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Buddhist Tours

Buddhism took the Silk Road to China sometime in the 2nd century BC. It is widely believed thatHan Wudi, the seventh king of the Han dynasty, received Buddhist statues from Central Asian embassies around this time. This was confirmed in‘Hon Hanshu’, the book of later Han, compiled in the 5th century; it mentions the dissemination of Buddhist sutras by Central Asians during this period.

Buddhism has flowered in China ever since and is today one of the country’s foremost religions, alongwith Confucianism and Taoism.

Sacred relics, in their original form, still remain.
 
1. Giant Buddha of Leshan
TheGiant Buddha of Leshan risesan imposing 71 m. Carved out of a cliff in the 8th century, it is thetallest stone Buddha statue in the world. The Giant Buddha faces the sacred Mount Emeiand overlooks the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in southern Szechuan province.

Construction started in 713 AD, the work of a Chinese monk named Haitong, who hoped that the Buddha’s presence would calm the turbulent waters that plagued shipping vessels plying the river. The belief that “the mountain is Buddha and Buddha is the mountain” persists to this day.
 
2. Longmen Caves of Luoyang
Described by UNESCO as “an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity,” the collection of 1350 caves, 40 pagodas and 1,10,000 sculptures stretches over a kilometre along the west bank of the Yi River near Luoyang in Henan Province.

The origins of Longmen Caves (or Longmen Grottoes) date back to 493 AD. The early caves from the Northern Wei dynasty have simple, rounded, formally modelled statues of Buddhist holy men, while those from the Tang dynasty are more complex and incorporate women and court figures as well.

The caves been beautifully restored and have labels in English throughout.
 
3. The White Horse Temple
Built by Emperor Mingdi in 68 ADin Luoyang, the White Horse Temple was the first Buddhist temple in China. In the leafy environmentstand several ancient buildingsin an atmosphere of devotion. Home to a thriving community of Buddhist monks, the temple is primarily a place of worship.

A stone archway has been built in front of the original gate. Between the archway and the gate lies a pool with fountains – spanned by three stone bridges.

Outside the temple is the tiered, brick Qiyun Pagoda, the oldest of China's ancient pagodas.

Note: Not all areas are open to tourists.
 
4. Shaolin Temples (ShàolínSì):
Shaolin Temples are a collection of Chinese Buddhist monasteries in Henan Province. The roots of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and martial arts lie here.

The Shaolin order dates back to about 540 AD, when an Indian Buddhist priest named Bodhidarma (Tamo in Chinese) travelled to China to meet the Emperor and spread Buddhist scriptures. He settled down in a Shaolin monastery and developed the art of Shaolin Kung Fu.

The monasterywas built in the remains of a fast-depleting forest, long before the arrival of Bodhidarma. New trees were planted at the time to create a “young forest”: “Shaolin”, in Chinese.

The Qing murals in the White Robe Hallrecreate the rescue of Emperor Tai Zong by thirteen monks. The Thousand Buddha Hallhouses a Ming-dynasty mural.

Depressions in the stone floor of the Hall of Wen Shu– caused by monks practicing Kung Fu moves¬ – are still visible.

200m up the hill from the temple is the Pagoda Forest: hundreds of stone pagoda memorials erected in honour of Shaolin monks from the 9th to 19th centuries.

Not far is the cave where Bodhidarma spent nine years motionless facing a wall in a state of Zen enlightenment.
 
5. YongHe Gong (Lama Temple), Beijing:
YongHe Gong is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. Also known as the ‘Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple’,YongHe Gong was built in 1694 as the official residence for court eunuchs.

In 1723, when Emperor Yong Zheng moved into the Forbidden City, the building was retiled in imperial yellow and converted into a temple.

Along the central axis of YongHeGong stand five main halls: The Hall of Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Everlasting Protection, the Hall of the Wheel of the Law and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness.

Among the many attractions are incense burners, especially the ornate version in the second courtyard that dates back to 1746.
 
6. Mango Caves
The Mango Caves in Dunhuang County, Gansu Province are also called Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes and the Thousand Buddha Caves. Their origins go back to 366 AD.

WhenEmpress Wu Zetian took over the reins of the Tang-dynasty, more than 1,000 had been carved. They were to become the centre of culture on the Silk Road from the 4th to the 14th centuries, the residenceof religious artworks spanning that entire period.

600 cave temples survive. Of theseabout30are open to the public. Two visit all 30 takes two days.
 
7. Jade Buddha Temple
Two magnificent white jade Burmese Buddha statues resideat the Jade Buddha Temple (Yu Fo Si), founded in Shanghaiin 1882.

A monk (from Putuo Shan) had brought the two statues from Burma in 1881. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Fortunately, the jade Buddha statues survived, but the temple buildings had to be reconstructed.

Both statues – in clear sparkling white jade – depict the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. One is the Sitting Buddha, 190 cm high,wearing semi-precious stones, in meditation and enlightenment. The other, smaller, is Recumbent Buddha, in ‘lucky repose’.

Both are precious: rare specimens in jade and porcelain.
 
8. Jokhang Temple
In of the old city of Lhasa, lies the first Buddhist temple of Tibet: Jokhang Temple.

According to legend, the temple was built for the two brides of the great Tibetan King, SongtsenGampo (617- 650 AD). When he married Nepalese Princess Tritsun and the Chinese Princess Wencheng, both wives are said to have brought life-size statues of Sakyamuni Buddha as part of their dowries.

The statues were housed in the temple, which has since been the most sacred temple in all of Tibet.

The government offices of the fifth Dalai Lama were set up in the temple complex. The Initiation Ceremonies of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama were held in this temple; so too the Great Prayer Festival and other religious ceremonies.

Four stories tall,theJokhang Temple combines Tibetan elements with influences from Nepal, China and India. The exterior of the temple is decorated with deer and wheel motifs, early symbols of Buddhism.

The temple is reserved for pilgrims in the mornings and opens for visitors only in the afternoons.
 
9. Drepung Monastery, Lhasa
TheDrepung Monastery– origin 1416 – is home to 10,000 Gelugpa monks and is one of the “great three” Gelugpa universities of Tibet.

The monastery comprises caves, temples, two magnificent white pagodas, Tantric colleges and other buildings that commemorate Geluk masters of the past.

A 15 m tall statue of the 8-year-old Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha) stands in the third floor of the main building. The second floor has Buddhist scriptures and the first floor contains several Buddha statues and other relics.

The sacred mirror in the chapel to the north of the second floor issaid to cure the facial diseases of those who gaze into it.

Monks use courtyardsin the forest around the monastery to debate sutras (Buddhist scriptures). Winnersare invited to take a test to earn the coveted degree of Geshi.
 
10. The Samye Monastery
The first temple to be built in Tibet is unique: the architecture replicates the universe exactly as described in Buddhist sutras.

The majestic Wuzi Hall represents the central world: Mount Meru. Chapels that stand in the north and south represent the Sun and Moon. Four larger halls and eight smaller halls symbolise the four large continents and eight small ones. In the four corners lie the Red, White, Black, and Green Pagodas guarding the Dharma.

A circular wall surrounds the temple as if marking the periphery of the world. The main temple exhibits Tibetan religious art, murals and statues and relics of note.

Most pilgrims spend weeks reaching the Samye Monastery. For Tibetan Buddhists, its time well spent.
© 2012 China National Tourist Office (New Delhi). All rights reserved