No. 6: Tiantong Temple, Ningbo, Zhejiang

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on January 30, 2012.)

Gateway to a small compound in an upper corner of Tiantong
Temple (天童寺) outside of Ningbo in Zhejiang (浙江, 宁波市).
August 22, 2009 - The morning after my return from Putuoshan Island, my friends and I headed out by private car (for which they kindly paid). We traveled west from Beilun, toward central Ningbo, but then turned south into some of Zhejiang's wild mountains to find Tiantong Si, the "Temple of the Heavenly Child."

Founded in the year 300, Tiantong is a huge complex, with dozens of ochre-colored plaster and red-painted wood buildings marching up the mountainside. It is also a major destination for pilgrims, especially those from Japan.

That's because around 1225, a Japanese monk named Dogen Zenji arrived here, and ended up studying with the great monk Rujing of the Caodong sect of Chan (Zen). Two and a half years later, Dogen returned to Japan and founded the Soto Zen sect ("Soto" is the Japanese pronunciation of "Caodong"), which today claims millions of followers in Japan and throughout the world.

Aside from the main compound, the temple has two "tayuan," or "pagoda compounds," located on another part of the mountainside in lush bamboo forests. One of these evocative cemeteries contains the remains of Rujing himself. We had a hard time finding the compound, and ended up having our driver take us up to it in the car. (It was--unfortunately--locked, but we peeked through the gate.)

As with all mountain temples, Tiantong Si is a bit hard to reach. If you're not fortunate enough to have a friend who hires you a car, try going to Ningbo's East Bus Station and taking bus 362-3 for Tiantong Si stop.

Our next stop was lunch in a country diner, before we pushed on to our next temple.

GPS Info:
  • 29.803421, 121.795074


(This may look blank, but it works--I promise!)


The Buddha Hall at Tiantong Temple, Ningbo
View across the Buddha Hall courtyard to the mountains beyond
Steep, covered staircases scale the mountain on either side of the main buildings
Huge halls descend the mountainside as seen from above
This wall hides a private area built against the mountainside (postcard above)
This one-lane mountain road leads to the cemeteries in a bamboo forest outside of the temple
This staircase rises up to the cemeteries

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