Buddhist Temples in Xian: General Introduction
Buddhism was introduced into China along the Silk Road as early as in the Han Dynasty and numerous amount of Buddhist temples were built in Xian. As a matter of fact, Xian is the birthplace of many of the different sects of Buddhism in China. Famous Buddhist temples in Xian include Da Ci’en Temple (the Grace Temple), Daxingshan Temple and Famen Temple.
Famous Buddhist Temples in Xian
Xian Da Ci’en Temple
Daci'en Temple is located in the southern suburb of Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province, originally Jinchang Lane (the First Street of Capital's East) in the southeast of Chang'an City, the capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was the largest temple in China's Tang Dynasty as well as one of the three Buddhist scriptures translation places of Chang'an City in the Tang Dynasty. Daci'en Temple was built in the 22nd year (648) of the Zhenguan reign of the Tang Dynasty by Crown Prince Li Zhi in order to mourn for his mother. Therefore, it is named Daci'en (Great Maternal Love). Since the Tang Dynasty, Daci'en Temple has kept its prosperity for more than 1,300 years. Its history is long and glorious.
Daci'en Temple was the largest-scaled temple in the Tang Dynasty, covering an area of 2,475 square meters, and consisted of more than ten courtyards. Now, the extant area of this temple is just that of the West Pagoda Yard in the Tang Dynasty. The present Daci'en Temple sits back to the north and faces to the south, and consists of the following main buildings: Gate of the Temple, Bell and Drum Towers, Main Hall, Sutra Hall, Buddha-worshipping Hall, etc.
Dayan Pagoda (the Big Wild Goose Pagoda), a famous Buddhist pagoda in China, is located on the most northern point of this temple, and was built in 652. It is said that it was built by Xuanzang (Tang Sanzang), the first abbot of Daci'en Temple when he came back to China after the pilgrimage for Buddhist scriptures in order to keep sutras and figures of Buddha brought back to China from India. This pagoda is totally an imitation of India's pagoda. Built all by bricks, it is 60 meters in height, and has seven storeys. The body of the pagoda is in the shape of cone. Now, Dayan Pagoda has become a symbolic building of Xi'an City.
Daci'en Temple holds an important position in China's translation and Buddhist history. In order to invite Xuanzhan to act as Daci'en Temple's abbot, the Tang Empire issued a special order to build the Buddhist Scriptures Translation Hall where Xuanzang presided over translation of Buddhist scriptures and expounded Buddhist doctrines afterwards and made great contributions to China's sutra translation.
Xian Caotang (Straw Hut) Temple
Known as the Buddhist Holy Land, Caotang Temple lies about 30 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Xian, in Caotangying Village of Huxian County. Initially built in 401, the temple became a sacred place where the Buddhist master, Kumarajiva (one of the four Buddhist translators), translated Buddhist scriptures. The temple was a thatch-roofed house, so it got the name of Caotang Temple, meaning Straw Hut Temple.
Kumarajiva became a monk at the age of seven. Due to his intelligence and diligence, he mastered the sprit of the Buddhism very well. He led 3,000 Buddhist followers to translate sutras from Sanskrit to Chinese. Instead of metaphrase, he used free translation, which made the scriptures easy to understand.
Xian Qinglong (Green Dragon) Temple
Green Dragon Temple is a famous Buddhist Temple from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). When it was built in 582, it was called Linggan Temple (Temple of Inspiration) and then renamed to its present one in 711. When Buddhism was prevalent during the Tang Dynasty, some Japanese monks were sent to China to study Buddhism. Six of them studied at Green Dragon Temple, and this led to a flourishing period of the temple in the ninth century.
Kukai, the most learned of the six monks, made great progress in learning Buddhist sutras, Sanskrit, poems and Chinese calligraphy. After his return to Japan in 806, he advocated the building of a Vagra Temple (Vagra means Buddhist Warrior Attendant) and founded the Zhenyan Sect (the True Word Sect). He is highly honored by both Japanese and Chinese, and in 1982 Kukai Monument was constructed inside the Green Dragon Temple.
For uncertain reasons the Green Dragon Temple which had no fortune, like other ancient temples was destroyed. This was perhaps during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
The present temple was reconstructed in 1963. Memorial halls for the earlier monks and exhibition halls with some excavations displayed are all built in the Tang architectural style. Green Dragon Temple is a place where the cherry blossoms can be enjoyed. Every year during May and June, an endless stream, of tourists comes to appreciate its beauty.
Xian Xiangji Temple
Xiangji Temple is situated in Chang’an County, about 17.5 kilometers (12 miles) to the south of Xian City. It was built in honor of the noted Buddhist monk Shandao, one of the initiators of a branch of Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, by his disciple Huai Yun after his master’s death. Huai Yun named the temple ’xiangji’, heaped fragrance, to suggest his master was holy as the Xiangji Buddha, an ancient Indian Buddha. Many Pure Land Buddhists, who believe in the purification of the soul through faith, began conducting activities at the temple, which led to it being considered the center and cradle of the Pure Land sect.
Two pagodas stand in Xiangji Temple. The larger pagoda, named Shandao Pagoda, is 33 meters (108 feet) tall, and was built in 680, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The top two stories of the pagoda have worn away during its 1300 years of history, leaving a remaining eleven stories. Its flank is stenciled with exquisitely engraved half-naked Buddha and strong pieces of script. To the east stands the pagoda’s smaller counterpart, a brick pagoda built to commemorate another of Shandao’s pious disciples, Jingye. Surrounding these two pagodas is a vista that is beautiful and tranquil. The renowned landscape poet Wang Wei of the Tang Dynasty visited the Temple and composed a poem to praise its charms.
The Xiangji Temple had its heyday during the Tang Dynasty. Emperors like Gaozong and Zhongzong, and the Empress Wu Zetian all visited the site and had cults started in their honor. Today, countless tourists come from across China and the world to sightsee and reflect at the temple.