China have about a dozen of hanging temples. They are truly relics in Chinese architecture history. The most famous hanging Temple, is Hengshan Hanging Temple, Hanging Monastery or Xuankong Temple, is a unique and ancient structure located in Hunyuan County, Datong City, Shanxi Province, China. This temple is built into a cliff that stands 75 meters or 246 feet above the ground, near Mount Heng. The closest city, Datong, is located 64 kilometers or 40 miles to the northwest.
The Hanging Temple is one of the main tourist attractions and historical sites in the Datong area, along with the Yungang Grottoes. It is considered unique because it is the only existing temple that combines three Chinese traditional philosophies or religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The structure is held in place with oak crossbeams that are fitted into holes chiseled into the cliffs, and the main supportive structure is hidden inside the bedrock.
The temple was built more than 1,500 years ago by a monk named Liaoran in 491 AD. Over the years, many repairs and extensions have been made to the temple, leading to its present-day scale. The temple comprises of 40 halls and pavilions that are all built on cliffs that are over 30 meters or 98 feet from the ground. The distance from north to south is longer than from east to west, and it becomes higher and higher as one moves from the south gate to the north along the mountain.
The temple’s layout includes the Qielan Hall (Hall of Sangharama), Sanguan Hall (Hall of Three Officials), Chunyang Hall, Hall of Sakyamuni, Hall of Three Religions, and Guanyin Hall. The Hall of Three Religions mainly enshrines Buddhist deities, as well as both Taoism and Confucianism. The statues of Sakyamuni (middle), Lao-Tze (left) and Confucius (right) are enshrined in the hall, reflecting the prevailing idea of “Three Teaching Harmonious as One” in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911).
The Hanging Temple is a unique and ancient structure that combines three Chinese traditional philosophies or religions, and is one of the main tourist attractions and historical sites in the Datong area. Its location on a sheer precipice and its history make it a must-see destination for anyone visiting China.
You can visit the Hanging Temple all year around, but considering the Datong weather, normally from April to October is the best period. Datong has a temperate continental climate with distinct seasons, low rainfall, a short summer, and a long freezing winter (November–March).
There are big temperature differences between morning and night, day to day, and mountain and valley, so please bring a warm jacket with you even if you travel in the summer time.
In order to protect the temple, the number of visitors is limited to 80 in the temple at a time. Therefore, it is recommended to visit the Hanging Temple early in the morning to avoid long waits especially in the high travel seasons (summer and holidays).
Located at around 8 kilometers north-west of Xikou Town, Fenghua City of Zhejiang Province, Xuedou Mountain is 800 meters above sea level, featuring graceful mountain ridges, unique cliffs, tempting waterfalls, and deep streams. The mountain has a milky peak, while on the peak there is a dou (meaning hollow or hole). Water flows out of the dou, and it is as white as milk, thus getting the name of the Milk Spring. It is well-known for its serenity, magnificent landscape, and an abundance of greenery. Mount Xuedou Scenic Area was known as “a fairyland on the sea” early in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD. However it was not popular until the previous president of National Party Jiang, Jieshi promoted it heartly. Xikou is the hometown for this important historical figure Jiang, Jieshi. His family had Buddhism tradition. So when he was young he often went to Xuedou Temple with his mother. He loved its picturesque sceneries, and believed it was the most beautiful place in the country. Later on he built a mansion in Mount Xuedou, he and his family lived there once a while. He even had a plan to promote Mount Xuedou as second Mount Lu, but the plan did not come true, since he left mainland China to Taiwan after the civil war. Therefore, this place becomes more mysterious and interesting for tourists from China and abroad to explore.
The charm of Mount Xuedou lies not only in its picturesque sceneries, it also has held a high status in Chinese Buddhism since ancient times. Located in a scenic site, the Xuedou Temple has a history of over 1600 years and has cultivated numerous eminent monks. It is also the place where Monk Maitreya practiced his Buddhism, thus a large number of eminent monks and pilgrims have been attracted to Mount Xuedou.
Maitreya Bodhisattva is a very popular Buddhist figure in China. Maitreya is a transcendent bodhisattva，he will be the next Buddha in the Saha world. Maitreya means “loving kindness.” In Mahayana Buddhism, Maitreya is the embodiment of all-encompassing love. Maitreya, in Buddhist tradition, presently resides in Tushita heaven.
With big belly and jolly smell, he is a symbol of enduring humiliation, optimism and compassion. In Buddhism teaching, disciples should be like the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. All should have a broad mind, open heart, and great tolerance. The first priority for one who learns Buddhism and cultivates himself is to be patient and forbearing under insult.
In the historical record, there is an eminent Monk named Qichi (契此), who was the incarnation of Maitreya Bodhisattva. This monk lived at the end of WuDai period (right after the Tang Dynasty), and is most well known for his rather fat belly. Since he always carried a cloth bag, people began to call him the cloth bag monk. Unlike the stereotypical image of the strict and severe ascetic, Qichi was a jovial, good-humored man, but no less intelligent and thoughtful. He was loved and respected by all for these qualities. Often, others would ask him, “what is the true meaning of Buddhism?”, and in response, he would drop his bag to the ground. The deepest meaning of Buddhism is to lay down your burdens. Qichi took residence in Xuedou Temple, where he would spread the Buddhist Dharma to all those who came to him. To this day, Xuedou Mountain is regarded as the Holy Land of Maitreya. In honor of the cloth bag monk, statues of the Maitreya Bodhisattva are always depicted carrying a cloth bag.
Xuedou Temple was originally founded in the Jin Dynasty. For thousands of years, it has been visited by many people, and has produced numerous eminent monks. It has a high status and is regarded by the Buddhist circle in China as one of the ten most famous Buddhist temples together with the other nine temples, such as Zhongtian, Zhutianning, Wanshou, the Yongzuo Temple of Hangzhou, and the Jiangshan Taiping Xingguo Temple of Nanjing.
During the Tang and Song dynasties, Xuedou Temple had received 41 imperial edicts from emperors of several generations. So far, the temple has stored 5,760 Confucian classics granted by emperors, jade seals, dragon robes, dragon pots and jade Buddhas.
In the temple, the constructions are magnificent and attractive. Outside the temple, ancient trees are towering up into the sky. Among them, two ginkgo trees from the Han Dynasty can be surrounded by about five people. With exuberant leaves, the ginkgoes rise above the clouds.
At the back peak of Xuedou Mount, the statue of Maitreya Buddha is the highest copper statue of its kind in the world. The Buddha body is 33 meters high, the lotus seat is 9 meters high, and the base is 14.74 meters high. It completed at 2008, with exquisite workmanship. Having this remarkable structure, Mount Xuedou was officially named as the fifth sacred Buddhist Site, dedicated to Maitreya Bodhisattva. Now, the temple covers a landscape area of over 20,000 sq meters and has perfectly combined natural landscapes and Buddhist culture.
Since Mount Xuedou is dedicated for Maitreya Bodhisattva, there is a Grand Maitreya Hall in the Temple. It is really magnificent and dignified.
Qianzhang Rock Waterfall
In front of Xuedou Temple, there is a waterfall called Xuedou Waterfall, also known as Qianzhang Rock Waterfall. The water head is in the valleys at the south and the north of Xuedou Temple. The water of the Milk Spring flows into Jinjing Pool (which is an ancient pool developed in the Southern Song Dynasty), crossing Guanshan Bridge and pouring out of the cliff mouth.
The waterfall pours down from Qianzhang Rock. From the top of the rock to the pool, it is as high as 186 meters. At the half-way point, there is a huge rock. In spring and autumn, the rain falls down in a deluge but it runs into the rock at the half-way point and splashes in all directions right away. It falls like pearls and jades, and also dances like snow. Under the sunlight, it forms a rainbow, which is quite splendid. Xuedou Waterfall was well known by the whole nation as early as in the Northern Song Dynasty.
Sanyin Pond Waterfall
Sanyin Pond Waterfall is situated at 5 li north-west of Xuedou Temple. The water flows from Dongao Village (on Xuedou Mountain, there is a village of alpine flowers. With a beautiful and clean environment, the village is an ocean of flowers and seedlings) to the cliff mouth, forming one waterfall; it continues running down the mountainside to the foot, forming three waterfalls. As a result, it is called Sanyin Pond.
With a length of more than 1,600 meters, the pond can be divided into Shangyin Pond, Zhongyin Pond and Xiayin Pond respectively from the highest to the lowest. Shangyin Pond is highlighted by its quietness and danger; Zhongyin Pond stands out for its delicacy and cleanness; Xiayin Pond is well known for its superb beauty. Despite the positions of the three ponds in remote mountains and deep valleys and the difficulty of visiting them, tourists still visit in great numbers.
Miaogao Platform is also known as Miaogao Peak or Tianzhu Peak. It is the main scenic spot of the Xuedou landscapes. Although it is only 396 meters above sea level, it stands out against the mountain behind it. With the middle part bulging, three steep cliffs, and a gaping abyss down its side, the platform has a precipitous terrain.
In a narrow sense, Miaogao Platform refers to a platform of about 350 square meters. Standing at the front edge, you can look out on the natural sceneries of Tingxia Lake. On the periphery of Miaogao Platform, ancient trees and green bamboos are thriving so much that they keep the sunlight away. In addition, the clear breeze blows gently. It is an ideal summer resort.
Located at the south of Xuedou, Tingxia Lake is 6 kilometers away from Xikou Town. It is a large artificial lake, with a surface area of 5.9 square kilometers, an equivalent of West Lake in Hangzhou. The water storage capacity is as much as 153 million cubic meters.
Tingxia Lake is a good place to enjoy the landscapes of lakes, mountains, steep peaks and deep valleys. Tingxia Lake is a huge reservoir famous for its position under Yushu Pavilion of Xuedou Mountain and its location at Tingxia Village.
Tingxia Lake has wonderful natural sceneries. On the basis of unique peaks, deep valleys, high mountains and water scenes, interesting and attractive landscapes of lakes and mountains come into being. With clean air and high quality water, the scenic spot is also rich in fish, fruit and forest resources. Tourists can sail on the lake, and can also go fishing, picnicking and camping.
Naturalists and photographers love to visit the Miaogao Platform, Qianzhang Rock, and Qianzhang Crag with its huge, scenic waterfall in the region spanning 85 square kilometers. Mount Xuedou is also a national forest park, a really great place worth of visiting.
It was late January, just a few weeks before Chinese New Year, when we headed to Zhoushan in Zhejiang Province. It was bitterly cold and traveling to Mount Putuo (普陀) for a two-day visit was not good timing. COVID-19 was—and still is—running rampant around the world. Any kind of travel required constant and painstaking vigilance, including full compliance with stringent prevention measures in China. Nevertheless, our destination looked as beautiful as ever, a glimmering island in the great ocean, celebrated as the “Buddha-land in the sea.” (Haitian fogou 海天佛國)
Mount Putuo is very environmentally friendly. Except for public buses, no vehicles are allowed, so we had to leave our car at the wharf. Most residents simply cycle around for their daily errands, and even said bicycles are under a quota control. For visitors to move about, you can take a bus, cycle, or simply walk. Roads and pathways are well maintained, and there is a long road that connects all the temples on the island, big or small, affording a pleasant journey at one’s own pace.
It was warm and sunny with a gentle breeze by the time we reached the island in the early afternoon. As there were very few visitors, we could stroll around at our leisure, enjoying the sunlight’s embrace. “You are so lucky,” commented our trip’s docent. “It was so windy in the morning that the ferry service was about to be suspended. In a week, the entire mountain might be closed to prevent the chance of further infections, no matter how sporadic.” We were blessed with the good fortune of a joyful excursion.
Mount Putuo is classified by the Chinese government as an “AAAAA Grade Scenic Resort and Historic Site,” attracting about 10 million visitors each year under normal circumstances. Visitation, though down 40 per cent during the pandemic in 2020, has rebounded sharply; as of April, 2.8 million people had visited Mount Putuo, a fivefold increase. The effort to attract visitors is ongoing: the Putuo Mountain College of the Buddhist Academy of China was recently completed, and Guanyin Dharma Park opened last November.
Putuo is a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit Potalaka, which is mentioned in several Buddhist scriptures, including the Gandavyuha Sutra (added as the final sutra in the Avatamsaka Sutra). Potalaka is described as the holy residence of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. According to Guang Xing, Mount Putuo was identified as the mythical Potalaka mountain by Buddhist monks and Chinese literati (Guang 2011: 1-22). It has been the pilgrimage site of Avalokiteshvara for about a millennium, honored as one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in Chinese Buddhism. We speak here of Guanyin, the feminine form of Avalokiteshvara popularized in Chinese Buddhism. We will return to Guanyin below. For now, we simply need to know that Mount Putuo’s status matches that of Mount Wutai (五台) for Manjushri, Mount Jiuhua (九華) for Kshitigarbha, and Mount Emei (峨眉) for Samantabhadra.
There seem to be three main demographics for visitors to Mount Putuo: sightseers, pilgrims, and students of Buddhism. The majority of sightseers are visitors who do not have much knowledge of Buddhism, nor much interest in its history, sutras, or temples. Nevertheless, everyone, regardless of background, recognizes this place as one expecting reverence and respect for the buddhas and bodhisattvas. When we worship and make our wishes before the famous 33-meter statue of Nanhai Guanyin, we are also introspecting, contemplating, and reflecting on the vicissitudes and travails of our lives.
The town nearby is neat and chic, full of activity and interesting souvenirs for tourists to commemorate their visit. Even in the winter, Mount Putuo is generously covered with greenery and vegetation, with a multitude of species including ancient camphor trees and the rare wild plants of Carpinus putoensis (普陀鵝耳櫟). They are one of the major treasures on Mount Putuo and monoecious. There are red and yellow variations coexisting, but they do not mature at the same time, so the pollination rate is extremely low. When the Sun is shining, the leaves of many trees turn golden in the backdrop of the Prussian blue sky, surrounded by the various temples. It is truly a picturesque sight.
The beautiful scenery, unique to Mount Putuo, is reminiscent of places I have visited in Japan. The connection between Mount Putuo and Japan can be traced back to the Tang dynasty (618–907), when a Japanese Zen and Tendai monk-pilgrim named Egaku (Chinese: 慧鍔; Hui’E) wanted to bring a statue of Guanyin from Mount Wutai to Japan. However, his voyage back via Mount Putuo was hampered by storms and waves despite several attempts. One day, Egaku had a dream in which he realized that the statue of Guanyin did not want to leave. He decided to enshrine it and built a simple hut near the Tidal Sound Cave. Immediately, his ship sailed through and he was able to return to Japan. This is the story of Guanyin “bu ken qu” or “unwilling to go,” and is the source of many folktales surrounding the establishment of temples and monasteries on Mount Putuo. Exchanges between Mount Putuo and Japan continued over many centuries.
Guanyin is the real protagonist linking Japan and China, with Guanyin known as Kannon or Kanzeon in Japan. Belief in this personification of compassion and benevolence has a long history in China. First introduced from India in the Western Han dynasty (202 BCE–9 CE), Avalokiteshvara was adapted and amalgamated into Chinese culture, most famously through the female figuration and her unique 32 transformations (Guang 2011: 1-22). Beginning in the Song dynasty (960–1279), the Chinese transformed the bodhisattva into the Goddess of Mercy, depicted in the feminine. (Minneapolis Institute of Art)
Belief in Guanyin has flourished in China ever since, going beyond even religious boundaries in everyday life (Guang 2011: 1-22). She is not confined to monastic life, as it is said in the Universal Gate chapter of the Lotus Sutra that any worldly being in danger will be delivered instantly on calling her name. Therefore, Guanyin has been worshipped and revered by all classes of people. As she is a compassionate divinity with countless virtues and merits, she is endowed with transcendental power. She excels in skilful means, allowing her to appear in whatever form needed by sentient beings. And that, in my opinion, is probably the reason behind the 32 forms in the Chinese tradition, including Guanyin Yangzhi (楊枝), or Willow Branch Guanyin. The Guanyin Yangzhi is only one example among many of her history-rich gender transitions.
We were able to visit a 2.5-meter-high, 2.2-meter-wide monument of Guanyin Yangzhi at a nunnery of the same name. The nunnery, situated at the foot of Putuo’s Western Xiangwang Peak, was built in 1608. The artistic style was pioneered by Yan Liben (閻立本), a famous figure painter in the Tang dynasty, while the stele’s engravings appeared during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Holding a tender willow branch in her right hand and a clear water vase in the left, Guanyin is luxuriously crowned with pearls and precious stones, dressed in sumptuously embroidered garments, and adorned with agate, amber, and pearls. She spreads dewdrops to all the world’s quarters to dispel suffering and pain.
Guanyin is replete with the marks of beauty, dignity, and calm. Except for her face, there are not many traditionally female features shown. Indeed, she appears tall and somehow mighty and masculine, standing on her bare feet. Her belly bulges out slightly, and she has large hands and feet. While beholding her, I could not help but think of the mural of Padmapani, another manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, at Ajanta Cave No.1, in India. Painted during the sixth century BCE, the bearer of the blue lotus is a male figure with a slender body. Both forms of Avalokiteshvara are crowned and bejewelled, have physically beautiful features, and appear composed and graceful.
There are many temples on Mount Putuo, but the two most well known are Puji Temple (普濟寺) or the “front temple” (又稱前寺), and Huiji Temple (慧濟寺) on the peak of the mountain. They receive the most pilgrims, but Fayu Temple (法雨寺) is my personal favorite; when there is no pedestrian crowding, it has a gentle and soothing atmosphere. It is surrounded by towering ancient trees, suspending the visitor in time between past and present. From a distance, one can see that the gate to the monastery is unique, unlike those of other temples on Mount Putuo, which are painted in yellow ochre. Here it is light red in color: a soft, ambient hue that emphasizes an atmosphere of paradisical peace and bliss.
Upon entering and reaching the main hall of Nine Dragons, where a statue of Guanyin is enshrined, one feels a strong sense of sublime and resplendent majesty. Yuantong Hall of the Fayu Temple is renowned for its resplendent appearance and ingenious interior structure, with a large ball hanging from the ceiling of its dome surrounded by nine vertical rafters. Each rafter is carved with a dragon that rears its head in a scramble for the ball. This intricate layout is called the Bracket with Nine Coiling Dragons and is ascribed to Emperor Kangxi (康熙) (1654–1722), who used the materials of the former palace of the Ming dynasty in Nanjing to reconstruct an earlier monastery, Zhenhai Monastery, on Mount Putuo.
What strikes me most, however, is not Fayu Temple’s imperial heritage, but rather two great minds that made their mark here. Venerable Yinguang (印光) (1861–1940) was the 13th patriarch of the Pure Land tradition and the abbot of Fayu Temple for decades. Meanwhile, Ven. Hongyi (弘一) (1880–1942) wrote in traditional calligraphy Fayu Temple’s nameplate of “heavenly flowers and Dharma rain”—first devised by Emperor Kangxi. Li Shu Tong (李叔同) was Hongyi’s secular name. A wealthy and rakish young man, he was also an eclectic and learned scholar of high culture. He relinquished what he possessed and committed to living a monastic life. Fully devoted to promulgating Buddhism, he rose to become an eminent monk.
At some point, the two monastics met each other. It is said that Master Hongyi admired Master Yinguang and asked him to be his teacher. Humble and modest, Master Yinguang refused, but invited him to stay as long as he wanted. The two spent seven days together, studying, practicing, and meditating without a single word exchanged. They simply were, as minds think alike, without verbal obstructions, thoughts traveling and flowing effortlessly. How wonderful it is to exist together beyond words. But in the era of the Internet, we are bombarded with so many words and so much information that we lose our sense of their meaning, let alone their authenticity.
If we wish to be heard, we need to be sincere, candid, and heartfelt. “Guanyin” in Chinese means the Perceiver of Sounds, or “Guanshiyin,” the Perceiver of World’s Sounds. As chanted in the Universal Gate chapter of the Lotus Sutra: “Perceiver of the World’s Sounds, heavenly voice, the voice of the sea’s tide—magnificent, rich and harmonious surpassing all worldly sounds.” If we keep Guanyin in our hearts and call on her sincerely, she will always respond.
Taihang Mountain Grand Canyon National Forest Park is located in the east of Huguan county area between the two provinces of Shanxi and Henan, north from Hugaun 30 kilometers from the county. And Taihang Mountain Grand Canyon has been rated as one of “China’s best ten grand canyons”.
The Taihang Grand Canyon extends 50 km from north to south, 1.5 km wide from east to north, with an altitude from 800 to 1739 meters. Peaks upon peaks were formed billions of years ago during an active movement of Earth’s crust. Hundreds of peaks, cliffs, gorges, waterfalls and springs form a unique and fascinating world. The three famous scenic spots in the Canyon are Peach Blossom Valley, Taihang Sky Road, and Wangxiangyan (Royal Rock).
In the scenic spot, thousands of peaks contend for beauty, strange, unique topography and geomorphology, rare animals and plants resources made of Taihang Grand Canyon of the most wonderful natural scenery. With three gorges of Five Fingers Gorge, Longquan Gorge, Wangmang Gorge as the main line, there has opened up Purple Cloud Cave, and Yungai Temple, water demon Hole and Zhenze Palace four major scenic spots.
Waterfalls can be found throughout the canyon, thundering down from the high mountains, and gently washing down over one platform after another. The 346-meter-tall Peach Blossom Waterfall presents an amazing scene in the Peach Blossom Valley.
The Taihang Sky Road is located in the summit of the Mount Taihang, with a total length of 30 km. It’s not only an essential part of the sightseeing, but also an excellent lookout for a bird’s eye view of the Taihang Mountain.
Deep in the Taihang Canyon, there are several small villages. The houses are all built with local materials – stones. You could see the stone streets, stone walls, stone roof, stone pillars and stairs everywhere.
Besides, the world-class international gliding base is Located 1,190 meters above sea level on the Mt Linlu of the Mount Taihang Range, and the landform here offers an ideal launch platform. Air currents rise along the cliffs to finally gather at the 60-angle peak. The peak covers an area of 16,000 square meters and can accommodate up to 30 gliders launching simultaneously. Gliding competitions have been held here annually since 1992.
The Grand Canyon Rafting, whole length is 4500 meters and the drop is 85 meters. The whole journey is located in the mountain forest belt. The trees on both sides of the river are lush and the scenery is picturesque, it is beautiful to drift on the water, as if in fairyland.