The Sounds of Heaven

In a small corner of one of China's most famous Taoist temples, Meng Zhi Lin tunes up his gu qin, a seven-stringed Chinese instrument.

“The tone is very low, so I’ll close the window,” Meng says through our interpreter.

The gu qin is not so much a musical instrument but a tool through which you practice and know the knowledge of heaven, he explains.

Ten years ago Meng Zhi Lin turned his back on modern life and sought isolation in the mountains, abandoning everything except his gu qin.

Before that, he lived the appearance of a normal life. He pretended to know nothing, and practiced Taoism secretly in his home. But his neighbors believed there was something holy about him, and begged him to teach them his secrets.

He couldn't find peace with all the distractions, so he went to live with an old Taoist in the mountains in eastern Jilin province where he dug holes and played gu qin.

A few years ago, some Taoist monks tracked him down and invited him to come teach at the temple.

“I was not very willing to come to Beijing because I do not think I am very experienced in practicing the Tao,” he says.

He usually does not play for other people, our interpreter tells us, so this is a great honor for everyone.

It's easy to lose yourself in the complex sprawl of Beijing, and with all the construction, honking
horns and aggressive vendors, it can be hard to find a moments peace.

But behind the walls of the White Cloud Temple, the near-silence is humbling.

The only sounds are the delicate thousand-year-old harmonics of the gu qin.

“You must choose a quiet place in the beginning,” he says, “but after you have succeeded in getting the Tao, you can find peace even in a noisy city.”

And for the next nine minutes, heaven blesses this small corner of noisy Beijing.