The Lingyin Temple is a very large Buddhist temple in the Hills to the West of Hangzhou and is one of Hangzhou’s top travel destinations. The Lingyin Temple is also called Yunlin Temple and Lingyin means souls retreat.
History & Background
The Linying Temple is a Zen or Chen Buddhist temple that was first built in 326 during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (266-420) by Hui Li, an Indian Buddhist monk. At its peak during the Five Dynasties period (907-960) under the patronage of the then King of Wu Yue state, the temple consisted of nine buildings, eighteen pavilions, seventy-seven palaces and halls with over thirteen hundred rooms. The temple housed roughly three thousand monks.
Since being established in 326, the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt at least 16 times. Not immune to politics, the temple was damaged by Red Guard groups during the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Damaged was minimised by Premier Zhou Enlai who mitigated much of the damage wrought by the Red Guard during that period and was one of the few voices of reason then.
The most recent restoration of the temple took place in 1974, 3 years after the end of the Cultural Revolution and 2 years before the death of Chairman Mao.
The Lingyin Temple is now one of the 10 largest Buddhist temples in China, one of the wealthiest and the leading research center into Chinese Buddhist culture.
Temple grounds and Layout
The buildings in the temple area are based on a south north south axis going up Linying Hill and are laid out around a large court yard. To the south of the court yard is the Hall of the Heavenly Kings which is the formal temple entrance. To the west is the Hall of 500 Arhats. To the north is the Mahavira Palace.
Further north going up the side of the hill are the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, the Exhibit of Cultural Relics Hall, the Sutra Collection Pavilion and the top building, the Hall of Avatamsaka.
Hall of 500 Arhats – This is a large building is built in the shape of a Buddhist Swastika and easily one of the most impressive buildings n the temple. The arms of the Swastika hold the seated bronze statues of 500 arhats. An arhat is a very spiritually advanced Buddhist practitioner. The center of the building where the 4 arms join holds a raised bronze structure that houses four bodhisattvas (enlightened beings).
No photos were allowed in this hall but this restriction did not stop any of the snap happy local tourists. As a compromise I discreetly took a few photos with the flash off that you can see below.
Mahavira Palace – The center of this building holds a massive Buddhist statue, the largest seated wooden statue of Buddha in China. The statue is made of camphor wood and is covered in 60 taels or 3 kilograms of gold. Buddhist and arhat images are displayed on back and side walls of the building.
An area in the front of the wooden statue has been fenced off and holds kneeling cushions for worshippers. There were three monks praying when I was there so out of respect to them, no photos were taken.
Hall of Avatamsaka – This hall houses statues of the three sages of the Avatamsaka Sutra: Manjusri, Samantabhadra, and Shakyamuni.
Canteen/Restaurant – on the east side of the temple complex is a canteen or restaurant that is open to the public. The menu is reasonable and has dishes such as Arhat noodles (groaannn) and Ningbo smoked fish. Prices range from 8rmb to 20rmb.
Many buildings such as Sutra collection are closed to the public and only for use by the resident monks. When walking around the complex, you can see that many buildings are off limits to tourists. All the warning signs are in Chinese so shooing foreign tourist out of these areas would be common practice for the monks. Just as well Buddhism teaches patience and tolerance of the unenlightened!
Being and active Buddhist temple, you can see monks all around the grounds, walking, in prayer, working and even taking calls on mobile phones.
The Lingyin Temple complex is in the Lingyin Scenic area. There is a large bike rental station at the entrance of the scenic area the ride from the west side of West Lake should take no more than 20-30 minutes.
You also can catch the local K7 bus and the Y1 and Y2 tourist buses.
Tickets and Times
To see the Lingyin Temple, you need to buy a 45rmb ticket for admission to the Lingyin Scenic Area and a separate 30rmb ticket for admission to temple grounds.
The scenic area and the temple are open from 7am to 5pm.