No. 1: Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou, Zhejiang

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on December 5, 2011.)

This Vairocana Buddha (毗卢遮那佛) and the two bodhisattvas at his
sides are located in the uppermost hall at Lingyin Si (灵隐寺) in
Hangzhou, Zhejiang (浙江, 杭州市), the first "official" temple I visited.
August 18, 2009 - In the summer of 2009, I discovered a list of 142 Buddhist sites designated "Key Temples" by the central government back in 1983. I immediately set out to start seeing all of them. In this new column, I'll chronicle my adventures, and offer some tips on seeing these temples and the surrounding places of interest in China.

My first excursion, in August of that year, was to Zhejiang, since I had friends living in Beilun, a suburb of Ningbo. After spending a night with them, I hopped a highway bus for the 2-1/2 hour ride to Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang.

It was also the capital of China from 1127 to 1279, then called Lin'an. Venetian traveler Marco Polo, (allegedly) visiting a little later, called it "the most beautiful and magnificent [city] in the world." And a bit later still, the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (who traveled nearly five times farther than Polo) called it simply "the biggest city I have ever seen on the face of the earth."

Not as comparatively large today, but still remarkably beautiful, the city has all the conveniences you'd expect of a provincial capital. Off the highway bus and onto a local one, I skirted the famous West Lake (more about this next time) to my destination, Lingyin Temple (called "Temple of the Soul's Retreat") located southwest of the lake.

After purchasing a ticket for the "Lingyin Scenic Area" (40rmb) I enjoyed exploring some of the 345 carved figures in the grottoes across a small stream flowing past the temple's gate. This is the famous "Peak Flown From Afar," named by founding monk Huili, who thought it looked like a small mountain from his home in India had flown all the way to China!

I purchased my temple ticket (30rmb) and entered the first official temple of my pilgrimage. Inside I was treated to cool gardens, magnificent halls, and some of the finest statues I had yet seen in China. Of particular note was the 500 Arhats' Hall in the shape of a swastika, and the modern statue of Vairocana Buddha in the Huayan Hall.

Beyond Lingyin Temple are more hills and temples, including Yongfu Temple, and the traditional Fayun Village. I started up the mountain to see more, but unfortunately my time was limited, as I had one more temple to see on this daytrip to Hangzhou, a city definitely worth a few days' stay.

GPS Info:
  • 30.24048, 120.10251



Entrance gate to the Lingyin Scenic Area
Pagoda of monk Huili and grottoes at the "Peak Flown From Afar" (Feilai Feng)
Laughing Buddha in the grottoes
The main hall at Lingyin Temple
Entry to the 500 Arhats' Hall shaped like a swastika
Interior of the 500 Arhats' Hall
Entry to Yongfu Temple above Lingyin Temple
BONUS IMAGE: The Maitreya carving above, rendered as a vintage postcard.

Maitreya (弥勒) is also known as the "Laughing Buddha." Here he is
surrounded by arhats (罗汉) at Feilai Feng, "The Peak that Flew from
Afar," near Lingyin Temple (灵隐寺) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang (浙江, 杭州市).

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