Surrounded by the beauty of the Wulin Mountains, Lingyin Temple is one of Hangzhou's best touristic attractions and an important reference for Buddhist culture in China. A visit here is not only an experience of Chan Buddhism, but a mystical experience of nature and peace walking through the cliffs and grottoes surrounding the temple. Its uniqueness is both in the magnificence of the temple's halls and pagodas and in its idyllic natural surroundings.
Lingyin temple. Photo: flickr.com
Located in the north west of the city, not far from the West Lake, Lingyin Temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in China, founded in the late 328 CE by monk Hui Li, immediately after his return from India. The temple reached its peak splendor during the Kingdom of Wuyue (907-978 CE), hosting at that time more than 3000 monks of the Chan sect. Having suffered many marauders during its history, it has been rebuilt several times. The current buildings are a modern restoration and nowadays the temple is regarded as one of the wealthiest monasteries in China, as well as a famous destination for both pilgrims and tourists.
The monastery is the largest of several temples stretching along the Wulin Mountains (武林山); Wulin is the traditional name for Tangshanshui (唐山水) and refers to the three sided mountain group surrounding the West Lake. A beautiful landscape of millenary trees and wild rocks surrounds the Lingyin area, today marketed as the Lingyin-Feilai Feng Scenic Area. It is home to many historic buildings and artworks, including pagodas, pavilions, bridges, and statues which visitors can reach through different paths departing from the temple’s main axes. At the entrance, a four character inscription "The Western Heaven is between 0.8 to one foot away" (咫尺西天) welcomes visitors to an unforgettable experience. Proceeding down the road from the entrance, on the left is Feilai Feng (飞来峰) known as the "The Flying Peak" and Lingyin Hill (灵隐) on the right. The largest stone pagoda is Elder Li's Pagoda (理公塔), which is located near the entrance and houses the ashes of the founder of Lingyin, monk Hui Li.
The peak Feilai Feng is so-named because it is made of limestone, giving it a very different appearance from the surrounding mountains. According to legend, the peak was originally from India but flew to Hangzhou overnight to show the omnipotence of Buddhist law. The surface of the peak is dotted by many carvings and a walk along it reveals a large number of grottoes, caves and pagodas of religious significance. Of particular relevance is the main cave dedicated to the bodhisattva Guanyin.
On the right hand side of the entrance is the main temple complex itself. The main axis stretches up the Lingyin Hill following a traditional Song Dynasty five-hall Chan sect structure. Only the front three halls though are a part of the Qing Dynasty axis while the rest is a recent creation.
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The formal entrance of the temple is called Tiānwáng Diàn (Hallof the Heavenly Kings) – a double-eaved building hosting a big statue of the Maitreya Buddha in his manifestation as Bodai. Also known as the Laughing Buddha, he was an eccentric monk who lived in China from 907–923 CE and was considered a man of good and loving character. He is therefore portrayed as a fat bald man wearing a robe and carrying prayer beads and his few possessions in a cloth sack, symbolizing the Buddhist principle of being content despite poorness.
Lingyin temple. Photo: flickr.com
At the back of it, facing up the hill, is the most important and oldest statue in the temple, the 800 year old statue of the Skanda Buddha, known in Chinese as Weituo, surrounded both left and right by the Four Heavenly Kings statues. The size and majesty of the entrance are impressive and symbolizes the temple's status as the center of Buddhism in southeastern China.
Separated from the Hall of the Heavenly Kings by a large courtyard, is the second and principal hall: the Grand Hall of the Great Sage which stands 33.6 meters tall and houses the largest wooden Buddhist statue in China: Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, coated with 60 taels of gold and surrounded by a statue of Guanyin, backed by a large screen that features the carved images of some 150 Buddhist personalities, and arhats.
Further uphill and behind the main hall is the Hall of the Medicine Buddha and the Sutra library, followed by two recent additions: the Huayan Hall and the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats.
As its name reflects, a visit to Lingyin Temple is an experience of harmony and peace. In fact, "Ling-yin" means "Soul's Retreat" in Chinese and the temple's name is commonly literally translated as Temple of the Soul's Retreat. A trip to the beautiful city of Hangzhou is simply not complete without visiting one of the most magnificent Buddhist temples in China.
Add: Lingyin Temple, 1 Fayun Lane, Xihu District, Hangzhou
Tel: 0571 8796 8665
Opening hours: 07:00-18:00
Price: 45 RMB Feilaifeng Grottoes, 30 RMB Lingyin Temple
Getting there: Bus K7, K807, Tourism Bus No. Y1, Y2. Get off at Lingyin Temple station (灵隐寺)
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Keywords: Lingyin Temple Hangzhou tourist attractions
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