Expectations.

Although I managed 7 hours of sleep, I woke feeling as if I had not slept at all. Nantou is in central Taiwan, in the interior of the island, in the mountains, about a 3 hour drive from Eva's home. Teacher Ho and another former student (whose small Ford we were driving in) sat in the front, and in the back were myself, Eva, and Ho Ne Ne. I wanted to sleep desperately, but the cramped conditions disallowed that. In addition, Ho Ne Ne began speaking strange, soft mumbling sounds. Eva explained that she was muttering the sacred prayer word "Amidofo", a Buddhist prayer word that devout people must say 10,000 times each day. I did my best to unsuccessfully drift off to sleep.

We arrived at a stunning mountaintop Buddhist monastery (see photos). In fact, with all the temples I had seen to this point, this sheer massiveness of this complex dwarfed all others. This is very unusual for a Buddhist monastery, since the tenets of Buddhism eschew material goods and advocate living a life of simplicity and humility. How then did this billion dollar monastery materialize? Something fishy this way comes. I found out later that Chung Tai Buddhism is considered a legitimate but controversial branch of Buddhism-- perhaps the way that Mormonism would be viewed by other Christians.

I was too tired to ask any more questions. I took a few deep breaths, slapped on my Tilley travel hat and plunged in, hoping the fresh air and peaceful surroundings would somehow mystically heal me.

I got a second wind at lunchtime where we had a surprisingly delicious (and of course vegetarian) meal at the monastery (see photos). I felt better for a few hours but after that I declined to follow Eva, Teacher Ho and Ho Ne Ne, instead opting to sleep in the car, on and off, for about an hour.

My tenuous rest was short lived. The crew returned to the car and Ho Ne Ne began her "Amidofu"s for the entire three hour return trip. I was stuck, in a surreal haze, as waves of "Amidofu"s drifted in and out of my intensely uncomfortable, half-dream state-- between Eva who was the only sympathetic one, but who did not want to disrespect her teacher by speaking up, nor did Teacher Ho want to speak up to disrespect Ho Ne Ne in prayer.

I was grateful that they dropped us off first. I fell asleep immediately. The next morning I woke up with a fever, my left eye red and stuck shut, and my sinus infection had returned bigger than ever.

It took several days before the "Amidofu"s stopped involuntarily drifting in and out of my mind.

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