EXTRA: Bailin Temple, Zhaoxian, Hebei

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on June 1, 2015.)

The pagoda (塔) is the only ancient part of Bailin Temple (柏林寺), Zhaoxian, Hebei (河北, 赵县).

September 2, 2012 - The day after visiting Chongshan and Shaungta Temples, I moved from Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, to Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, and the last stop on a long tour. The day after that I figured out how to get out to remote Zhaoxian County to visit the former home of the great Chan (Zen) Master Zhaozhou (Japanese "Joshu"), star of one of the most famous teaching stories (Ch. gong'an, Jp. ko'an) of Chan.

The story is well-known, if not well understood. A student came to Zhaozhou and asked, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" to which the Master replied, "NO!"

This would be puzzling, as all beings are said to have Buddha nature. The range of explanations, I'm afraid, is too much for this article--if indeed words can explain it at all.

The place where this great master lived in his later years was called in his day "Guanyin Temple," named for the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It was built in the 3rd century and later destroyed. For many years the only structure on the site was the pagoda holding Zhaozhou's remains. (Though he died in 897, the pagoda wasn't built until 1330, in the Yuan Dynasty.)

The seven-story pagoda is once again in excellent repair. It stands about 40 meters high, and is made of brick with gorgeous, detailed carving. It even lends its name to the road on which it stands: Shi-ta or "Stone Tower" Road.

How I would have loved to have seen this pagoda standing lonely among the cypress trees, which give the place its more recent (but still ancient) name: Bailin (Cypress Forest) Temple. Today, a large, active temple has again risen on the site.

After I left the temple, I went down to see the famous "Zhaozhou Bridge," but was disappointed to discover it had been hidden away behind gates and a hefty entrance fee, so I headed back to my hotel.

GPS Info (Click the link to view the map):
  • Bailin Temple: 37.74731, 114.78445
  • Zhaozhou Bridge: 37.721665, 114.769692


(Regarding problems with this map, please see the CHINA section on this page.)


More pictures can be found here (temple) and here (bridge).

The gateway to modern Bailin Temple, former home of Master Zhaozhou

The pagoda holds Master Zhaozhou's remains

Detail of the pagoda holding the remains of Zhaozhou

The pagoda rises above modern Bailin Temple

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