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Finding their Zen in sports

(China Daily)

09:17, June 19, 2013

Monks from Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, are competitive badminton players. (China Daily / Li Zhong)

Monks of a famous temple say their enthusiasm for badminton is a natural part of their monastic life, Wu Ni reports in Hangzhou.

Tucked into a steep mountain, the 1,700-year-old Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, has always been a major destination for pilgrims searching for spiritual tranquility.

But few know that the famed Buddhist shrine has the only formal badminton team in China's religious circles, whose monks have competed in matches and won prizes.

In April, a team of four monks from the temple ranked third in the preliminary round of a national badminton tournament. In the second round of the competition where they played with teams from other cities for the title of regional championship last weekend, they again came third.

Yan Kong, 31, captain of the badminton team, says that badminton has long been a popular game for the monks.

"Many are fond of the sport, so we set a field beside the Hall of Five Hundred Disciples as the playground in 2005. And in 2009, we built a standard badminton court on the field and formed the team," says the thin, medium-height monk.

With a glass ceiling and green rectangular floor, the temple's badminton court looks the same as any other gymnasium. Only the khaki walls, matching the look of most Chinese Buddhist temple walls, and the monks' gowns, give the setting some traces of Buddhism.

The team has more than 10 players who practice two to three times a week, normally one or two hours each time, after they have finished their daily routines, says Yan Kong.

The team's public debut was in 2011, when they joined the Hangzhou Badminton Club League and won third place.

"Many spectators were curious. Some said that monks should stay in the temple to study Zen (a school of Buddhism) and meditate, wondering why we appeared," recalls Yan Kong.

The monk says that playing badminton is one outlet for Zen meditation.

"Zen is ubiquitous in our life. If we do things with a heart of Zen, we are in an ashram no matter where we are," he says. "With the heart of Zen, we will not be bothered by our competitors, nor strongly pursue certain results, but will enjoy the process of playing badminton. That is a part of Zen meditation, which is not to achieve something, but to get our spirit purified during the process."

But most of their life is occupied by religion, the monk emphasizes.

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