This is supposedly the largest Lama Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, and since China was nice enough to have the last two lamas flee to India this is also the current center of Lamaism. We spoke with a girl that was working on getting her degree as a tour guide
(yes, that is a very prestigious thing to be in China.) She mentioned that the reason for the signs to not take pictures of the Buddha was that it was believed that it would shorten your life. So instead of any religious reason, which is why I thought they did not want you to take pictures, they are really just looking out for you, the tourist. Which I thought was really nice of the monks to think of. Me personally I wouldn’t want people wandering around while I was trying to pray and obtain nirvana. It would seem easier to not think about any outside influences if the outside influences were not so loud. But when I spoke to a monk he was happy to have tourists because he liked to people watch. He also gave me permission to take a picture the biggest darn Buddha that I will probably ever see. The Buddha is 18 meters tall, carved out of one tree brought over from Mongolia. One thing that I noticed while here is that there was a lot of stuff that was really huge that they where able to move over these huge distances- those guys in Egypt building the pyramids have nothing on some of the things that they where moving around in China. The ticket that we got for the temple was actually a VCD with a whole narration of the site. I think it was the coolest thing and really wish that more places would start doing that since its better then any video or pictures that I could have taken in one visit.
One interesting thing about this temple is that the only way that it survived the Cultural Revolution was the head monk pasted a picture of Mao on the front gate. To get in the people’s liberation army would have to rip the picture in half. This would have been a violation in its self, so they had no choice but to leave the temple alone long enough until someone could defend the temples position politically.