Ep. 076: The Temple of Aiding Wisdom on Putuoshan

Huiji Temple on Foding Peak

Back in Episode 056 we visited the Nanhai Guanyin area of Putuoshan in Zhejiang Province. Let's continue that day's touring and drop in on Huiji Temple, the third of the 142 key temples I visited in China, in this episode of

TEMPLE TALES!

The day after I left Hangzhou was spent getting to "the mystical isle of Putuoshan." This entailed a short ride in a gypsy cab from my friend's house to the port at Beilun, Ningbo; a short ferry ride to Zhoushan, and a l-o-o-ong bus ride across that island (or so it seemed); and then another, snazzier, ferry across to Putuoshan itself.

And it was worth it. As I've mentioned, this is one of the "mountains" (in this case on a small island) dedicated to the Four Great Bodhisattvas we met in Episode 046. Recapping, these are:

  • Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, called in Chinese Guanyin Pusa, and in Japanese Kannon Bosatsu;

  • Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva, called in Chinese Dizang Pusa, and in Japanese Jizo Bosatsu; honored on Jiuhuashan in Anhui (see Episode 015);

  • Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, called in Chinese Puxian Pusa, and in Japanese Fugen Bosatsu; honored on Wutaishan in Shanxi; and

  • Manjushri Bodhisattva, called in Chinese Wenshu Pusa, and in Japanese Monju Bosatsu; honored on Emeishan in Sichuan (the only one of the four mountains I haven't been to--yet)

Putuoshan would be a paradise even without the heavy Buddhist presence: golden sand beaches, pristine sea views, no private vehicular traffic, and a mountain. Which we'll "climb"--the easy way--pretty soon.


Getting There was Halfway Fun

I caught a short ride in a hotel shuttle from the ferry landing to the "Purple Bamboo Hotel," named for the same plant as the temple in Episode 056. The staff there were incredibly friendly, despite the language barrier, and immediately dubbed me the Meiguo de Mile-fo--the American Laughing Buddha. I had booked through CTrip, a travel service that bailed me out many, many times; but here I managed without their intervention.

The lotus pond (the lotus-y part is in the distance) from a pavilion in front of Puji Temple

I took a stroll that evening, mostly on a boardwalk over sand, all the way to the central area around Puji Temple, which I wouldn't be visiting until two days hence. I even caught views of the Nanhai Guanyin (South Sea Avalokiteshvara), which I would visit the next day; and the Nantian Men ("South Heaven Gate") that I would see on my third and last day on the island, after visiting Puji Temple. I lingered at the huge lotus pond in front of Puji, and gazed at the gorgeous Duobao ("Many Treasures") Pagoda before dining in one of the swankiest vegetarian restaurants I had seen in China--and I'd seen a few. Then a stroll back to my room for a good night's sleep.

The Duobao ("Many Treasures") Pagoda outside of Puji

The next morning, I visited the Nanhai Guanyin, as described before, and then walked up to the parking area in front of Puji Temple (again!), which is a hub for the island's shuttle buses. (As I mentioned, only these and other work-related vehicles are allowed on the island--no private vehicles or even taxis!) I boarded the shuttle that would take me to the north end of the island and the cable car for Huiji Temple. As I got off the bus, I noticed that a large temple was being built across the way, on the north side of the road. Google Maps tells me it's finished now, and its name is Baotuojiang Temple.

Baotuojiang Temple being built at the base of the cable car to Huiji Temple

The cable car took me to the top of Foding (Buddha Peak) Hill, one of the island's highest points. Huiji Temple, Putuoshan's third-largest, was built here first as a pagoda with a Buddha inside sometime during the Ming Dynasty. In 1793, it was expanded into a larger complex, not unlike the one we see today. But the People's Liberation Army occupied the temple during the Cultural Revolution, and the Red Guard destroyed some of its halls. In 1978, the Central Government paved the way for the reactivation of the temple, and five years later it was placed on the list of 142 Key Temples in the Han Chinese Area. Hence my visit.

Defensive-looking alleyways lead into the temple from the cable car.

A short stroll from the cable car's upper station, a plaza opens out on the mountain, with souvenirs, snacks, and drinks for the weary traveler. A path leads down the mountain to the left, but forsaking that for the moment, I went right through a rather odd setup: one of the peculiarities of this temple is the series of walled corridors with 90-degree turns leading into it. It almost feels like some kind of defensive work.


The Temple at Last

Huiji Temple, perhaps translated "The Temple of Aiding Wisdom," has another peculiarity: it is the only major temple on the island that has the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, as its main figure. Since this is Guanyin's island, the other temples feature that Bodhisattva of Compassion on their main altars. (In keeping with the mountain's theme, though, this temple sports a separate "Yuantong Hall" dedicated to Guanyin.)

The public portion of the temple is quite small. There is an open area at the end of the alleys, where people light incense and such. Then comes the typical Heavenly Kings Hall with its usual six denizens: Maitreya (Mi'lefo), the "Laughing Buddha," in the center, back-to-back with the general Weituo; then the four kings ranged around them.

The only big courtyard stands in front of the Buddha Hall.

Next, a single courtyard with the Buddha Hall at the back, and the usual buildings along the side: a Dining Hall, a Patriarchs' Hall, a Dharma Hall, and so on.

One of the small side courtyards

What is intriguing, though, are the multiple small courtyards visible from the central one. An aerial view shows that the temple is actually much bigger than it seems, but the majority of the buildings are hidden behind the two public side wings. Its layout has been adapted to the "lay of the land." These small courtyards provide access to the private portions of the temple.

The temple backs on the hill's peak; north, over the top and down the mountainside--visible from the lower end of the cable car--is a modern viewing tower called the "Ten Thousand Buddha Treasure Tower," a "pagoda"; I didn't bother.

Instead, I turned my feet southward, pausing at the plaza for a drink and a chat with an old man. I would learn that, out in the countryside, older people loved to ask me my parents' age, expecting to top them. They never did. "How old is your respected father?" the drink seller asked. "87," I replied. "Oh," he said, looking disappointed, "I'm 72."

With that, down the road I went.


The Xiangyun Road

The wide path up the mountain

I have read that the poetically-named "Fragrant Cloud Road"--probably a pilgrim's path up to the temple, and looking as though it were designed for the self-explanatory "three steps one bow" meditation technique--had a total of well over 1,000 steps. I didn't count.

These characters have been effaced.

But I was fascinated to see the many, many rocks with carved inscriptions along the way (best viewed by those going uphill). Some had clearly been intentionally damaged, but many were kept fresh with red or black paint.

The four characters on the left read “Sky Sea Buddha Land,” and were carved in the Ming Dynasty.

One of the most outstanding read in giant red characters, "Sea Sky Buddha Land," now a nickname for Putuoshan. It was inscribed by Hou Jigao, a Ming general and fighter of Japanese pirates, famed for writing a travelogue in 1588 about his visit to the island.

A friendly monk awaits visitors in the Xiangyun Pavilion.

Before terribly long, my aching knees took a rest in the Xiangyun Pavilion, where friendly monks often hang out to chat with visitors.

Not too far beyond that, I turned into the back gate of Fayu Temple--where several people tried to turn me back! After poking around a bit, I headed out the temple's front gate and discovered why the fuss: there's a fee to be paid! I did so, and took a bus back to the Puji Temple area, whence I walked wearily to my hotel. I would return to Fayu for a closer look the next afternoon, my final day on Putuoshan.

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And that's that. We'll continue my visit to Putuoshan next week. Until next time, may you and your loved ones and all sentient beings be well and happy.

Adios, Amigos!


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In the next episode: We continue our Japanese pilgrimage with a look at Kokawa-dera, east of Wakayama, Number Three of the Saigoku Pilgrimage Course.