No. 11: Yuanming Jiangtang, Shanghai

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on March 5, 2012.)

The buildings at Yuanming Jiangtang (圆明讲堂) in Shanghai (上海) look like office
buildings, but some fine statues inside include this Jade Buddha (玉佛).
August 25, 2009 - Friends have asked me how I can visit so many temples and not get bored. "Aren't they all the same?" they wonder.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

After the precious Chengxiang Ge and the huge, stunning Longhua Temple, I managed to make it back to the area where I was staying to visit the Yuanming Lecture Hall.

What makes this temple different from the others? Essentially, it is an office compound. A five-story structure houses monks who are engaged in advanced study of Buddhism; few of the buildings resemble anything like a temple, though, as we'll see, there is something special about the place.

Arriving after 5 p.m., I was disappointed to find that the upstairs was closed. Here, I had heard, there is a hall dedicated to Master Yuan Ying. Once abbot of Ningbo's Tiantong Temple, he founded Yuan Ming Jiang Tang as a study center in 1934. Later, he was the first chairman of the Chinese Buddhism Association. There is also said to be a "500 Arhat's Mountain," with moving figures, something I hope to see someday.

But the "prize" of this visit was the people. The reason I was able to get in after hours is that the gates were open to admit devotees to a ceremony.

In fact, in addition to being a study center, the temple has quite a lively "dharma activity" schedule. Aside from the usual 1st- and 15th-day ceremonies, there is also a special celebration on the 12th lunar day to commemorate Master Yuan Ying's birth.

The ceremony I joined was on none of the days. In any case, the people were incredibly friendly, offering me chanting books (which I couldn't read), asking where I was from (in English!) and generally making me feel at home.

Although the buildings and statues weren't much, the people made the visit time well spent.

GPS Info:
  • 31.217814, 121.437928



Devotees take a break during a ceremony at Yuanming Jiangtang, Shanghai
The exterior wall is squeezed into a cityscape
The five-story building--the entire Jiangtang (lecture hall)--is surrounded by the Merry Hotel

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