No. 116: Nantai Temple, Nanyue, Hunan

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on December 8, 2014.)

Three different jade Buddhas (玉佛) grace the main altar
at Nantai Temple (南台寺), Nanyue, Hunan (湖南, 南岳).

August 14, 2012 - After my disappointing visit to Shangfeng Temple on Hengshan Mountain, I needed a win.

And I got one! Nantai ("South Terrace") Temple further down the mountain was a nice enough place in itself, but my visit ended with one of those moments that makes travel so worthwhile.

The place itself is remarkably old, dating back to the Tianjian Era of the Liang Dynasty (502-520), when it was founded by a monk named Haiyin. Behind the temple is a large flat stone on which the monk is said to have meditated, giving the temple its name.

A little over a century later, the temple was home to the prominent Chan monk Shitou Xiqian, a disciple of the great Sixth Patriarch Huineng and his disciple Xingsi Qingyuan (whom we met at Jingju Temple in Ji'an, Jiangxi). Three of Chan's traditional Five Houses can be traced through Shitou. Like Haiyin, he meditated on a stone near the temple, which gave him his common name: "Shitou" means "stone." Through him, Nantai is one seat of Caotang Chan (Soto Zen), and thus has strong patronage from Japanese devotees.

One thing I really appreciated here was the group of three Buddhas on the altar. Usually, Buddha statues are uniform and sometimes a little boring artistically. But here, there were three Jade Buddhas, all in a different style, but together making quite a pleasing effect.

At the top of the mountain behind the temple stands a pagoda said to hold relics of the Buddha. But the real treasure for me was the attendant monk. At first, he scolded me for trying to enter the pagoda with my shoes on (few temples in China require removal of shoes). Then we became friends, and before I left he had given me a book, a booklet, a fan (it was hot!), and a piece of fruit. Though he told me he was 80, the layman with him spoke English and said he was 54--just a few years younger than me!

GPS Info:
  • 27.25918, 112.71031


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


More pictures can be found here.

Three mismatched but beautiful jade Buddhas adorn the main altar at Nantai Temple.

Behind the temple, a large stone where monks historically meditated bears the name "Nantai Temple."

The Jingang Pagoda behind Nantai Temple is said to hold two Buddha relics.

The author with a friendly monk--the real treasure of Nantai Temple!

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