Holy sanctuaries in Wutaishan

by ZIYING, The Star, April 9, 2008

Reputedly the home of the Boddhisattava of Wisdom, Wutaishan is one of the holiest Buddhist sanctuaries in China

Wutai Shan, China -- AFTER just a few days in Shanxi, it soon becomes obvious that Buddhism plays an inordinately important role in the province’s history. The trend no doubt began with the invasion of the staunchly Buddhist Tobas who created the Yungang Grottoes and established the short-lived Northern Wei dynasty 1,600 years ago.

<< The 700-year old white stupa of Tayuansi dates back to the Yuan Dynasty.

But this inclination seems to have continued through the centuries and from the moment my friends and I arrived in the province, we visited more grottoes, monasteries, temples and pagodas than I could have imagined.

Situated to the southeast of Datong, Wutaishan (Five Terrace Mountain) is one of China’s four most sacred Buddhist mountains, the others being Emei, Jiuhua and Putuo. Though Wutai is no more than a couple of hundred kilometres from Datong, the peak is some 50km from the nearest highway and depending on the route, it can take several hours to get there.

It was late afternoon when we reached Wutaishan. As our coach wound its way up to the monasteries, we enjoyed fleeting views of the mountain’s smooth, even summits (hence its name) bronzed by the rays of the setting sun.

Then without warning, night fell and all was cloaked in darkness. We lapsed into a nervous silence as our coach trundled along the unlit road for what seemed like a long time till suddenly, a bright, garish blinking neon sign appeared in the distance; we had finally reached the hotel where we would spend the night.

Wutaishan is reputedly the home of Wenshu (Manjusri) the Bodhisattava of Wisdom. Literature on the sanctuary says that since the Tang dynasty, manifestations and visions of Wenshu have been reported by pilgrims and monks, confirming the site’s holy status.

Apparently a verse in the Flower Adornment Sutra (Huayanjing) says Wenshu’s earthly home is on a clear, cold mountain and since Wutaishan is also known by its very Daoist-sounding ancient name Qingliangshan (Clear, Cold Mountain), it came to be accepted as the much-revered Bodhisattava’s abode.

The peak certainly lives up to its appellation because although it was only October, the forecast was for -11°C that night, with a day high of 8°C. I later found out from our guide Mina that winters are routinely -40°C and even summer temperatures are in the teens.

As for clear, the sky was a cloudless cobalt blue the next morning and on our way to the monasteries, we passed people braving the chill to enjoy the fine weather on horseback.

There were once 360 temples on Wutai, although currently only about 50 have been restored. Most were constructed by imperial edict during the Tang, Ming and Qing dynasties, but the earliest one, Xiantongsi, dates to the eastern Han period 2,000 years ago when Buddhism first entered China.

Xiantongsi’s spacious tree-shaded Han-style courtyards and cool, quiet elegance provides a welcome relief from the closely-packed, richly furnished monastic worship halls of the other edifices, mostly in an eclectic mix of Han, Tibetan and Mongolian styles. Bustling with tourists and worshippers, these seemed to merge one with the other and after a while, I began to lose track of their names.

Although Shanxi is nowhere near Tibet, the Himalayan influence appears surprisingly strong on Wutaishan as lamas were invited to settle there by various Chinese emperors. Most notably, when Tibet was again fully incorporated into China in the Qing dynasty, Lamaism became increasingly dominant.

Under some trees in the corner of a temple courtyard, two red-robed Tibetan monks repeatedly made full-body prostrations in worship, while next door, lamas intoned the scriptures in an opulent hall decorated with heavily embroidered buntings. Outside, a novice in monk’s robes, perhaps seven or eight years old, sat sunning himself near a flower bed.

Old traditions are still maintained on Wutai which is applying for Unesco World Heritage status. As I stepped into the Wanfoge Temple, I found a group of actors in full opera makeup standing to the side of the courtyard. They were waiting to perform for patrons wishing to dedicate an aria as thanksgiving, and there was even a small storeroom near the main gate reserved for their costumes and props.

Meanwhile, over in the cooking halls of Pusading Temple, huge copper cauldrons 2m wide and set into stovetops stand ready for use during the annual celebrations of Wenshu’s birthday and Sakya muni’s Enlightenment when hundreds of monks and pilgrims descend on the mountain.

At one of the sanctuaries in Wutaishan, a mural depicts three monks in a boat sailing into the distance. Seen from various angles, the boat seems to head in different directions on the river.

“What message did the monk who painted the mural want to convey?” asked our guide Mina. Several of us attempted a guess but Mina just smiled when we asked for the answer. Even now, at quiet moments I sometimes still ponder this Chan (Zen)-like question from the Clear, Cold Mountain.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv