Ep. 055: A Tale of Two Temples: The Temple(s) of Unlimited Fortune

One in China, the other in Japan...

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Let's visit two temples with identical names--and vastly different pronunciations--one in China and its "daughter" in Japan, in this episode of--


During my eleven years in China, I had many close brushes with the history of Chan, better known in the West by the Japanese pronunciation, Zen.

I have stood at the site in Guangzhou where the First Patriarch, Bodhidharma, is said to have landed upon his arrival from India. (He was the 28th Patriarch of the Meditation School in India--called Dhyana, from which the word Chan derives--and became the First Patriarch in China, they say.) I have also visited Shaolin Temple, where Bodhidharma is supposed to have meditated facing a wall for nine years.

Bodhidharma's (alleged) landing site in Guangzhou; see Episode 038

have kowtowed in front of the lacquered mummy of Bodhidharma's most illustrious follower, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng at Nanhua Temple in Shaoguan, and have visited Huineng's birthplace and the burial place of his parents near Zhaoqing, Guangdong.

I have circumambulated the pagoda bearing the remains of Linji (Japanese "Rinzai"), founder of the school of Chan which bears his name. And I have sought out the cemetery at Tiantong Temple in Ningbo in which is buried Rujing, transmitter to Japan of Caodong Chan (Japanese "Soto Zen") via the Japanese monk Dogen (Chinese Daoyuan).

And Linji and Caodong, once they reached across the sea to Japan, account for most of the Zen temples in that country.

A Third Kind of Zen--kind of

But not all of them. General knowledge says, "There are two kinds of Zen in Japan: Rinzai and Soto." In my five years living in Japan, I had many encounters with these two sects. I recall that, on my five-week walk from Tokyo to Kyoto down the Old Tokaido Highway, I visited So-ji Temple, one of two main temples of the Soto sect, and prayed before the grave of Hakuin Zenji, one of Japan's great masters of Rinzai Zen, at Shouin Temple in Hara, Shizuoka Prefecture. So I was excited to encounter their roots in China.

Hakuin Zenji's grave; see Episode 014

But general knowledge is in this case wrong: there is a third Zen sect in Japan, and to understand it, as with the other branches on the Zen tree, we need to examine those Chinese roots.

(A note here: It is sometimes said that Obaku Zen is not a "third sect" at all, but just a variation on Rinzai. In fact, until 1876, it didn't even call itself Obaku, but rather Rinzai Shoshu, the "Orthodox Lineage of Rinzai," claiming to be a restoration of the by-then corrupted--they said--Linji. But in that year, the Japanese government used the term to distinguish it from the first planting of Rinzai in Japan in the 12th and 13th centuries. Today the sect boasts around 420 sub-temples in Japan.)

More Background on Chan/Zen

As mentioned above, Zen began as Dhyana (meaning "meditation") in India. It was wholly dedicated to the "inner path," and tradition says it started when the Buddha simply held up a flower without speaking, and only one follower got what he meant.

That follower, Kashyapa (also called Maha or "Great" Kasyhapa), is said to have seen the truth that all is impermanent and without eternal essence, one way of stating the goal of Buddhist meditation. His understanding of this "Flower Sermon" gains him the position of First Patriarch of the entire Dhyana/Chan/Zen tradition.

Of course, like many aspects of tradition, this story may or may not be true. But Chan and Zen practitioners to this day hold it close to their hearts, and recite the lineage from Maha Kasyhapa through Bodhidharma to Huineng.

But from there, it starts to get confusing.

Huineng at a temple not far from his birthplace; see Episode 021

Huineng was actually only one of the candidates for Sixth Patriarch. The other, Shenxiu, had a claim as strong as, or stronger than, Huineng's. But Huineng's party won out, and he is the acknowledged Sixth.

This factionalism, though, may have weakened his position, because there is no universally acknowledged Seventh Patriarch, even though Huineng's disciple Shenhui had led the attack on Shenxiu and his followers. From that point on, the history of Chan in China descends into a miasma of squabbling factionalism.

Out of the dust arose the so-called "Five Houses of Chan," which I've mentioned before:

  • Caodong (Japanese Soto), possibly named for two Masters: Cao is from Master Caoshan Benji (890-901), though this has been disputed; and the dong from his master Dongshan Liangjie (807-869);

  • Fayen (Jp. Hogen), named for Master Fayan Wenyi (885-958);

  • Yunmen (Jp. Ummon), named for Yunmen Wenyan (862 or 864-949);

  • Guiyang (Jp. Igyo), named for Master Guishan Lingyou (771–854) and his student, Yangshan Huiji (807-883, or 813–890); and

  • Linji (Jp. Rinzai), named for Master Linji Yixuan (died 866).

Naming sects after teachers makes sense, since one of the most important aspects of Chan is that it cannot be learned from books or through solitary effort; it is, in a stanza attributed to Bodhidharma himself:

A direct transmission outside the Scriptures,

Not dependent on words and letters,

Directly pointing to one's own mind

Seeing into one's own nature.

"A direct transmission," that is, from teacher to student, from heart to heart.

The last of the Five Houses mentioned is named for Linji. And his teacher was Huangbo Xiyun (died c. 850), and he is pivotal to our story.

Huangbo Xiyun (Freak of Chan) and His Temple

Born in Fuzhou, Fujian, Huangbo was ordained on that city's Mount Huangbo, whence he took his so-called "mountain name." (The mountain itself was in turn named for a local cork tree with yellow flowers, which is one of the basic ingredients in Chinese medicine.) At ordination, Huangbo took the Buddhist name Xiyun, meaning "rarely moving" or perhaps "imperturbable." (Tradition reports that he was seven feet tall, with a forehead that "protruded like a great pearl." Hmm.)

Huangbo-shan Wanfu-si, Fuqing, Fujian, China

After the usual wandering, and studying with various masters, Huangbo settled down on another mountain, this one to the south of Fuzhou, and gave it the name of the mountain where he had been ordained. On this Huangbo Shan he built a temple named "Ten-thousand Luck." Since 10,000 is a proverbially huge number in Chinese (as when we say "I have a million things to do"), the name can be interpreted as "Massive Luck" or "Unlimited Fortune."

It is to this Huangbo-shan Wanfu-si that I made my way during my tour of northern Fujian in October of 2011. After seeing temples in Fuzhou and Ningde (using Fuzhou as a base), I was moving to Putian, where I had three more to see. Between the two cities was Fuqing.

The Long and Winding Road

I had figured I'd take a bus as far as Fuqing, carrying all of my bags, and buy a ticket for a bus to the temple in the local station.

Mistake Number One. There is no bus station in Fuqing! Just a yard where the buses empty out and fill up. Fortunately, this yard served both long distance and local buses, and a local is what I needed.

A Bodhisattva in the guise of an extremely kind bus conductor noticed my distress and started asking around until she found the right bus for me. She instructed the driver to deposit me in the right place, and off we went.

"…the dusty intersection of a noisy National Road and a quiet side road…"

Within a half hour, I was standing at the dusty intersection of a noisy National Road and a quiet side road, wondering what to do next. When asked, local people pointed off into the mountains, and I started trudging, bags and all.

Let me just say: Some of those locals were in fact motorcycle "cabbies," and I might have caught a ride with one of them. But since my center of gravity is high (ahem) and I would have no helmet--and furthermore, since the road was flat as far as I could see--I decided to walk.

Mistake Number Two. After over an hour, with the sun beating down and my bags getting heavier, I had crossed one major highway on a bridge still under construction, but seemed no nearer to the temple than when I had started. In fact, here, when questioned, the local people were saying, "What temple?"--which made me a little nervous.

Suddenly, as I was struggling along with my head down, a horn sounded behind me. It was a family on their way to the temple: Mom and Dad roughly my age, their married son and daughter-in-law in the back seat (this last leaning away to try to avoid touching my sweaty self as we flew around curves). Mom kept saying "Do you like my car?" as we whizzed along the country lanes a couple more minutes to the temple--altogether about six kilometers from the National Road. (I found out later, when they offered me a ride back to the National Road, that in fact it wasn't Mom's car at all! It belonged to the son, who was just letting her take it for a spin.)

Naturally, the Honda of my deliverance would be parked right in front of the gate.

Pausing at the gate to "fiddle with my camera" as they moved on ahead, I entered the temple blessedly alone.

Yinyuan Goes to Japan

Although the temple was originally built in Huangbo Xiyun's lifetime, it had been destroyed several times, once, notably, by Japanese pirates in 1555; and in 1928, by flash floods. More recently--in the signature years 1966-1976, the defining dates of the Cultural Revolution--it was destroyed completely.

What I was seeing, then, was a recent reconstruction, with considerable support from overseas Chinese as well as (ironically?) from Japanese donors.

There was good reason for this, though, because in 1654 Huangbo Xiyun's 33rd successor as abbot, the Linji Master Yinyuan Longqi (Japanese Ingen Ryuki, 1592-1673), left China at the invitation of the Chinese monk Yiran Xingrong (1601-1668), the head of Kofuku-ji in Nagasaki, Japan.

Colossal statue of Koxinga in Xiamen (Wikipedia)

Yiran first invited Yinyuan to Japan in 1652, but he declined. However, by the time the fourth invitation arrived in late 1653, he was convinced, though he had to promise his sangha that he would stay only three years, then return to China (he didn't). During his departure from China, he stayed at Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou (whose "Twin Pagodas" I'll be writing about by and by) and then stayed in what is now Xiamen, where the "Taiwanese" pirate Zheng Chenggong--often called "Koxinga"--held sway. (Koxinga had in fact been born of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother in Nagasaki.) Yinyuan was warmly welcomed by the pirate's crew--it was they, in fact, who provided both the financing and the ship for Yinyuan's crossing to Japan! He and his 30 or so disciples arrived in Nagasaki after a relatively short and uneventful 14-day voyage.

The Chinese had been permitted by the shogunate (remember them?) to settle in Nagasaki to conduct trade, and by 1620 the first of several Chinese Chan temples--later to be identified as "Obaku"--had been built. (I visited Yiren's Kofuku-ji, as well as nearby Sofuku-ji, another famous Obaku temple, in January of 2000.) From Nagasaki he was invited to Kyoto by one of his disciples, who hoped that he would take over the leadership of that city's Myoshin-ji Temple. But Yinyuan's Chan was foreign to the Japanese Zen; they called it "Nembutsu Zen" for its use of Pure Land chanting (as well as some of the more esoteric usages found in China). To this day, it's common to see Pure Land practice and Chan sitting in the same Chinese temple.

Sofuku-ji, near Kofuku-ji in Nagasaki, is said to be the first Chinese-style temple built in Japan (Kofuku-ji is older, but was built in the Japanese style)

The tensions were such that in 1661 Yinyuan was granted permission to establish his own temple at Uji, in the south of Kyoto, named for the one he left in China: Obaku-san Mampuku-ji.

The temple was headed by Chinese nationals for about a century after Yinyuan, but since the ascension of the 22nd abbot in 1786 all abbots of the temple have been Japanese.

However, the sangha, of course, was primarily Japanese. (Uji was not a Chinese enclave, like Nagasaki had been.) In Paul Reps's fine compilation, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, number 37 of the "101 Zen Stories," entitled "Publishing the Sutras," tells of Tetsugen Doko (1630-1682), a Japanese-born Zen monk and disciple of Yinyuan:

Tetsugen, a devotee of Zen in Japan, decided to publish the sutras, which at that time were available only in Chinese. The books were to be printed with wood block in an edition of seven thousand copies, a tremendous undertaking.

Tetsugen began by traveling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathizers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. He thanked each donor with equal gratitude. After ten years Tetsugen had enough money to begin his task.

It happened that at that time the Uji River overflowed. Famine followed. Tetsugen took the funds he had collected for the book and spent them to save others from starvation. Then he began again his work of collecting.

Several years afterwards an epidemic spread over the country. Tetsugen gave away what he had collected, to help his people.

For a third time he started his work, and after twenty years his wish was fulfilled. The printing blocks which produced the first edition of sutras can be seen today in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto.

The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and that the first two invisible sets surpass even the last.

A Visit to Obaku-san Mampuku-ji

Perhaps not coincidentally, I had been to Mampuku-ji back in November of 1998 as part of my 188-temple tour of Japan, parts of which I've written of already. Not knowing much at that time about the ins and outs of Chan history, I still noticed some odd things about that Japanese temple built in the Chinese Ming-Dynasty style (unlike the Tang more commonly found).

Before entering the temple, we notice the half-moon pond which I later learned was so common in front of Chinese village gates, an element of good fengshui. And that gate is the Sanmon ("Three Gate") often found in Chinese temples, with its three openings representing three ways to Enlightenment: emptiness, formlessness, and desirelessness (is that a word?).

The Big Guy himself, in the Heavenly Kings Hall (Tennoden) at Mampuku-ji

Next we enter a hall I don't recall seeing in any other temple in Japan. It has a big fat Buddha in the center, with four fearsome characters ranged around him. I had known this guy as Hotei, one of Japan's "Seven Lucky Gods." Not until I moved to China did I discover that he was in fact the Chinese version of Maitreya, the Buddha-to-come often called the "Laughing Buddha," and that his placement in the front hall was typical. The four figures around him, though known in Japan and called the Shitenno, meaning "Four Heavenly Kings," lend their name to the first hall in most Chinese temples today.

Behind that we reach the main hall, with the unwieldy name of Daiyu Hoden. Only when first researching this article did I realize that this is the Japanese pronunciation of Daxiong Baodian, or "Precious Hall of the Great Hero," a common name for the Buddha hall in a Chinese temple. Also, in that hall at Mampuku-ji with Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) on the main altar were 18 characters ranged nine on a side; I now know these are the 18 Arhats typical in the main hall of Chinese temples.

Behind that is the usual Dharma Hall, with a Sutra Library upstairs. Gate, Heavenly Kings Hall, Buddha Hall, Dharma Hall: exactly the layout used in almost every pre-fab modern Chinese temple I've been to. (See Episode 002 for details.) Other halls, including a zendo for Zen/Chan meditation, lie to either side of this central axis.

A very Chinese-y wooden fish at Mampuku-ji

Little touches, too--a wooden fish struck to sound meals; an ornate, flat gong hanging from a beam--also foreshadowed the temples I would visit in China. Furthermore, as I was later to learn, the Obaku monks are strict vegetarians--a statement that cannot be made of most Japanese Buddhist clergy.

I was so excited by my "find" that a year later I went out and bought Obaku Zen: The Emergence of the Third Sect of Zen in Tokugawa Japan by the scholar Helen J. Baroni, a book I still consult from time to time.


The layout and many of the statues at Mampuku-ji's Chinese mother temple, Huangbo-shan Wanfu-si, are virtually identical to the one in Japan, with a screen wall instead of the pond.

A very Japanese-y Guanyin (Kannon) at Wanfu-si

As I walked up the path, I was greeted by a very Japanese-looking statue of Guanyin (Japanese Kannon), the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Other little touches--some small pavilions, a gong--also seemed "Japanese-y."

The ultimate, though, was the statue of Yinyuan in a hall at the back of the compound. Paid for by a "Mr. Yama Oka, a disciple of the Japanese sect of Huangpo [sic], together with his wife Yan Mu'er" (according to a sign) it contains a statue that was made in Japan and "escorted back here," to the hall in Fuqing.

The statue of Yinyuan (Ingen) "escorted" from Mampuku-ji to Wanfu-si

And so, the Chinese temple on Huangbo Shan sent an emissary to Japan, who built a temple there; that temple centuries later sent back a statue of that emissary, and paid (at least in part) for the reconstruction of the very temple that started it all.


As good fortune would have it, the same family that drove me to the temple--the only other visitors I saw while I was on the grounds--met me at the gate (where I sat listening to a lone monk singing lustily, a most unusual experience) and drove me back to the National Highway, where I would flag down an onward bus to Putian.

As I waited at the crossroads, I saw a seemingly-homeless woman sitting there. I had just stopped in a small store (where a woman was watching Twilight on a large TV!) and bought a package of little cakes (that felt like they were made in the Qing Dynasty). As there were too many for me to eat, I gave her half of them, and one of the motorcycle-taxi guys nearby gave me a "thumbs-up" for my kindness--an unexpected validation of a small good deed.


Well, that's that. The more I learn, the deeper the connections between things seem to run, and these two temples are a sterling example of that principle.

And now, until next time, may you and your loved ones and all sentient beings be well and happy.

Adios, Amigos!


  1. Were you aware of the extent of the China/Japan connection "way back when"?

  2. Why would a great Master be described as freakish, like Huangbo (unless it's actually true?).

  3. What makes a pirate? I mean, what are the criteria, and who gets to decide? (Some say Koxinga was not a pirate, but a loyalist to the defeated Ming; so the Qing successors unfairly labeled him "pirate.")

  • Subscribers: Although I have enabled comments for this post here on Substack, there's still a "Secret Group" on Facebook where your questions and comments can get more personal attention. If you're not already a member, let me know and we'll figure out how to loop you in! (Of course, if you don't use Facebook--sorry!) Oh, and Non-subscribers? Join the club!


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In the next episode: Let's visit the stunning South Sea Guanyin (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) and environs on the Chinese island paradise of Putuo Shan.