the buddhist temples
Of the seven temples and monasteries within walking distance of Amanfayun, the most renowned is Lingyin Si or ‘Soul’s Retreat’. Located about two kilometres west of West Lake it was founded in the first year of Xianhe of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (326 AD) by an Indian monk named Hui Li. Right from the start Lingyin Si was a famous monastery in the Jiangnan region. At its peak under the Kingdom of Wuyue (907-978 AD), the temple featured nine multi-storey buildings, 18 pavilions, 72 halls, more than 1,300 dormitory rooms and housed 3,000 monks. Although now reduced in size, it remains one of the ten most important temples in China and is one of the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temples in the country.
The formal entrance of the temple is the Hall of the Heavenly Kings which contains a number of striking Buddhist statues, statues of the Four Heavenly Kings who are believed to watch over the world’s four cardinal directions and an ornate ceiling painted with phoenixes and dragons. The second and principal hall is the Grand Hall of the Great Sage, separated from the entrance hall by a large garden courtyard. This hall houses a statue of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, carved in 1956 from camphor wood and coated with 60 taels of gold. It is the largest wooden Buddhist statue in China. Further uphill, behind the main hall is the Hall of the Medicine Buddha. Other notable halls include the Sutra Library, Huayan Hall and Hall of the Five Hundred Arhats. It is not only the temple’s halls which are famous. The entrance to the monastery is lined with hundreds of rock grottos that contain detailed religious rock carvings of the big-bellied ‘Laughing Buddha’. One of the most significant carvings is the Feilai Feng, literally translated as ‘the peak that flew hither’ or ‘the flying peak’. The peak is so-named because it is made of limestone, giving it a rough-hewn appearance very different from the surrounding mountains. The legend goes that the peak was originally from India but flew to Hangzhou overnight as a demonstration of the omnipotence of Buddhist law. A large number of carvings decorate the surface of the peak. More are located in various caves and grottos throughout the peak. The main cave is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Guanyin and inside there is a crack in the rock ceiling that stretches to the surface. A person within the cave can look up to see a thin sliver of sunlight. This is known as the ‘one thred of heaven’.
Adjacent to Lingyin Temple and bordering Amanfayun is Yongfu Si (Temple of Goodness). Set in the forest with meandering paths and extensive gardens, this is one of the prettiest temples in the area. Higher up the mountain lies the Temple of Taoguangguanhai, boasting views across the hills and valleys to West Lake and Hangzhou City in the distance. At the very top of North Peak Mountain, the highest peak in Hangzhou district, is the 1,600-year-old Lingshun Temple (Temple of Wealth). This popular temple sees a constant stream of pilgrims lighting incense and praying for increased fortunes. Alongside Meiling North Road, at the turn off to Amanfayun, is a walkway that traces the original Tianzhu (the ancient Chinese name for India) Pilgrim Path, and links the upper, middle and lower Temples of Tianzhu.
The three Temples of Tianzhu all feature a variety of images of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. The temples therefore attract a great number of female pilgrims, fascinated by the many legends about the goddess. The Temple of Faxi (Happiness) is the upper temple – the largest of the three. It was established between 906 and 970 AD during the Kingdom of Wuyue in the Five Dynasties. One kilometre south lies the Temple of Fajing (Temple of Purity). Established by the Indian monk, Master Bao Zhang, in 597 AD, it is also known as the Middle India Peak. The lower temple, also known as Fajing Temple (but translated as Temple of Reflection) is the oldest of the three and was established by the Indian monk, Master Hui Li, in 330 AD. Surrounded by tea fields and a small village, today this temple is the only nunnery in Hangzhou. Many older Hangzhou women visit this temple to pray and spend time with the nuns.
Another temple of interest further afield is Jingci Temple, situated at the foot of Huiri Peak of Nanping Hill, south of West Lake. Listed as a national key Buddhist temple by the state council in 1983, it was first constructed in 954 AD for a famous monk named Yong Ming by Qian Hongji, the king of Wuyue Dynasty. The temple hosts one of the famous ‘Ten Views of West Lake’ known as ‘Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Hill’.