No. 108: Wuzu Temple, Huangmei, Hubei

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on September 29, 2014.)

This is the stupa (塔) of the Fifth Patriarch (五祖) of Chan (Zen = 禅), on the
mountain behind Wuzu Temple (五祖寺), Huangmei, Hubei (湖北, 黄梅县).

August 7, 2012 - In July of 2012, I had visited most of the important sites in the life of Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan (Zen). I had been to Xinxing, where he was born and died, and where his parents were buried. I went to Dajian Temple in Shaoguan, where he preached the Platform Sutra, and to Nanhua Temple near the same city, where he taught for many years, and where his effigy remained. I also had visited smaller sites rumored to have been places where he meditated. Even before that, I had been to Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou, where he had actually been ordained.

But it wasn't until August of that same summer that I visited the place where one of the most famous events of his life had taken place: his meeting with the Fifth Patriarch, Hongren.

The place where that happened is today called simply Wuzu ("Fifth Patriarch") Temple, though it was once called Dongshan ("East Mountain") Temple. It lies in the Huangmei area of Hubei, where Hongren, the Fifth Patriarch, was born.

As the story goes, after his first awakening, the layman Huineng traveled hundreds of kilometers across the mountains to the temple where the Fifth Patriarch presided. Once admitted, he was assigned to pound rice and do other chores in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, a competition was set to determine who would succeed Hongren and become the Sixth Patriarch. Through a series of events, Huineng, the illiterate "barbarian" from Guangdong, won!

Hongren allegedly then gave his robe and bowl to this upstart in the dead of night, and hurried him out under cover of darkness. It was years before he was properly ordained and took his place.

Today, there are traces of Huineng here--a rice-pounder on display in the kitchen, and a series of plaques telling his story. But my favorite sight in the temple was the Fifth Patriarch's pagoda on the hill behind.

The temple is quite hard to reach, entailing one bus after another from my new hotel in Jiujiang, up to Huangmei, then Wuzuzhen, and finally in a hired car to the temple gates--and harder coming back!

GPS Info:
  • 30.1854, 115.94024


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


More pictures can be found here.

The buildings at Wuzu Temple are on terraces climbing Dongshan Mountain

A rice-pounding contraption like the one used by Huineng at the temple

A plaque with scenes from the life of Huineng (note the rice-pounder in use)

The pagoda of the Fifth Patriarch

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