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Heng and Ha are the two gods who guard the entrance to Buddhist heaven, According to legend these characters, who actually lived 1000 years before Christ, were granted special powers by Taoist magicians. With a deafening noise Heng would send deadly beams of white light from his nostrils, while Ha breathed an equally noxious yellow gas

from his lungs. They fought each other in a duel but were killed by strange forces which knew their weaknesses. China travel guide map Both characters were later canonised and chosen to guard Buddhist temples. They will be seen staring angrily at each other at the entrance to Buddhist monasteries.

Comparable perhaps with Christ’s followers, luohan are the apostles of Luohan Buddhism. After a lot of hard mental and physical work in this world, they have reached one stage on the route to nirvana. By meditation and suffering, their desires and emotions have been extinguished. They live in a state of grace and possess special privileges and powers. They can, for example, discover the thoughts of others and live past lives.

Unlike the compassionate and helpful bodhisattvas, luohan are remote from humanity as they have already crossed the threshold of happiness. They usually form into groups of 9, 16,18 or 500 with each one embodying a character who can be distinguished from the others by a gesture, an object or a physical feature. The best known luohan images are found in the Temple of the Azure Clouds in Beijing or in the Precious Light Monastery near Chengdu.

Laotse (see Famous People) is often represented as Shoulao the god of Shoulao old age, with a large bald skull, a broad prominent forehead as a symbol of deep meditation, long ear-lobes representing wisdom and a stick in his hand. He rides on a deer or a phoenix towards the world of immortality. As a philosopher or historical personality, Laotse usually appears in the form of an old man riding off to distant lands on the back of a buffalo.

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