The Buddhas on Elephant mountain

It's very common to see the statues of Buddha or Guan Yin (the Goddess of mercy) in the mountains of Taiwan. They are found in temples, shrines, caves, or sometimes just on big rocks. On Elephant mountain in Taipei, there are many statues of Buddha, too.

When people pass a statue on the mountain, they very often put their palms together and bow to it. In Asian culture, walking all the way from the bottom of a mountain to bow to a Buddha statue is similar to the Western concept of religious pilgrimage.

In Taiwan, putting Buddha statues on Elephant mountain so close to downtown has made a simple pilgrimage into a kind of daily exercise for some people.

It might seem strange to see all those hikers show so much respect to wooden or stone statues. Are people so superstitious, can they really get good fortune just by bowing to those mute statues? Maybe it looks a little crazy.

Actually the statues are just a symbol. They present an image of Buddha to remind people of the compassion of Bodhisattva, and help them practice the teachings of Buddha.

Putting the palms together is a way of showing respect, and also a mediation practice for calming down the mind. When our mind is peaceful, then we bow to the Buddha. We slowly bend down our heads and bodies. The process of bowing is a way to practice emptying ourselves, giving up our pride, practicing humility.

Many people naturally bow to the statues of Buddha without looking into the teaching behind it – the habit is deeply rooted in Taiwanese culture. People worship the Buddha or gods, to pray for blessings for themselves or families.

But as they do this, they are practicing Buddha's teaching without realizing it. When they kneel down, put their palms together, and bow to the statue, they are following Buddha's teaching, by being compassionate, calm, humble, respectful, giving up and emptying themselves .

Even if people don't understand Buddha's teaching, the exercise of bowing brings physical benefits. Bowing regularly can make the upper body more flexible, and it exercises the neck and the spine. Even simply putting the palms together in front of the chest and breathing is an easy yoga posture to help you calm down and experience inner peace.

 

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