Fangguang Temple, Tiantai, Zhejiang
(September 14, 2011)

(1) In the distant past, there were pilgrim trails leading to many temples. Even today, in modern Shenzhen, you can find markers with "Namo Amitofo" (Homage to Amitabha Buddha) quite far down on the main road leading to the biggest temple, Hong Fa Si. Still, it's a surprise and delight to see pilgrims walking. We saw some a couple of kilometers from the Fangguang Temple (just past a big bus); here they are closer to the temple, after we got out of our taxi.

About that taxi: It cost us 260 renminbi (about $39US, almost as much as each of our rooms). When we were in the temple, we spoke to a kid we had seen at another temple yesterday; he said he took a bus that cost him TWELVE (less than $2!) Oh, well, by the time we found it, and took it along those windy roads… I guess comfort and convenience has its price. In the end, I'd do it our way again.

(2) Shortly after paying the steep 60 rmb ($9) fee, we were at the bottom of some stairs opening on this view. On the left is "Middle Fangguang Temple," and we're on our way to "Lower Fangguang Temple." (I saw no sign of "Upper Fangguang Temple.") We passed this for now, to return (and return again) later.

(3) I have turned around 180 degrees from the previous shot to look at this, the "Waterfall looks like a dragan's [sic] swaying tail," according to the sign. It does sort of "lift off" from the rocks. By the way, we crossed the bridge you can see just above it to get there; on our return, we took the shortcut up the stairs in the previous shot.

(4) This is our first view of Lower Fangguang Temple (which is actually signed "Old Fangguang Temple" on the lintel). We also passed this one to see the main waterfall.

(5) Here it is: Shiliang Waterfall. Its claim to fame is the natural stone bridge over the falls; clearly, there was a pond up there, and the water eventually cut through, leaving a piece.

Here's the description from the sign: "Shiliang is a natural stone bridge of granite. The stone bridge runs cross the two cliffs, with 7m long, 3m thick, and got its stone back swelled. The narrowest of the bridge is less than 10 inches wide. The space between the bridge and the waterfall is only 2m high. With the force of a thunderbolt and the colour of snow, the flying waterfall runs acoss [sic] the bridge down into the deep pool, more than 30m high from the cliff. It is a wonderful combination of mountain, rock and water. The waterfall is marvelous because of the stone bridge, and the stone bridge is dangerous because of the waterfall. It's a wonderful workmanship excelling nature."

(6) A longer shot of the stone bridge, with a clearer view of Middle Fangguang Temple perched on top. It's not uncommon to find holy sites the world over located near outstanding natural phenomena; this is a clear case.

(7) Archery for tourists, a little downstream from the falls. What's a visit to a temple without shooting at something?

(8) Back up some stairs to the entry of Lower Fangguang Temple. We're actually entering from the "liturgical west." (When I describe temples, the main gate and main hall can be considered facing "south," so entering from the left side is from the "west." This comes from the tradition of describing Christian ceremonial, where the altar is always considered to be "east." It's easier than saying "left and right" when people keep turning around!) So in fact, as we face this gate, the main hall will be up to the left, not straight ahead. The temple has been "bent" to the contours of the landscape; the actual main gate hall faces the river.

(9) There is a simple Maitreya (Milefo) in the entry hall just shown; the so-called "main gate" has a similar cabinet with a figure of Guan Yu, protector of temples. There were no Four Kings or Wei Tuo, as are usually found. All in all, I found this temple refreshing in its simplicity.

(10) Here is a view of the falls and Middle Fangguang Temple from the front "porch" of the lower temple (which also overlooks the river). You can actually see a pretty good piece of the stone bridge here.

(11) The front of the lower temple's main hall. The whole temple lacks the usual sign boards over the doors, on the columns, etc. Ultimate shabby simplicity; I love it.

(12) The main altar is simply Shakyamuni and the usual attendants, Ananda and Kashyapa (representing exoteric and esoteric teachings). While I was doing my devotions, a monk came in and made the food offering before lunch (the time was a little before 11am). He and one other were the only monks we saw down here; the other was grabbing his food from the kitchen to go eat in what was presumably a dining hall upstairs. The rest of the hall contained simple statues of the 18 arhats, and the usual Puxian (Samantabhadra) and Wenshu (Manjushri) Bodhisattvas, but lacking their usual animal vehicles (that is, no elephant or lion).

(13) The back hall has this jade Buddha, and is lined on three sides with cases containing what are presumably the 500 arhats, each about a foot tall.

(14) The temple's rough construction lacks many of the usual amenities; here, someone has improvised a substitute for a missing stairway. I called it the "stairless stairs," a joke on the Chan/Zen idea of the "gateless gate."

(15) As we were leaving, we could see this view of Middle Fangguang Temple over the gateway of the lower temple. Note the obvious balcony at the corner; we'll see a view from there later.

(16) Here's the outside of the front of Middle Fangguang Temple, and the bridge that crosses to the front door (seen from below earlier). Note the corner of the roof sticking up over this building; it will feature in a later story.

(17) This building was a maze of rooms, a rabbit warren. Clearly it was built around the hillside, as this large boulder still in place attests. We saw no halls per se on this visit, just a lot of utilitarian spaces.

(18) Climbing some stairs, we found the balcony noted in an earlier caption; here is a view of Lower Fangguang Temple from Middle Fangguang Temple. In a way, there's little in these temples that would attract tourists; the waterfall is the only draw, and though we saw people there, I think we only saw one visitor inside either of the two temples (our friend from yesterday who told us about the bus). Nevertheless, the simplicity of the halls, the quiet, the stunning location seen here, all add up to a fine experience for the pilgrim.

(19) We had left Middle Fangguang Temple and started up the stairs, but something was bugging me; was there no hall of any sort in that aggregation of rooms? Looking back through the bamboo, I in fact spotted something hall-like on top of the pile. Apparently we hadn't climbed enough stairs. So, after hesitating a moment, back down we went, then up all the stairs, to find a very small, simple hall. There was a Guan Yin in the center (in fact, it was called a "Great Compassion Hall" on a small handwritten sign down below) with a statue of Dizang (Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva) next to him/her. On a high shelf were small figures of the 18 Arhats, but lining both side walls were these cabinets with a rough total of 84 figures. These may be (I'm not sure) the 84 Buddhas (or perhaps 84 Mahasiddhas?) This requires more research…

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Last Updated August 7, 2019

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