白馬寺 Baimasi (White Horse Temple) is located 12 km away from Luoyang City, Henan Province. Established in in 68 AD of the Han Dynasty when Buddhism started to spread, this temple is thought to be the first Buddhist temple built by the government in China, but this is doubtful...no one really knows what was the first.|
According to historical records, Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD) sent a diplomatic mission to the western regions to learn about Buddhism. The mission returned with two eminent Indian monks - She Moteng and Zhu Falan, and a white horse carrying sutras and a Buddha figure. To memorialize the white horse's contribution of bringing back the sutras, Emperor Ming ordered the construction of the temple and named it White Horse Temple.
Since its establishment, the Baimasi has has been rebuilt several times, notably during the reign of Emperor Wu Zetian.
Today's Baimasi is a rectangle courtyard facing south. The gate was built in Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), it is three arches side by side. Covering a total area of 40, 000 square meters, the temple consists of Tianwang Hall, Great Buddha Hall, Daxiong Hall, Jieyin Hall, Qingliang Terrace and Pilu Pavilion, which lie along a north-south central axis.
Tianwang Hall (Heavenly King Hall)
Standing behind the temple gate, Tianwang Hall is the first hall of this temple. In it, Maitreya Buddha is enshrined with four Heavenly Kings on both sides. The four Heavenly Kings hold a pipa, a sword, a snake and an umbrella which symbolize favorable weather for crops and a prosperous and peaceful country for the people.
Great Buddha Hall
Great Buddha Hall is the second hall of the temple. In it Buddhist ceremonies are held. The present hall dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). In its center sits erect a statue of Sakyamuni closely flanked by two Bodhisattvas Wenshu and Puxian, and the Buddha's disciples Ananda and Jiaye. Behind stands an image of Avalokitesvara (Guanyin).
To the southeast of the hall hangs a large bell. It is said that when the bell is rung, the bell in in Luoyang Old Town Bell Tower will responds due to the sympathetic vibration. It is called Baimasi Zhong, Horse Temple Bell.
Daxiong Hall (Great Hero Treasure Hall)
Originally built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271- 1368) and rebuilt in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The hall houses three Buddhas, Sakyamuni in the center with Medicine Buddha on the left and Amitabha Buddha, the teacher of the Western Pure Land on the right. The hall also has eighteen Arhats from the Yuan Dynasty.
The fourth hall is Jieyin Hall (Receiving and Directing to Paradise Hall). Behind it is a platform named Qingliang Terrace. Rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty, Qingliang Terrace was said to be the place where Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty read and rested.
Qiyun Pagoda (Cloud Reaching Pagoda)
Located about 200 meters southeast of White Horse Temple is Qiyun Tower. Originally built in the Later Tang Dynasty. Later, destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt in 1175 as a 13-story square brick structure with closely arranged eaves. The eaves are built with small, exquisite overlapping bricks. If you clap your hands 20 meters away from the pagoda, the echo reflects from the eaves sounding like frogs croaking. (Frogs in the desert?! Wishful thinking!)
One one of the few ancient buildings of the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234).
Before the temple are two stone horses carved in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279).
08-29-2007 No one really knows which was the earliest, further west in Gansu or perhaps Changan (Xian), are closer to the source of Buddhism. However, on this, my second visit to Baimasi, I have found a plausible reason the temple was located on this site. Next to the Baimasi stands the 齊雲塔 Qiyunta, Cloud Scraping Pagoda, also known as the 釋伽舍利塔 Shijiashilita, Sakyamuni (Shijia) Sarira (Shili) Pagoda (Ta). This interesting ancient structure was first built in the Han Dynasty in 69AD.
According to the stories of the Baimasi, in this year the Han emperor Ming Di (Liu Zhuang) met two Indian monks, Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaratana. They asked the emperor what was the use of a large mound southeast of what is now the Baimasi. The emperor replied that long ago, since the Zhou Dynasty in 1046 BC, there appeared a mound there about 3 meters in height. Whenever it was leveled it immediatly grew up again! And what is more, it glowed at night. Therefore it had been a site for prayers and sacrifices for centuries. However no one was able to explain why this phenomenon occurred.
Kasyapa Matanga, being the smart monk that he was, explained that Emperor Ashoka distributed 84,000 Buddha sarira all over the world which were placed under pagodas. This site, he assured the Emperor Ming, was one of those locations, and a new pagoda should be built there. And so, Kasyapa smoothly appropriated ancient Chinese beliefs into Buddhism. (In the same way Chairman Hu Jintao's slogan does today over the entrance to Damo's Cave above the Shaolinsi on Songshan....see 08-25-007 嵩山 Songshan).