Lingyin Temple (also known by the translated name Temple of the Soul’s Retreat) is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in all of China. With a history that spans over 1,700 years, it is the most recognized temple in Hangzhou. Dedicated to the Chan sect of Buddhism, it is considered a leading centre for the study and research of Chinese Buddhist culture. Lingyin Temple is one of the most popular temples in the country, receiving thousands of visitors and Buddhist followers each day.
- Lingyin Temple is located northwest of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province.
- Founded in 328 AD, it is the largest monastery situated in the Wuling Mountains. The entire area is known as a major centre for Chan Buddhism.
- Lingyin Temple and the surrounding area have been deemed “Lingyin-Feilai Feng Scenic Area”.
- The architecture of the monastery follows a five-hall Chan sect structure, which was traditional during the Song dynasty.
History Of Lingyin Temple
Founded in 328 AD, Lingyin Temple has a rich history spanning 1,690 years. An Indian Buddhist monk and pilgrim named Huili, established the monastery after arriving in Hangzhou. According to tradition, the spiritual beauty of the landscape inspired him, and he believed it was a home to the Immortals. Therefore, Huili deemed it, “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat”.
During the Five Dynasties (907 AD to 960 AD), the monastery increased in importance under the Wuyue Kingdom. What for his devotion to Buddhism, the ruler of the Wuyue State implemented major constructions on the monastery complex. It was inhabited by over 3000 monks, and consisted of nine multi-story structures, 1300 dormitory rooms, 72 halls, and 18 pavillions.
Over the coming centuries, Lingyin Temple increased in prominence. By the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279), it was seen one of the most important Chan sect temples in the Jiangnan region. Yet, regardless of its importance and fame, Lingyin Temple suffered has suffered destruction from wars, religious repression, and even fire. It has been rebuilt sixteen times throughout its history. The temple complex as it is today, is the result of restorations of late Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911) buildings. A major restoration project was undertaken in the mid-1970s, after Lingyin Temple sustained damage during the ten-year long Cultural Revolution. Blessedly, large-scale destruction was thwarted by the efforts of Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China. He recognized the importance of the temple complex, and placed it under his protection.
Today, Lingyin Temple is a thriving monastery complex receiving thousands of visitors and pilgrims each day. Besides its historical and cultural significance, it is regarded as one on the wealthiest monasteries in China.
Culture Of Lingyin Temple
Hall of Four Heavenly Kings: The main entrance of Lingyin Temple is the spectacular Hall of Four Heavenly Kings. The exterior of the structure is inscribed with a plaque written by Emperor Kangxi (1654 to 1722), the fourth ruler of the Qing dynasty. Said to have been awed by the sight of the temple shrouded in mist amongst the trees, the inscription reads, “Chan Temple of the Clouds and Forests”. This structure was built with double eaves and is over 60ft high. The ceilings are painted with exquisite renderings of dragons and phoenixes. The main statue in the hall is an enormous statue of Maitreya, the Laughing Buddha. Located at the back of the hall, is an 800-year-old statue of the Skanda Buddha. Dating from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279), this is the oldest and most important statue within the monastery complex.
Hall of the Great Hero: Passing through the courtyard, visitors come upon the Hall of the Great Hero. Its roof was constructed with three eaves, and soars to a height of 33.6m (110ft) at the pinnacle. This is one of the highest single storey buildings found in China. Housed within this hall, is a statue of Shakyamuni, the traditional Buddha. Carved in 1956 from 24 sections of camphor wood and covered with gold leaf, it measures 82ft (24.8m) high. It is one of the largest wooden statues of Buddha in China. Located on either side of the hall, are twenty imposing images of Buddhist saints and other figures.
Hall of Five Hundred Arhats: In Buddhism, an arhat is one of the highest ranks of saint. Located in front of the main hall, this structure was added to the complex in modern times. Arranged throughout the hall, are 500 bronze statues each seated on an ornate stool.
The entirety of the Lingyin Temple complex represents tremendous cultural and historical significance. The structures span from the Southern Song dynasty, to the Ming, to the Qing Dynasty. With its collection of wholly unique statues, and other artifacts, Lingyin Temple is a stunning cultural attraction that cannot be missed.
- Visitors must always remember that Lingyin Temple is a religious site, thus be respectful.
- Flash photography and smoking are forbidden within the temple complex. Always ask permission to take a photo.
- Lingyin Temple is open from 7 AM to 6:15 PM.
- Allot at least an hour to visit the temple complex.