Zhiti Huayan Temple, Ningde, Fujian
(October 25, 2011)

(1) This gate at Zhiti Shan Huayan Si (which reminds me of the new one at Qinglong Si in Xi'an). It was being built when I stayed there to teach kids for a week back in 2006, five years before this visit. I'll be posting more about that visit elsewhere, but this was where my (mainland) Chinese Buddhist experience really began. Though it is one of the 142, I didn't know about the list yet, so back I went today to make an "official" visit.

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So this was a homecoming of sorts. A few months ago Lila and I were in Kunming and "accidentally" ran into one of the monks I met when I stayed at Huayan Si, Venerable Deru. We exchanged numbers in Kunming and have kept in touch since then, and today he picked me up at Ningde train station and hauled me up to the temple (an hour from the station, and 19 kilometers from the highway up a one-lane mountain road). It was quite a day...

(2) The view of the former gate from the new one; the old one is a sort of Four Kings Hall with only two kings. I won't show many shots of the temple's buildings, as there are some peculiarities I want to share, and the rest is pretty much as usual.

(3) Looking back at the inside of the new gate, you can barely see another small barrel-shaped pagoda to the right, on the little ledge of the hill; I wrote about this on the July 19 entry here.

(4) Not what most would call "great weather," but the mist added to the atmosphere.

(5) The main hall, just to give you a sense of the place's general appearance.

(6) A rare painted ceiling in the center of the main hall.

(7) An unusual painted drum head in the main hall.

(8) This marker tells the story of the "The Spirited Cow of Zhiti Shan"--or something like that. The character "ling" may here mean something more like "animated" (as in "having a soul") or "containing a departed person's soul" maybe.

Anyway, it seems a local farmer was about to kill a cow when it fell to its knees, began crying, and begged for its life (apparently verbally). The farmer of course relented, and brought the cow to the temple to let it live out its natural life. It did, and died peacefully around 13 years later. (This is how I heard it; there's a longer version on the net in Chinese, where the writer seems to say that he/she saw the cow, and if you said the name of Amitabha Buddha to it, it would kneel, as in the picture.)

The kicker? This happened in 1981! Sounds more ancient, doesn't it? The temple (like many) is a "released life" area, and has dogs, sheep, and at least one guinea hen roaming the grounds, heirs to the "Spirited Cow."

(9) In this picture we see the 700 or so people who walked up the mountain (remember, 19km or about 12 miles from the highway). Amazing enough, until you hear that it was a "3 step, one prostration" pilgrimage, which is exactly what it sounds like. Imagine! I don't know the year. The gray row in the center is nuns, and the rest are mostly lay people in matching gym suits. Buddhism is alive and well in Fujian!

(10) We now move to the temple's top hall, where several interesting things reside. This is a detail of a carved wooden board containing an imperial edict from the Ming Dynasty (say, 400 or more years ago).

(11) And this is a small-door-sized slab carved in reverse and used for printing (the black color is ink).

(12) This is Vairocana, my personal Buddha; this is the first statue of him I saw in China, and he's the central figure in this building.Read a lot about him here, where I wrote, "The mother of one of the Ming emperors had sent out five statues of this Buddha to five temples; this was said to be the only one remaining." There's also a legend about this statue: Some thieves stole it, and after carrying it all night, they discovered when the sun came up that they were still in the hall! A familiar tale.

(13) The Vairocana sits on a base of a thousand buddhas (as do most); he is also surrounded by a thousand iron buddhas, each seemingly different, lining three walls of the hall. Impressive.

(14) OK, this is a little creepy. This is the Lotus Sutra, copied in seven volumes--in the writer's blood! He was an anonymous Ming-Dynasty monk. I've heard about these "blood sutras," but I've never been this close to one (I touched it); and it wouldn't be the last blood I'd see today...

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Ven. Deru had asked me to spend the night at his temple; I was unable to (partly because I needed to post to this album!), but I did agree to let him take me to Fu'an and his temple, as well as some others. We had lunch, tea, and photos with the abbot, my friend Huijing, who was administrator when I was at Huayan Si before. After some sightseeing and my prayers (Ven. Deru videoed me!) we headed down the mountain.

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Last Updated August 7, 2019

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