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Special Report  

A Visit to the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism

By staff reporter XI WEN

OF the various religions in China, Buddhism is the most popular and widespread. It has a history of close to 2,000 years in China. The country's different geographic areas and languages mean Chinese Buddhism can be roughly divided into Han (Chinese) Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Pali Buddhism. Han Buddhism prevails among the population of the dominant Han ethnic group, and Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Gansu and other Tibetan communities, while Pali Buddhism is prevalent among the Dai minority in Yunnan Province.

In Han (Chinese) Buddhism, Mount Wutai of Shanxi Province, Mount Emei of Sichuan Province, Mount Putuo of Zhejiang Province and Mount Jiuhua of Anhui Province are regarded as the Four Sacred Mountains. According to legends, these four great mountains are the locations of the enlightenment of Bodhisattvas Wenshu, Puxian, Guanyin and Dizang.

The Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism are famed for their rare Buddhist libraries, cultural antiques, splendid Buddhist architecture and beautiful scenery. They attract Buddhist disciples and tourists from around the world.


Mount Wutai

Located in Wutai County, Shanxi Province, Mount Wutai is one of the five pilgrimage sites of Buddhism in the world, the other four being Nepal's Lumbini and India's Kushinagara, Mrgadava and Buddhagaya. Wutai is especially dedicated to the Bodhisattva of wisdom, or Wenshu in Chinese.

Mount Wutai became the most sacred site of Chinese Buddhism around AD 67. It now holds more than 50 temples; the famous ones are Xiantong, Tayuan, Pusading and Foguang.

Xiantong Temple is one of the oldest in China and the first destination for pilgrims. Most of its buildings date from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Among its valuable cultural artifacts is a copper statue of the Thousand-Alms-Bowl Bodhisattva Wen-shu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and a bronze namesake hall that has thousands of small bronze Buddhist icons lining its four walls. In the Bell Tower in the front part of the temple hangs a 5,000-kilogram bronze bell cast during the Ming Dynasty. When the bell tolls, it echoes all over the mountain.


Xiantong Bronze Hall in Xiantong Temple, Mount Wutai. Chang Long 

The Great White Pagoda, or Sarira Stupa, of Tayuan (Pagoda Courtyard) Temple is a landmark of Mount Wutai. According to a legend, after Sakyamuni passed away, his body transformed into 84,000 sariras. King Ashoka, the great Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, built 84,000 stupas all over the world. The Great White Pagoda of Tayuan, one of the 19 Sarira stupas in China, is 56.4 meters high, and enshrines the tablet of a Buddhist footprint, which attracts countless Buddhist followers and non-believers.

Pusading, or Bodhisatva Summit, is the largest and most important temple of Tibetan Buddhism on Mount Wutai. Its name comes from a Manchurian term meaning the living place of Bodhisattva Wenshu. The temple was initiated during the Northern Wei (386-534), and in the Ming Dynasty it became a permanent home for Mongolian and Tibetan lamas of the Gelug Sect. During the Qing Dynasty, it was converted into a royal temple, achieving exalted status. Historical documents show that many Qing emperors worshipped here. The yellow glazed tiles on the roofs of its halls and the archways of four pillars indicate the temple's royal standing. Two of the nameplates carved on the stone archways were inscribed by Emperor Kangxi (1662-1723).

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us