Temple of the Six Banyan Trees

The Temple of the Six Banyan Trees (aka Liurong Temple) in Guangzhou is a 1400-year-old Buddhist monastery, dating from 537AD during the Southern and Northern Dynasties, when Buddhism in China was in its prime. Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty in South China was the most zealous devotee of Buddhism among all the emperors throughout the history of China. At that time, a Buddhist priest called Tanyu, who was a maternal uncle of Emperor Wu, was planning to bring the Buddhist relic they got in Cambodia to Guangzhou from Nanjing. To await the arrival of this Buddhist relic, the then governor of Guangzhou, Xiao Yu by name, especially had this temple built. The original structure of the temple was destroyed by fire in the middle of the 10th century during the early years of the Northern Song Dynasty. The existing temple was built in 989 and the pagoda was reconstructed in 1097.

This temple has got different names. In 1100, when Su Dongpo, a celebrated writer and calligrapher of the Northern Song Dynasty, came to visit the temple and was asked to leave a piece of his calligraphy in the temple,he wrote down two Chinese characters "Liu Rong", meaning "Six Banyan" in English, because he was deeply impressed by the six banyan trees then growing in the temple. Since then the temple has been commonly known as the Six Banyan Temple and the pagoda, the Six Banyan Pagoda. Now the facsimiles of these two characters can still be seen engraved on the stone tablet in a corridor and on the slab over the lintel of the front door.

Temple of Six Banyan Trees Gate Guangzhou

The Hall of Heavenly Kings

The entrance hall of the temple is called The Hall of Heavenly Kings and is the shrine for Mile Buddha(Maitreya)and the Heavenly Kings(or the Divas as are called in Buddhist sutra). The statue in the middle, the man with a big belly, is Mile Buddha, who is commonly known as the Laughing Buddha because he is always grinning from ear to ear. He is the future savior that will deliver all living beings to the Buddhist paradise after Sakyamuni's Buddhist power is exhausted, and so he is also known as the Future Buddha. The couplet on both sides is a compliment to the Laughing Buddha, meaning literally: "A big belly can hold the world's troubles that are troubling people. An open mouth is smiling at those who are to be smiled at"

On either side of the hall aretwo statues. They are the four Heavenly Kings,who are protectors of Buddhist doctrines, with each taking care of one side-the east, west, north and south. It is their joint efforts that ensure harmony, peace and prosperity of the world. The four objects they are holding-a "pipa"(a Chinese pluck instrument), an umbrella, a snake and a sword-combine to mean that Buddha will ensure a favorable weather for the crops so that people may live a happy life. (Individually, the one playing a pipa takes charge of the affairs in the East and is associated with harmony, as are all musicians; the one holding an umbrella, which is a symbol of rain that nourishes the crops, is in charge of the northern affairs; the third protector holding a snake in his hand takes charge of the affairs in the West and is believed to be able to tame all evil-doers and keep them under control; the sword carrier, who looks after the southern affairs, is supposed to be able to bring wind.)

Statue at the back of the Laughing Buddha is the patron of the temple, Wei Tuo or Veda by name, who is number one among the 32 generals under the four Heavenly Kings.

Temple of Six Banyan Trees Tower Guangzhou

The Six Banyan Pagoda

The Six Banyan Pagoda was built for keeping Buddhist relics. According to the records, some holy ashes from Buddha's teeth, a sword, a bronze tripod and some other Buddhist treasures are buried under the foundation of the pagoda. This octagonal magnificent pagoda, with its blue glazed tiles, vermilion beams, painted walls and red pillars all in good match, looks like a flowery column and so it is often referred to as the "Flowery Pagoda".

The highlight of the visit to the temple is to climb the pagoda. This 57-meter-high pagoda looks to have only 9 stories on the outside but actually has 17 stories inside. On each of the 9 external floors,there are many entrances leading to its interior but only one is accessible to the staircase. So, if you lose your way, you just turn around the circle and you will find your way up or down. On the top floor, there is a huge bronze column with 1023 Buddha figurines in relief. Cast in 1358, this bronze column, together with its attachments, weighs over 5 tons.

Temple of Six Banyan Trees Buddha Sculpture Guangzhou

The Sakyamuni Hall

To the west of the pagoda is the main hall of the temple-the Sakaymuni Hall. In this hall, the statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, Amida Buddha and the Pharmacist Buddha (Bhaisajya-guru) are enshrined. They are the three master Buddhas of the central, western and eastern worlds.

These three bronze Buddha statues, all 6 meters high and each weighing 10 tons, were cast in 1663 and are the biggest bronze Buddha statues in Guangdong Province. Originally they were settled in the Big Buddha Temple at Huifu Xi Road in Guangzhou. In the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution,they were regarded as vestiges of the old feudal ideas and were moved out of the temple and put into a scrap warehouse by the rebellious Red Guards. In 1983, they were removed to be mounted here when the Sakyamuni Hall of the Six Banyan Temple was rebuilt.

Temple of the Six Banyan Trees Scenery China

The Sixth Patriarch Hall

To the south of the pagoda is the shrine for worshiping Hui Neng who was the Six Patriarch of Chan Buddhism and founder of the south sect of Chan Buddhism, which is the prevailing Buddhist sect in China.

According to Buddhist dogmas sufferings and miseries exist everywhere in this world and evils are caused by people's desire and attachment. And life, as well as time, is cyclical and all beings are subject to the sufferings of changes in different incarnations. The soul may endure many lives but the condition of the new life depends on the behavior of the soul in its previous body. If an individual ignores opportunities for right thinking and right action, in its next life it will have to pay for its past mistake. Therefore, in order to escape the wheel of life and to escape from suffering and misery, human beings must eliminate all desire and attachment, such as those for money and sex, which are the causes of all evils. The way to achieve the goal of eliminating desire and attachment may differ with different sects of Buddhism. Hui Neng, the sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism, made this very simple. He discarded all the red tapes and advocated that, to achieve this goal, one should only practice umbilical contemplation, that is, to restrain oneself from any desire and emotions by quietly sitting cross-legged to concentrate one's mind on the umbilicus of one's own, in a posture like that of his statue you can see in the temple. The south sect Chan Buddhists believe that everybody has an inherent Buddhist nature,that is, a peaceful and undistracted state of mind that was originally free from evil intention and anxiety. This Buddhist nature in his own mind can be realized as long as he gives up all desire and attachment and, once he has come to realize it, he will instantly become a Buddha. And, even a butcher who used to kill living beings everyday can become a Buddha as long as he drops his cleaver and practice contemplation to realize his Buddhist nature.

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