Ep. 078: Puji, Putuoshan's Primary Temple

Number One of the Big Three on Guanyin's island

On my first evening on Putuoshan, the island dedicated to Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion), I strolled around the lotus pond in front of Puji Temple. At lunch the next day, I was in that temple's parking lot to take a shuttle bus north, to visit Huiji Temple. Well, today's the day: on the morning of my last full day on the island, I finally entered the gates of Puji, as we'll see in this episode of


I once again took the lovely seaside amble from my hotel along the beach and the boardwalk--a little over a half mile--to Puji Temple, the "Temple of Universal Aid."

The Yuantong Hall at Puji Temple

Before the Temple

Once again I gazed in wonder at the Duobao ("Many Treasure") Pagoda, Putuoshan's oldest structure, built between 1333 and 1335 during the Yuan Dynasty. I have read that behind the surrounding wall, where I couldn't see, there's a stone pedestal surrounded by balustrades. The platform, like the pagoda, is covered with carvings of Buddhas, as well as Bodhisattvas and, I am told, our old friends the Eighteen Arhats (see Episode 057 and Episode 058).

I also dawdled a bit (again) at the large pond directly in front of the temple's gates, called the Haiyin or "Sea Image" Pond. In addition to hosting lotuses, it's sometimes used for the "Free Life" ceremony, in which fish and turtles are released as an act of compassion--most suitable on an island dedicated to Guanyin.

(For photos of the pond and the pagoda, see Episode 076.)

This stele pavilion is at one end of the central bridge across the lotus pond; the other end leads to the central gate.

The pond is crossed by three bridges. In the past, the western one was for commoners, the eastern for nobility, and the central one reserved for the emperor, leading directly to the main gate of the temple. Today a pavilion adorns the center of this bridge, and a fine stele pavilion stands at its far end opposite the gate.

A legend says that that Buddhist Booster Emperor Qianlong was once staying in the temple. Coming in late from a day of touring, he discreetly knocked at the gate--and was refused! The young monk in charge said, "I'd only open for you if you were the emperor!" So Qianlong decreed that thereafter, only emperors--not even monks--could use the center gate, so today visitors have to detour to the east to enter. (Had I been the offended emperor, I might have ruled that only peasants could enter there!)

I did indeed enter by the side gate, as do all visitors. With China being fresh out of emperors, the central gate seems heavily unused--the doors from the courtyard side weren't even open! But one page I read said that today, the gate is only opened for heads of state; the consecration of a new statue; or the elevation of a new abbot.

"…mug used by Master Xingyun…"

But before entering I strolled around the square outside the temple, and visited a wonderful museum-and-visitors' center which featured diagrams of the island's three main temples: Huiji, which I had visited yesterday; Puji; and Fayu, which I peeked in at yesterday and to which I would pay a more leisurely visit this afternoon. There were also illustrations of some great Chan masters, all presumably associated with Putuoshan; and, to my surprise and delight, a "mug used by Master Xingyun [Hsing Yun] from Taiwan Fo Guangshan when he attending [sic] the Third Cultural Festival of Guanyin in Oct 2005," along with a picture of the Master. I had attended the university and worked in the temple founded by Master Hsing Yun outside of L.A. After moving to China, I also worked for a year in another temple in his hometown of Yangzhou, in an academy attached to what would become the largest Buddhist library in mainland China, built by the Master's organization there. So seeing this simple mug was like a touch of homecoming.

Puji's History

You may remember that in Episode 056, I explained something of the complex history of this temple. There I wrote that the "Unwilling-to-Leave Guanyin"--a statue that seemed reluctant to leave the island--was housed in a temple named for that foot-dragging trait, the Bukenqu Temple. Then:

That original site--Mr. Zhang's former home--developed into the massive Puji Temple, one of the three I was to see on this trip, and the central temple on the island. Mr. Zhang's Bukenqu Guanyin Temple was renamed Baotuo Guanyin Temple in 1080. When the entire island was evacuated to the nearby mainland city of Ningbo in 1387 (and its temples destroyed) to thwart the depredations of Japanese pirates, the statue was moved for safe-keeping to a temple in that city (in fact today that place is Qita Temple, which I also visited on this trip). The statue may have come back to Baotuo when the temple was rebuilt in 1572 (after a nearly two-century hiatus in religious activities on the island), and the temple was renamed Puji in 1699 after a visit by that big-time Buddhist fan the Qing Emperor Kangxi. It has been rebuilt and expanded numerous times since; whether the original statue survives I have been unable to determine (but sincerely doubt).

In 1980, the current Bukenqu Temple was built on a different site, near the "Tidal Sound Cave," where the original statue was originally housed.

Inside at Last

Sometimes, when I find myself tossing and turning at night, I walk--in my mind--through some of the temples I've visited, recalling as many details as possible until I fall into blissful sleep. I must confess: in these late-night rambles I sometimes confuse Puji with Lingyin Temple, which I had visited three days before and about 140 miles away as the crow flies (though more like 165 by road and ferry). Although regional temples sometimes have similar attributes, this is more a "feeling" than anything tangible.

I entered the temple, like any good commoner, by a side gate, and noticed that the two temples seemed about the same size, and with around the same number of visitors (that is, they were about equally crowded, more or less). Like Lingyin, Puji was built on the same system of "central axis with two side axes"--which I was to learn was quite common (see Episode 002 for details on temple layouts). This one had a total of nine main halls in addition to many, many others.

The Vairochana Guanyin peeks around a curtain in the main hall.

But of course, there were delightful differences. One was that the main hall was not a Daxiong Baodian, or "Precious Hall of the Great Hero," with Shakyamuni, the historic Buddha, on the altar; but rather a Da Yuantong Dian, or "Great Compassion Hall," featuring Guanyin on the altar. (Incidentally, yuantong actually means something more like "flexible" or "accommodating" these days.) The statue on the main altar is a "Vairochana Guanyin." I'm not sure what this means: Vairochana is the Great Sun Buddha--my favorite--but I have never heard of a Guanyin by this name. More research!

Some of the very fine Arhats, which are seated in their own halls.

Anyway, in wooden cases around the sides of the hall are 32 more statues of Guanyin (making a total of 33, Guanyin's number, representing eight in each of the four directions, plus one in the center: 4 x 8 + 1=32). But--where were the Eighteen Arhats? I discovered that exquisite figures of these by-now old friends had been seated, not in the main hall around the sides, but split nine and nine in their own halls on either side of the courtyard. I don't know what process was used to create them. It looks like some kind of enamel or inlay on bronze figures; but it's rare, probably very expensive, and incredibly beautiful.

The figures of the Bodhisattvas Puxian (Samantabhadra) and Wenshu (Manjushri), often found flanking the Buddha in the main hall, had also been moved into their own small halls--not in the side axes, but in free-standing halls of their own, in line with but independent of the main hall. Slightly further back, on either side of the building that contained both a Dharma (lecture) Hall (downstairs) and a sutra library (upstairs), is a Dizang (Kshitigarbha) Hall, and a Pumen (Universal Gate) Hall. This was named for a sutra (actually, a chapter abstracted from the famed Lotus Sutra) dedicated to Guanyin. The hall houses one main image of the 40-armed Guanyin, and 88 smaller representations of various forms of that seemingly-ubiquitous Bodhisattva. This means that each of the Four Great Bodhisattvas (see Episode 046) had his own freestanding hall at Puji Temple.


Near the entry to the "Western Paradise"

After a quick lunch in the pricey veg restaurant outside the gates, I wandered westward to the entrance to the "Western Paradise," a hilly area of footpaths and inscribed stones. Alas, I had other places to see, so I only went as far as the front gate of the area before heading back to the parking lot and the shuttle to Fayu Temple for a visit more thorough than my quick dash through yesterday.

Until next time, then, may you and your loved ones and all sentient beings be well and happy.

Adios, Amigos!


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In the next episode: Let's visit what might be the most remotest temple on the Saigoku route: Sefuku-ji, on a mountain in Izumi City of Osaka Prefecture.