Finding Buddha in Putuo Shan

“Finding Buddha in Putuo Shan”, published in Panda Guides on April 2, 2015

In the lobby of Ningbo Train Station, black market taxi drivers and cheap guesthouse operators are yelling at everyone who walks out the arrival gate. It is said of people from the coastal cities of Zhejiang that they have extraordinary entrepreneurial spirits. It sure looks like it. But it turns out that the old lady who drives me on an auto rickshaw to her guesthouse in the industrial district nearby the train station is from Hebei.

The rickshaw screeches to a stop inside a red tiled multi-function garage connected to a lobby, and, after looking at two rooms with broken doors and scoffed walls, I settle in a room for 80 RMB with an old China Construction Bank card in the key card power slot. The hotel name cards say their cheapest rooms cost 30-40 RMB. They haven’t changed their cards in five years.

It feels good to plop down in a rundown hotel with no advance planning. It means I’m embarking on an immediate form of travel. Everything is out there in front of me, and I don’t know what will happen next. But I know I won’t encounter any trouble on my way to Putuo Mountain (Pǔtuó Shān; 普陀山), the holy Buddhist island dedicated to Guanyin, because Guanyin is the Goddess of Mercy who, it is said in Chinese Buddhism, hears the cries of the world and protects believers from any threat.

In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha says, “If a person who upholds the name of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva enters a great fire, the fire will not burn him, all because of this Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual power.”

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