A little about myself
My name is James Baquet. I was born in Los Angeles, CA, in the mid-1950s. A product of public schools through my B.A., I studied philosophy and English at California State University, Los Angeles. I did a Master of Education degree at Loyola Marymount, also in L.A.; two years of part-time Episcopal seminary in Claremont, CA; and all but the dissertation for a doctoral degree in Buddhism at Hsi Lai University (now University of the West) in my hometown of Rosemead, California. I have been a teacher since 1981.
That's the normal stuff. Now for the weird: I also worked in a Buddhist temple in L.A., and lived in one for a year in China, where I taught "Buddhist English" to monks. I lived five years in Japan, and have been in China for around seven. I own a house in the Philippines, where my wife and I plan to move in a few years.
And weirdest of all, I am an inveterate templer.
My "Templer" Life
The Early Days: Churches and Native American Sites
Long before I ever moved to Asia, I spent a lot of time and energy (and money) visiting ancient religious architecture. Since I grew up in California, this meant the Franciscan Missions first and foremost. Later I wandered further afield, to the missions and kivas of the Southwest, and the stone and mud churches of Baja California.
When I moved to Japan, however, my passion really caught fire. I lived there from 1997 to 2001, and I discovered that the country is crisscrossed by a network of Buddhist pilgrimages, some of them dating back over a thousand years. These are not one-point pilgrimages, like the medieval Christian peregrination to Canterbury, or the Muslim trek to Mecca. Rather, they are circuits, where the path between is as important as the temples themselves, like a string is to pearls. Altogether, I did the four best-known, together comprising 188 temples, while I lived there, and several more on return visits.
Here are some of the major pilgrimages I completed in the five years I lived in Japan:
- The Saigaku Sanjusan Reijo: 33 Temples dedicated to Kannon (Guanyin), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, spread across seven prefectures of western Japan, centered on Kyoto
- The Bando Sanjusan Reijo: 33 Temples dedicated to Kannon, spread across seven prefectures of eastern Japan, centered on Tokyo
- The Chichibu Sanjuyon Reijo: 34 Temples dedicated to Kannon, focused on a small mountain valley outside of Tokyo. While I did the two pilgrimages above over a period of months, this one I did in five days, on foot (just 100km, or 60 miles).
- The Shikoku Hachijuha'kasho: 88 temples dedicated to Kukai (Konghai) also called Kobo Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan. The temples make a circle around the island of Shikoku, and it took me about a month to complete. I walked around 50% of the approximately 1200 km (750 miles), and did the rest by public transportation. Like the Chichibu pilgrimage, I did this one all in one trip.
In the summer of 2004, I returned to Tokyo to undertake a "blended" pilgrimage; ward by ward, I visited the temples from each of the following six treks, completing all of them in just over two weeks:
- The Edo 33 Kannon: Like the pilgrimages above, 33 Temples dedicated to Kannon, but this time all located within the boundaries of Tokyo. Many Japanese cities have similar "short courses."
- The Edo Three Enma: Three temples dedicated to Enma-O (Yama), king of the Underworld.
- The Edo Goshiki Fudo: Five temples dedicated to the "five-colored Fudo Myo-o" (Acala-vidya-raja), a fierce "wisdom king" in esoteric Buddhism. In fact, it is not five different colored figures, but five figures with different-colored eyes. Two of these, Mejiro ("White Eyes") and Meguro ("Black Eyes") have lent their names to areas of Tokyo.
- The Edo Roku Amida: Six temples dedicated to Amida Butsu (Amitofo, Amitabha Buddha)
- The Edo Roku Jizo: Six Jizo (Dizang) statues guarding the six ancient roads leaving Edo (Tokyo)
- The Tokyo Jissha: This one is a little different from the others, as it includes 10 Shinto shrines, not Buddhist temples.
So when I came to China, the wellspring of Japanese Buddhism, I was hoping for more of the same. Alas, it was not to be.
There are four Buddhist mountains in China, but there is no traditional path linking them up. And though the mountains may be challenging, the number "four" is not.
Then, one day, I was reading Sun Shuyun's book about the Silk Road, entitled Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud, and I found what I sought: right there, on page 40, she wrote:
"Buddhism was making a comeback in China. In the early 1980s the government had issued a decree allowing a limited revival of religion... The decree allowed for the 142 most important Buddhist monasteries damaged or destroyed in the Cultural Revolution to be restored or rebuilt."
I immediately began searching for this list. When I came up empty-handed, I wrote to knowledgeable friends, and by great good fortune one of them, Robert (who reads and writes fluent Chinese) found it--on Chinese Wikipedia! Apparently it's no secret in the Chinese-speaking world, but to my knowledge, my translation of the list is the first to bring the whole thing into English.
I got Robert's letter on July 31, 2009, and less than three weeks later I took off for my first "official" visits (I had been to several temples on the list previously--and had lived in one of them for the better part of a year!)
Since then, I have visited many temples on the list. See the front page for the tally.
This site, then, chronicles just one aspect of my travels: to Buddhist sites in China. But...
Even Further Afield
I've also visited several other areas: Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Bali, and the Philippines. I've seen lots of Buddhist temples, to be sure, but also Hindu temples, Daoist temples, and--especially in the Philippines--magnificent churches. While the 142 Key Temples occupy center place, I still find time to explore all of the world's traditions. You might want to visit my homepage to see just how varied my interests are.
My "Buddhist Resume"
For the record, here are some of the things I've done that qualify me (sort of) as a writer on Buddhism:
Publications: (partial list)
- 1981: Bachelor of Arts degree in two majors, English and philosophy, at California State University at Los Angeles, CA
- 1984: Master of Education degree at Loyola Marymount University, Westchester, CA
- 2004: Completed coursework for PhD in comparative religions, Hsi Lai University (now University of the West), Rosemead, CA
- 1981-present: school teacher and administrator; writer and editor of English (see "Publications" below)
- 2002-2003: Tour guide and English-language visitor materials developer; editor in International Translation Center; ESL and American culture teacher for monastics, Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights, CA
- 2006: Teacher in summer program for students ages 7-21 at Huayan Temple, Ningde, Fujian
- 2007-2008: Dean of Cross-Cultural Studies, Jianzhen Academy, Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China
Publications: (partial list)
- "Discovering Temples in Shenzhen" (Time & Tides Shenzhen, Issue 2, Feb. 2006)
- "Chinese pilgrimage: Putuo Mountain and Ningbo" (Shenzhen Daily, September 7, 2009)
- "Chinese pilgrimage: Shanghai and Hangzhou" (Shenzhen Daily, September 14, 2009)
- "Chinese pilgrimage: Xi'an" (Shenzhen Daily, Oct. 12, 2009)
- "Chinese temples in Hong Kong" (Shenzhen Daily, November 30, 2009)
- "Chinese temples in Macao" (Shenzhen Daily, December 7, 2009)
- "Chinese temples in Shenzhen" (Shenzhen Daily, December 14, 2009)
- "Bones of the Buddha" (Shenzhen Asia Culture Society Newsletter, Winter, 2010)