OMEI SHAN, THE SACRED MOUNTAIN
The eastern range of the Himalayas extends to the edge of the Cheng-tu Basin in the remote Chinese Szechwan Province. At the southwestern corner of the basin, stands the sacred mountain called Omei Shan. Towering to 10,000 feet, the peak of this great mountain is a holy place to the Chinese Buddhists. A tortuous footpath leads up to a large monastery near the peak. The trail, about 15 miles long, is not for the fainthearted. When the snow has melted in spring, Omei Shan becomes a mecca for faithful Buddhists who can withstand its tortuous climb and its dizzying altitude.
The monastery is an unusual building that houses a large contingent of monks year round. It is built of stone that was quarried on the spot. Its roof is not typical of the tile, shingle, or thatch roofs commonly used on buildings in the province. The roof of this monastery is made of huge, hand-hewn timbers, secured in place by boulders weighing hundreds of pounds each. The prevailing west wind creates an odd pattern of air currents that rake the monastery with winds of velocities up to 100 miles an hour.
Since the temperature falls below freezing every night of the year, the monks must have trouble keeping warm within the cold, stone walls of their home. Considering the long trail up the mountain, it is hard to fathom how they manage to stock enough food to survive the long time while the trail is closed in the winter.
B-29 aircrews of the 40th Bomb Group could see the monastery on a clear day as they flew over the Cheng-tu Valley while delivering fuel and bombs to their advanced base at Hsinching, some 45 miles from Omei Shan. When visibility was good, we could see the orange colored robes of monks who were outside the monastery. They moved around like colorful birds on the rocky paths that wound around the area.
The Buddhist monks of Omei Shan lead a strange, simple life in complete isolation from the teeming millions inhabiting the fertile Cheng-tu plains within sight of their lofty perch. Like other great religions, followers of Buddhism rely primarily on faith in, and love of, their fellow man.
One thing can be said of the monks of Omei Shan. Anyone who can survive the rigors of their monastic life, has the faith and determination essential to follow God, Christ, Allah, or Buddha.
From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *