Ep. 080: Dharma Rain Temple
last of the Big Three on Putuoshan
Quick update: Unless I hear from two or three of you soon, I'll be forced to cancel the Heart Sutra lessons for lack of interest. Please see this post for more details. Thanks!
Let's pay a visit to the temple the name of which has impressed me more than any other. If my karma ever results in my being allowed to found a temple of my own, it, too, will probably be called Fayu--"Dharma Rain." I'll explain in this episode of--
The bridge over the "Free Life" pond
The Truth: I actually visited Fayu Temple twice: on August 20, 2009, I entered by the back gate and proceeded to the front as I hiked down from the mountain above. The next day, I returned and entered by the front gate. I will tell this story as though the front-to-back visit were the only visit.
The entry hall, dedicated to the Sea Goddess, Tian Hou
On my last day on the blessed isle of Putuoshan, I visited the third of the island's Big Three temples, the sumptuously-named Fayu or "Dharma Rain" Temple. Located somewhere between the other two--Puji and Huiji--it's the second largest of the three.
Founded in 1580 by a monk named Dazhi Zhenrong (1524-1592), the temple was originally named the "Ocean Tide Hermitage." Zhenrong had come to meditate and to chant the Diamond Sutra; he lived in caves and, as Englished by Google Translate from a Chinese page, "sat on grass and feasted on weeds."
The temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since, and was given its current name in 1699 after that Buddhist booster, the Emperor Kangxi, calligraphed a signboard reading Tianhua Fayu--"Heaven Flowers Dharma Rain." Expanded, this is understood to mean, "The Buddha's teaching rains down like flowers from heaven."
The "Nine Dragon" screen wall is right up against the wall of the courtyard.
A Quick Stroll
Once again, we find a typical line-up: the Heavenly Kings' Hall and the Buddha Hall. But before and between these are some peculiarities.
The Buddha Hall is painted to look very much like the Nine Dragon Hall (see below).
A fairly typical set of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the Buddha Hall.
After walking through a massive pailou (ceremonial gate) and crossing a bridge across a good-sized square "free-life" pond, we turn left to reach the entrance pavilion (oddly dedicated to Tianhou, the Sea Goddess--see Episode 033). Perhaps because of the terrain, or perhaps to prevent the entry of evil spirits, this temple does not have a grand procession-worthy entry (come to think of it, neither do Puji or Huiji). Rather, we enter the first courtyard from the side; to our left is a fine nine-dragon screen wall (a 1987 replacement for one pulled down during the Cultural Revolution), and the entry through the Heavenly Kings' Hall is to our right.
The Heavenly Kings’ Hall
It's the standard hall with its six denizens (see Episode 003 to learn more about two of them). It's flanked by the drum and bell tower. But what lies behind is... sublime...
First is a hall with another exquisite jade Buddha. Third is a hall with a pretty typical (but nonetheless beautiful) statue of the Thousand-Armed Guanyin.
But between the two is the Nine Dragon Hall, "acclaimed as one of three treasures in Mount Putuo." (The "Many Treasures" Pagoda seen in Episode 076 is another; the third is a stele with a "Willow Branch Guanyin," which I missed, as the nunnery it resides in was not on my list.)
The Pièce de Résistance
The Nine Dragon Hall was once part of an imperial palace in Nanjing.
The Nine Dragon Hall was once an abandoned building in the imperial palace in Nanjing. In 1699, our old pal Emperor Kangxi, when he wrote the signboard which gave the temple its name, also donated the Hall. It was moved here piece-by-piece, and a resplendent installation of nine dragons playing with a golden pearl hangs from the ceiling over a statue of Guanyin. Behind that statue is another magnificent display which, though not unique, takes on special significance here: this is a "Sea Island Guanyin," a statue of the Bodhisattva surrounded by dozens of other figures, referencing a story from the Huayan (Avatamsaka) Sutra. Finally, the Hall features our buddies the Eighteen Arhats (see Episodes 057 and 058), usually found in the Buddha Hall, but here on either side of the central Guanyin.
The titular Nine Dragons play in the ceiling over Guanyin's head.
A "Sea Island Guanyin" is back-to-back with the hall's main image.
So much beauty.
The Southern Heaven Gate
This massive gate near the ferry dock was (is?) probably used for important arrivals on the island.
Statue of a fully-prostrated pilgrim near the ferry dock
Reluctantly leaving Fayu Temple, I took a shuttle back down to the dock area, where I had landed a mere two days earlier. There's a number of interesting things to see east of the ferry terminal, including a huge gateway, presumably used back in the days when arrival there was a Big Thing, and perhaps still used for dignitaries. Also there's a statue representing a fully-prostrated pilgrim, and a few others.
A small temple compound inside the Nantianmen
But the main attraction is the Nantianmen, the "Gate of the Southern Heaven" of Chinese mythology. It's a natural-appearing trilithon (think "Stonehenge," but smaller) that seemingly makes an outer gate for a small temple compound wedged into a pile of boulders along the rocky shore.
Near the end of my stay on this island paradise
After a sunset stroll near the beach, back to the hotel to grab the bags I had packed that morning, and a hotel van to the last boat off the island (in my direction anyway). I reversed my outbound trip, back to the place I was staying outside of Ningbo.
Well, that's about that. Until next time, may you and your loved ones and all sentient beings be well and happy.
Listen to the audio version of this post at Archive.org.
You may unsubscribe to Temple Tales at any time by simply replying to this Newsletter and writing "Unsubscribe." You will receive one more letter as confirmation.
If you have any problems reading the Newsletter or accessing the Podcast, please write to me at TheTempleGuy@GMail.com, and I'll help you in any way I can!
In the next episode: We'll visit Fujii-dera, the Temple of the Kudzu Well in suburban Osaka, Japan.