Seng Guan Temple is one of the most ornately built Buddhist temple in the Philippines. This towering oriental architecture along Narra Street in Tondo, Manila stands proud with its magnificent multi-tiered imperial roof. A Dharma wheel on the front roof top’s edifice is a reminder of the cosmic order that rules the universe. The outer form of the temple is schemed with symbols of the culture which includes fierce dragons laced upon each other, bamboos and the like.
Visiting this holy sanctuary was not really in my list for the day but since I am a firm believer that nothing happens by chance, I found it and was so inspired by the experience. My guides knew I needed a big spiritual boost to keep me on track because I have been feeling quite down for a while. Perhaps, people like me would be able to relate. Having gifts and spiritual responsibilities can really be draining at times. I am not always on spiritual high gear. There are days when I get to question if I’m really here on earth on a mission and whether all the metaphysical arsenal on my aura are real or not. In short, I doubt myself. I subscribe to no particular religion but the Buddhist teachings seem to reverberate closest to my current spiritual path. This is probably why my guardians chose this experience for me.
My experience began at the entrance, where I was greeted by two lion guardians who were not of stone alone. They had live spirits in them. And they were terrific at doing their job: protecting the temple from unwelcomed energy.
A few steps more and whoever enters will be warmly greeted by the glassed image of Maitreya, the Happy Buddha. He looked jolly and contented in his semi-lying position. With his large round belly and bulbous earlobes, he represents a long life of peace and fulfillment. He, in feng shui, is also known as the Laughing Buddha. He is a symbol of great benevolence in the Buddhist faith.
Entering further, the confident image of Bodhisattva Skanda stood behind Maitreya. He is also known as Wei Tuo and is regarded as a devoted guardian of Buddhist monasteries. He is said to guard the Buddhist teachings. I was not familiar with this being but I sensed part of his presence in the image.
I’m quite familiar with temples of this kind but seeing the three large golden statues before me in the center of the temple transfixed me to where I was standing. The energy inside was spell-binding. The golden image of Guan Yin, in the middle of two other bodhisattvas, emitted energies of serenity, unconditional compassion and great motherly love. There were smaller images of her in front of the glass casing and flowers were graciously offered before them.
On the golden Guan Yin’s right side is Samantabhadra’s golden image, seated on an elephant. Also a bodhisattva, her name means Universal Worthiness or Universal Virtue. Her statue radiated a feeling of peace and concentration. No wonder. When I researched further about her, I learned that she is the embodiment of the Buddhist practice of meditation.
On the left of Guan Yin is Manjushri boddhisattva. He is said to be the embodiment of enlightened wisdom. It is said that the triad of these three bodhisattvas represents the essence of what a Buddha is.
In the center, before the trinity, is a giant brass incense burner where all who pray put their incense sticks on. There were free joss sticks for anyone to use and the sign there said that one piece of incense is enough to for one’s petitions. I used three with a smile (I have this thing about threes, sixes and nines, you see).
We had no guide to tour us around and it was a week day with no much visitors, so we just went to other areas of the temple on our own. On the first floor’s left wing was a wide space with glassed golden totems inside. I was not able to see the room’s name upon entering. With such shine and glitter coming from the little rectangular totems, I would usually feel lightness and magnificence. Instead, I felt heavy. I also sensed sadness. The feeling I didn’t like most was that of uneasiness and a sense of fear. I did not understand at first. My companion wanted to linger longer and look closer at the golden totems but I said that I couldn’t bear that hall’s energy. I wasn’t able to take pictures because I left in a hurry. When asked of my weird behavior, I answered, “The energy inside is different from the center hall. I feel like there are a lot of spirits there. Dead spirits. It’s a bit scary and heavy. It’s like a place for the dead.”
I immediately went back near Guan Yin’s area to pacify the unpleasant emotions I had. Her energy was so soothing. It felt like she was my biological mother, assuring me that I was safe. Then my eye caught the left wing’s name. Hall of Love, Peace and Tranquility. That was really weird for me. I didn’t feel any of those emotions when I was inside. Upon researching on place, I discovered that that hall was a shrine dedicated to the departed ancestors of those who frequented the temple. Each golden totem represented a deceased person. A frame would cost around 100,000 php, depending on where it would be positioned in the glass showcase and how high the person’s rank or position was, while on earth. Flowers, food and joss sticks would be brought there as offerings for their dead. It was then that I understood everything. I was sensing the energies left by the relatives who visited. I was also sensing the emotions of the spirits still lingering inside that particular area. I knew there were plenty of them inside and they still have not moved on.
Next, we went up the stairs and saw a jaw dropping expanse of a hall at the center. There are three meditating deities clad in gold (made of silk-mache) and they seemed larger than the trinity on the first floor. On the center was Buddha Amitabha. There also were red squared kneelers all over the wide open hall and there were signs put up, saying, “Chant Amitabha”.
I was awed to see the intricate three-dimensional carvings all over this hall. The golden etchings on the walls and the ceiling were meticulously done on wood. The splendor of eastern art was extravagantly paraded with so much attention to detail. If you look closer, the ornamental bas reliefs would tell you stories about Siddhartha Gautama Buddha’s earthly journey.
With such temple grandeur, it would be difficult to believe that the temple started as a simple single wooden room, under a very tight budget. This richly adorned area is named, The Chanting Room, where one could recite mantras, sutras and other prayers.
On the second floor’s right wing is a much smaller room where a statue of female diety with several arms is displayed in a glass cabinet. The energy in that room was not as alive as the former halls I have been to. Although solemn, the feeling there was more reserved and individual. The sensation would be comparable to being in adoration chapels in Catholic churches.
The golden colossal image of the Medicine Buddha in the large hall on the left would leave anyone spellbound. I was immediately carried in a state of profound reverence and instinctively bowed three times before the gigantic meditating image. The energy coming from the statue was very strong and yet very gentle. It was like he was telling me that I should take things easy, must not be too serious and that things would get better with my health (being an empath has caused me to be usually ill) and everything else.
Upon entering, without knowing the name of the area, I telepathically sensed the presence of so many towering light beings who were greeting me with a solemn bow. The sacredness these being emitted was so humbling and yet immensely divine. They were so holy and yet they didn’t make me feel inferior or insecure of who I am. They made me remember my importance in the great scheme of things which I was already doubting before I visited the temple. It was an unconditional compassion, similar to what Quanima (Guan Yin/Avalokitesvara) emitted in the hall below. In my mind’s eye, they seemed to reach more than a hundred feet in stature and numbered more than a thousand. I didn’t notice that my eyes were already filled with tears while communing with the healing energy they shared. I felt so much love and peace in that hall. Upon leaving, I was informed that the area is called The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas. No wonder I saw so many of them inside.
On each side of the Medicine Buddha are enormous images of the Sun and Moon Buddhas. They are said to be siblings who specialize in healing and they serve the Medicine Buddha. There was a gargantuan golden relief at the back which included the images of the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara, Manjushri, Dashizhi and Samantabhadra. Offerings of flowers, water and candles were bountifully laid on the altars which were richly adorned with golden bas reliefs.
Mounted on the side pillars are the vows of the Medicine Buddha to the sentient beings. Here, he promised to aid those inflicted with disease, those who are stricken with poverty and starvation, the prisoners and anyone who calls to him with a sincere heart.
When I was about to leave, the monk in the office immediately caught my attention. He was quite far from where I was but the refreshing aura of devotion and purity which he emitted inspired me to go on with whatever my mission is on earth. He exuded simplicity and the absence of materialism. He was contented, focused and devoted; the qualities I was missing at the time. Seeing him reinforced some waning virtues in me because I was too centered on things that did not really matter after all. The totality of my whole spiritual encounter in the temple revived my weakened state. The beings who showed themselves inspired me so much and the messages they sent encouraged me to go on with what I still have to do.
I believe that Seng Guan Temple is not only fascinating because of its exquisite architecture and mammoth golden images, but it is even more spiritually energizing because of the energy transmitted by the enlightened beings who grace it. They are alive and they generously bless and encourage the people who seek homage with love, comfort and healing. It truly deserves its title, The Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas.