Category: Mount Wutai.

About Mount Wutai

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Mount Wutai is located to the northeast of the Wutai County, which is situated at Xinzhou in Shanxi Province. It is one of the four famous Buddhist Mountains in China and said to be the Taoist rites of Manjusri.

Mount Wutai stands on the roof of northern China and covers a total area of 2,837 square kilometers. Its highest elevation is 3,058 meters. Mount Wutai is surrounded by five peaks, namely the Wanghai Peak in the east, Jinxiu Peak in the south, Cuiyan Peak in the middle, Guayue Peak in the west and Yedou Peak in the north. There are no trees on the top of these five peaks and the peaks are flat and wide, thus receiving their name “Wutai.” There are 47 temples in Mount Wutai, including 39 temples on the mountains and eight outside the mountains. The famous temples include the Xiantong Temple, Tayuan Temple, Pusading Temple, Nanshan Temple, Dailuoding Temple, Guangji Temple, and the Wanfo Pavilion.

In 1992, Mount Wutai was approved as a national forest park by the Ministry of Forestry and was also approved to be in the first batch of national AAAA tourism scenic spots by the National Tourism Administration in January 2001. In September 2005, Mount Wutai passed the assessment of the fourth batch of national geological parks and became a national geological park. In August 2007, Mount Wutai was approved to be in the first batch of national AAAAA tourism scenic spots by the National Tourism Administration, and on June 26, 2009, it was formally included in the World Heritage List at the 33rd World Heritage Convention held in Sevilla, Spain.

Mount Wutai’s history and the origin of its name

Establishment of Mount Wutai’s Buddhism

It is said that Mount Wutai was a Taoism holy-place at first and in the “Taoist Scripture,” Mount Wutai was called the Zifu Mountain, and the Zifu Temple was once built on it. The “Records of Qingliang Mountain” say that when the Bodhisattva Manjusri of Buddhism came to China for the first time, he lived in the Stone Basin Cave. The cave was actually in the Xuanzhen Taoist Temple. It indicates that Mount Wutai was originally a residence of Taoism.


Mount Wutai

When Buddhism was just spreading to China, it only had a small amount of followers. In 2 B.C., an emissary named Yi Cun sent by the King of the Da Yuezhi Kingdom (a kingdom established by a minority nationality which originally lived in the Yili River basins in the west of China’s Xinjiang Province, and then moved to Central Asia) arrived in Chang’an (Xi’an at present), China’s capital of that time. He orally passed on Buddhist scriptures to a scholar’s student named Lu Jing. It was the earliest historical record regarding Buddhism spreading to China.

It is generally believed that Buddhism was spread to Mount Wutai in the Eastern Han Dynasty. According to historical books, in December of the Yongping 10th year (67 A.D.), the emissary who was sent to the western regions to seek Buddhist scriptures by the Emperor Hanming returned to Luoyang with two eminent Indian monks named Kashyapa-Matanga and Gobharana.

In the Yongping 11th year, a temple was built on the southern side of the royal path outside the Xiyong Gate of Luoyang City for the two eminent Indian monks to live. In order to memorialize the white horse which transported the Buddhist scriptures (Sutra of Forty-two Chapters) and statues, the temple was named the White Horse Temple.

In the Yongping 11th year, Kashyapa-Matanga and Gobharana went to Mount Wutai (called Qingliang Mountain at that time) from Luoyang. Since the dagoba of King Ashoka had been found in Mount Wutai many years ago and since it was also the place where the Bodhisattva Manjusri once lived, they wanted to build a temple there. However, the mountain was a Taoist holy place, and therefore the two monks were quite unwelcomed. So, they reported the situation to Emperor Hanming. In order to distinguish whether Taoism or Buddhism was better, the Han government decided to let the monks and Taoists give practical shows, demonstrations and verifications. Therefore, the two sides made an agreement to burn their scriptures to compete. (It is said that the burning site is the present Scripture Burning Platform in Xi’an.) The result was that all the Taoist scriptures were burnt to ashes, but the Buddhist scriptures were not damaged.

Therefore, the two monks received the right to build the temple. There were various peaks, grounds and rivers in the mountains, so where was the perfect place for building the temple? The “Records of Qingliang Mountain” show that “on the left side of the great tower, there were footprints of the Sakyamuni Buddha, which were 1.6 chi long and 0.6 chi wide and had complete and clear toe prints and lines.” It is said that the two monks not only found the footprints but also found the Buddha’s relics. The peak in the Yingfang Village was majestic and unusual, and looked quite like Mount Gridhakutta (Sakyamuni Buddha’s practicing place) in India. For these reasons, they decided to build the temple on this peak. The completed temple was named the Lingjiu Temple. Emperor Hanming added “Dafu” (meaning faith) before it, and then the full name of the temple became the Dafu Lingjiu Temple. It was the former body of the current Xiantong Temple. From then on, Mount Wutai became the center of China’s Buddhism. The Dafu Lingjiu Temple and the White Horse Temple were the earliest Buddhist temples of China.

Prosperous periods in history

During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, Mount Wutai’s Buddhism stepped into its first prosperous period. The Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty greatly extended the Lingjiu Temple and also built another 12 temples around it, including the Shanjing Temple and Zhenrong Temple. In the Northern Qi Dynasty, the number of Mount Wutai’s temples increased to over 200. In the Sui Dynasty, the Emperor Wen built five temples on the five peaks, which were the Wanghai Temple on the Eastern Peak, Puji Temple on the Southern Peak, Falei Temple on the Western Peak, Lingying Temple on the Northern Peak and Yanjiao Temple on the Central Peak. Since Mount Wutai was the place where the Bodhisattva Manjusri gave lectures, the Bodhisattva Manjusri was worshipped in all five temples on the five peaks. However, he had five different titles. In the Wanghai Temple it was the Wise Manjusri, in the Puji Temple it was the Intelligent Manjusri, in the Falei Temple it was the Lion Manjusri, in the Lingying Temple it was the Spotless Manjusri, and in the Central Temple it was the Childish Manjusri. From then on, all the people who journeyed to Mount Wutai to worship would go to the five temples to pay their respects. At that time, the name Mount Wutai had frequently appeared in historical books of the Northern Qi Dynasty.

In the glorious age of the Tang Dynasty, Mount Wutai’s Buddhism developed to its second prosperous period. According to the “Legend of Ancient Qiliang,” the mountain had over 300 temples and over 3,000 monks at that time, and Mount Wutai was not only a renowned Buddhist mountain but also a sacred Buddhist land in China, and was known as the head of China’s Four Famous Buddhist Mountains.

It was in the Tang Dynasty when Mount Wutai started to become a sacred Buddhist land and had influence on the whole world’s Buddhism. The Tang Dynasty was a key period in the development history of Mount Wutai’s Buddhism

The glorious Tang Dynasty originated from Taiyuan, and therefore it regarded Mount Wutai as the “moral origin of the ancestors.” When Li Yuan was raising troops to revolt against the Sui Dynasty, he made a wish in front of the Buddha: If he could become the emperor, he would greatly spread the Buddhist spirit. In the Wude second year (619 A.D.), Li gathered senior monks in the capital, and set 10 virtues to administrate Buddhist affairs. After the Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty succeeded to the throne, he revived the cause of Buddhist scripture translations and appointed Prabhakaramitra to take charge. He also tonsured 3,000 monks and built many temples in the old battlefields. In the Zhenguan ninth year (635 A.D.), the Emperor Taizong gave an order, “Mount Wutai was the old residence of the Bodhisattva Manjusri and is a sacred place. It is close to Taiyuan and is the moral origin of our ancestors. Therefore, people must not commit blasphemy towards it.” In that year, 10 temples were built in Mount Wutai and hundreds of new monks were tonsured.

In the battle of seizing the throne, the Empress Wu Zetian attached great importance to the function of the Buddhism. In the Changshou second year (693 A.D.), the celebrated monks including Bodhiruci presented the newly-translated “Baoyu Sutra,” claiming that a female Bodhisattva had appeared in order to whip up public opinion for Wu Zetian’s succession. In the Zhengsheng first year (695 A.D.), the Empress Wu Zetian ordered Bodhiruci and Shikshananda to re-translate the “Avatamsaka Sutra” and the translation was completed in the Shengli second year (699 A.D.). The newly-translated “Avatamsaka Sutra” said, “there is a mountain in the northeastern region named Qiangliang Mountain where many Bodhisattvas once lived. At present, the Bodhisattva Manjusri often gives lectures to 10,000 followers in this mountain.” In Chang’an second year (702 A.D.), Wu Zetian claimed that her soul visited the five peaks of the Mount Wutai, and ordered people to re-build the representative temple of Mount Wutai, named the Qingliang Temple. After the temple was completed, she appointed the master Da De Gan as the abbot of the temple and conferred him the title of “Kaiguogong of the Changping County who enjoyed a high-level treatment and was in charge of the Buddhist affairs of the capital.”

This was the beginning of Mount Wutai’s development into a dominant place in China’s Buddhism as well as a renowned mountain and a sacred land under the feudal rulers’ control.

According to records, from the Emperor Taizong to Emperor Dezong of the Tang Dynasty, “all the nine emperors had regularly visited Mount Wutai and worshipped the Bodhisattva. They were very devout and always held ceremonies seriously.” Obviously, all the emperors from the Emperor Taizong to Emperor Dezong of the Tang Dynasty quite encouraged and had greatly supported Mount Wutai’s Buddhism.

Regarding Buddhist scriptures, the newly-translated “Avatamsaka Sutra” mentions that the Bodhisattva Manjusri’s residence was called the Qingliang Mountain. Furthermore, the “Bodhisattva Manjusri Prajna Sutra” also records that “the Buddha told the warrior attendant: to the Southeast of this continent (India), there is a country named Da Zhen Na (China). In the country there is a mountain named Five-Peak (Wutai). It is the place where the Bodhisattva Manjusri lives and gives lectures to believers.”

Since the Bodhisattva Manjusri’s residence of the “Qingliang Mountain” or “Five-Peak” described in the Buddhist scriptures was quite similar to Mount Wutai in all aspects including appearance, climate and environment, all the Buddhists of the world have regarded this five-peak Mount Wutai with a comfortable climate as the real residence of the Bodhisattva Manjusri in their illusory world. For this reason, Mount Wutai is renowned all over the world and has become a sacred land for Buddhists to worship. Without question, Mount Wutai’s prosperity and international fame is closely connected with the prosperous Tang Dynasty.

Buddhism was very popular during the Tang Dynasty, especially the Manjusri Bodhisattva who was highly respected by Buddhists. There was a rule during the Tang Dynasty that all temples in the country must worship the statue of the Manjusri Bodhisattva in their dining halls. As the government and the public all worshiped the Manjusri Bodhisattva and considered Mount Wutai as the holy land of Buddhism, Mount Wutai became unprecedentedly prosperous and cultivated many famous monks, and Cheng Guan was one of the prominent representatives.

Cheng Guan (738 to 839) was from Yuezhou’s Shanyin (Shaoxing of Zhejiang Province), and his family name was Xiahou and his first name was Daxiu before he became a monk. He became a monk in the Baolin Temple of Yingtian when he was 11 years old and received the tonsure ceremony when he was 14 years old. He made an oath to travel around Mount Wutai and visit all temples there when he was 39 years old. He stayed at the Great Huayan Temple to study and teach the Hua-yen Sutra for five years after visiting all famous temples of Mount Wutai. Afterwards, Cheng thought that the old comments of the Hua-yen Sutra were too complex. Therefore, he planned to make new comments for the Hua-yen Sutra. Cheng put himself in the Zhishu Pavilion of the Great Huayan Temple and began to make new comments for the Hua-yen Sutra on April, 8, 784, the first year of the Xingyuan under the reign of Tang Dezong. On Nov. 5, 787, the third year of Zhenyuan under the reign of Tang Dezong, the 60-volume “Dafangguangfo Comments of the Hua-yen Sutra” was eventually completed. Tang Daizong even saluted Cheng as a teacher during his reign, and Tang Dezong also called him a “Professor Monk” and gave him the title of “State Master Monk” as well as listed him in the list of Buddhist masters. Tang Xianzong even gave him a golden seal to allow him to command all monks in the country and be responsible for Buddhist affairs. Both Tang Muzong and Tang Jingzong respected Cheng and gave him the title of “Dazhao State Master Monk.” In the fifth year of Taihe under the reign of Tang Wenzong, the Emperor received Xinjie from Cheng, and in the first year of Kaicheng, the Emperor bestowed Cheng crops, wealth and food for Cheng’s 100-year-old birthday and conferred him as the “Datong State Master Monk.” Government officials also respected him and saluted Cheng with eight commandments of etiquette.

Cheng served under nine emperors and was considered as a teacher by seven emperors. He died at the age of 102 in 839, the fourth year of Kaicheng under the reign of Tang Wenzong, and when Cheng was died, Tang Wenzong did not even go to court for three days. He also ordered government officials to dress in white mourning dresses and held a solemn funeral for Cheng. Cheng was regarded as the “Fourth Progenitor of the Hua-yen School.” Mount Wutai cultivated a large number of famous monks and this is also an important mark on the formation of the Buddhist Holy Land Mount Wutai.

Another mark on the formation of the Buddhist Holy Land Mount Wutai is the large-scale construction of Buddhist temples and the increase of monks. There were more than 70 grand scale Buddhist temples in Mount Wutai during the Tang Dynasty.

The number of monks was increasing as the establishment and expansion of Buddhist temples. There were a total of about 10,000 monks and nuns in Mount Wutai during the Zhenyuan period under the reign of Tang Dezong. However, the prosperity and development of Buddhist temples also had a significant negative impact on social politics and economy. Therefore, Tang Wenzong released an order to abrogate Buddhism and demolish temples, and ordered monks and nuns to resume secular life in 854, the fifth year of Huichang under the reign of Tang Wenzong. A total of more than 44,600 various temples were demolished nationwide and more than 260,000 monks and nuns returned to secular life, and tens of millions hectares of land were taken back by the government.

Mount Wutai also did not escape from misfortune. Monks in Mount Wutai would run away and temples on the Mount Wutai were all damaged. However, Buddhism became popular again after Tang Xuanzong took the throne. The government formulated the number of monks in Mount Wutai at 5,000 people. In fact, the actual number of monks including privately tonsured monks and traveling monks was much more than 5,000 people. The number of monks in Mount Wutai during Tang Dynasty was the most in all of history. The great number of temples and monks is also a mark on the formation of the Buddhist Holy Land Mount Wutai.

Another mark on the Buddhist Holy Land Mount Wutai during Tang Dynasty is that foreign Buddhists highly respected Mount Wutai and emulated worshipped towards it. As the Tang Dynasty had a prosperous economy and a puissant national power, it enjoyed a high international reputation and was the center of economic and cultural exchanges between various Asian countries. Mount Wutai was also respected and admired by Buddhists from many countries such as India, Japan, Korea and Sri Lanka as the expansion of its international exchanges. A large number of foreign monks also made pilgrimage to Mount Wutai to learn and study Buddhism.

Origin of the name Mount Wutai

Most of those who have been to Mount Wutai usually visit the temple complex, which has a long history and large scale, and centers on Taihuai Town in Wutai County. In fact, the real Mount Wutai is five interconnected and beautiful peaks in Wutai County. The five peaks include the Wanghai Peak in the east, Guayue Peak in the west, Jinxiu Peak in the south, Yedou Peak in the north and Cuiyan Peak in the middle. As the altitudes of the five peaks are all above 3,000 meters, few people can reach the tops of the five peaks except some religious Buddhists who are capable of reaching the top to pay their respects to the Bodhisattva Manjusri. At the same time, because the temple complex of Taihuai Town is distributed among the five peaks, people generally regard they have been to Taihuai Town as they have been to Mount Wutai.

Mount Wutai used to be known as Zifu Mountain, and was also called Mount Wufeng Taoist Temple. Mount Wutai once was where monks practiced their religious. In 68 A.D. (the 11th year of the Yongping Period in the Eastern Han Dynasty), two high ranking Indian monks visited the mountain from the White Horse Temple in Luoyang and believed this area was where the Bodhisattva Manjusri taught Buddhism. They wanted to build temples to worship the Bodhisattva Manjusri, but Taoists who lived there did not agree. Finally, a competition between the Taoists and the two monks was staged by Emperor Liu Zhuang in Luoyang, and the two monks won. From then on, the Buddhists began to build Buddhist temples in Taihuai Town, and the first temple they built is today’s Xiantong Temple. Since then, the temples, which centered on Taihuai Town, were constructed and expanded in all dynasties with their total number once reaching more than 360, and over one hundred temples still exist today. Therefore, Mount Wutai ranks first among the four famous Buddhist Mountains with its long temple history and large-scale.

There was a rare-known story about why Mount Wufeng changed its name to Mount Wutai. According to legend, the climate in the ancient Mount Wufeng was very bad and it was very hot all year round. However the Manjusri, who was teaching Buddhism there, showed his sympathy for the local people and decided to save them. The Manjusri dressed up as a mendicant monk and went to the East China Sea to ask the Dragon King for help. He discovered a big bluestone at the gate of the Dragon Palace, which sent out cool breeze, and took it back. When the Manjusri put the big bluestone (the precious stone the Dragon King of the East China) at a valley in Mount Wufeng, the valley became a natural pasture with rich grass and cool weather. As a result, the valley was called Qingliang Valley. Local people constructed a temple in the valley and put the bluestone in the temple. Therefore, Mount Wufeng became known as Mount Qingliang.

Later, Emperor Yangjian of the Sui Dynasty heard this story and ordered his people to build temples at each top of the five peaks to enshrine the Manjusri. The enshrined Manjusri included the Intelligent Manjusri worshiped in the east peak, the Lion Manjusri worshiped in the west peak, the Wise Manjusri worshiped in the south peak, and the Spotless Manjusri worshiped in the north peak, and the Childish Manjusri worshiped in the middle peak. Visitors can watch the sunrise in the east peak, appreciate the bright moon in the west peak, look at pediment in the south peak and watch snow in the north peak. All of these are the origin of Mount Wutai.

Mount Wutai’s special activities


Driving ghosts

Driving ghosts, which usually begins around the 15th day of the sixth month on the lunar calendar, was derived from Tibet and is an important Buddhist activity held every year. The day before the event, lamas would read scripture, perform Buddhist dances, and “put down” ghosts at the Pusading Temple. On the 15th, more than 100 senior lamas would walk out of the Pusading Temple with the image of the Maitreya at the front, followed by the chair of the first lama and the horse of the second lama, as well as playing temple music. They would go to the Luohou Temple to dance for the Gods. On the 16th, the lamas would “chop ghosts” at the Pusading Temple. The first and second lama would wear clothes given to them by the emperor and other monks would dress up as the 28 regions with masks. They would form a circle and move their whole bodies around, hoping to dispel evil and welcome auspiciousness and stability.

Horse Trade Fair

The Horse Trade Fair would be held in June every year, and during this period, large-scale Buddhist activities, folk literary and artistic activities, and a horse and livestock trade fair would were held. The content of the activities are rich, including monks from different regions arranging Taoist rites and chanting in Taihuai County, filling Mount Wutai full of mystical religious color. Visitors can not only visit the temple complex on Mount Wutai, but can also appreciate local folk customs. Mount Wutai, which is one of the four famous Buddhist Mountains in China, has a flourishing morning assembly that began in ancient times. With the development of society, the morning assembly gradually changed and formed the Mount Wutai International Tourist Month, which offers an extensive platform for displaying the precious cultural relics in Mount Wutai.

Mount Wutai Buddhist Cultural Festival

Time: August 21 — September 21; Place: Mount Wutai in Xinzhou; Content: Mount Wutai is the Taoist rites of Manjusri, and attracts a large number of visitors and is surrounded by Buddhist sounds all year round. Furthermore, it has a dense religious ambience. Mount Wutai holds a large-scale tourist festival every year in August called the Mount Wutai Buddhist Cultural Festival. Many visitors and monks go there and hold Buddhist activities, and during the festival, large Buddhist and folk cultural and artistic activities will also be held.

Buddhist activities

Nine special tourist activities: Touring the Buddhist holy land; climbing to the worship place; appreciating Buddhist literature and art; watching red autumn leaves and pines; shooting beautiful sceneries in autumn and winter; an ecological tour in golden autumn; appreciating snow-covered Mount Wutai; being blessed by the dharma assembly; experiencing Dharma Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

Nine Buddhist activities: The Ullambana Assembly held on the 15th day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar (September 3); the Nagarjuna Christmas Dharma Assembly held on the 24th day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar (September 12); the Ksitigarbha Christmas Dharma Assembly held on the 30th day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar (September 18); the Dipamkara Christmas Dharma Assembly held on the 22nd day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar (October 10); the Memorial Dharma Assembly for Arya Avalokiteshvara’s Leaving Home held on the 19th day of the ninth month on the lunar calendar (November 5); the Medicine Guru Buddha Epithet Christmas Dharma Assembly held on the 30th day of the ninth month on the lunar calendar (November 16); the Amitabha Christmas Dharma Assembly held on the 17th day of the eleventh month on the lunar calendar (January 1, 2010); the Dharma Assembly for Sakyamuni’s Enlightenment held on the eighth day of the twelfth month on the lunar calendar (January 22, 2010); and the Maitreya Christmas Dharma Assembly held on the first day of the first month in 2010 on the lunar calendar (February 14, 2010).

The best of Mount Wutai

The earliest temple of Mount Wutai: The Great Fu Tamawashi Temple, predecessor of the Xiantong Temple, was established in the 11th year of Yongping during the Eastern Han Dynasty.

The more than 3,000-meter-long Yangtian Giant Buddha that was discovered in Mount Gongbu (located to the south of the Puhua Temple) with undulating ridges and peaks in 1996.

The tallest tower of Mount Wutai: The 56.3-meter-high Giant White Tower in the Tayuan Temple.

The tallest statue of Manjusri Bodhisattva in Mount Wutai: The nearly 9.9-meter-high statue of the Manjusri Bodhisattva riding on a suanni, a legendary animal, in the Shuxiang Temple.

The tallest Kwan-yin statue of Mount Wutai: The 17.7-meter-high statue of the thousand-arm and thousand-eye Kwan-yin in the Jinge Temple.

The longest stone step road of Mount Wutai: The 508-meter-long Dazhi Road that leads to the Dailuo Hill with a total of 1,080 stone steps.

The heaviest cupreous bell of Mount Wutai: The 9999.5-jin Youming Bell hangs in the bell tower of the Xiantong Temple.

The biggest cupreous caldron of Mount Wutai: The 2-meter-wide and nearly 1.1-meter-high big cupreous caldron is in the Bodhisattva Temple.

The highest peak of Mount Wutai: The Beitai Peak stands at 3,058 meters above sea-level.

The oldest tower of Mount Wutai: The Zushi Tower in the Foguang Temple was established during the Northern Wei Dynasty.

The oldest stone lion of Mount Wutai: The stone lion of the Luohou Temple was established during Tang Dynasty.

The person who wrote the most inscriptions for Mount Wutai: Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty wrote 20 inscriptions out of the total of more than 150 inscriptions that exist in Mount Wutai.

The person who wrote the most poems when visiting Mount Wutai: Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty wrote 39 poems at Mount Wutai in the existing collection of poems.

The tallest palace of Mount Wutai is the 18-meter-high Kwan-yin Hall in the Jinge Temple.

The oldest temple of Mount Wutai: The Nanchan Temple was established in 782, the third year of Jianzhong during the Tang Dynasty.

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Category: Mount Wutai