Ep. 096: The Temple of the Jade Buddha

My last temple in Shanghai

Jade Buddha Temple, the last temple I saw in Shanghai, is the home of several magnificent (you guessed it) jade Buddhas. Let's visit them in this episode of--

TEMPLE TALES!

Shanghai's Temple of the Jade Buddha was so close to my hotel that after checking out I left my bag, went to Jing'an Temple (see Episode 094), walked past my hotel to the Jade Buddha, then back to the hotel again for the bags and a stroll back down to the subway station. From the other end of the subway I caught the mag-lev train (an experience in itself) to the airport and my flight back "home" to Shenzhen.


Some History

Zen Coffee, "isolated from the hustle and bustle outer world"

The Jade Buddha Temple was, in some ways, the most pleasant visit of the trip, despite the pressure of thinking about my flight. The current abbot, Master Juexing, is forward-looking in remarkable ways. For example, he has founded a small shop at the front of the temple (facing the street) called "Zen Coffee," where "isolated from the hustle and bustle outer world" you can drink coffee while you "enjoy the Buddhist music and Buddhist artworks."

Juexing also founded a bookstore with discounted books, and a "consultation service" to spread knowledge and enhance laypeople's understanding of Buddhism, as well as two vegetarian restaurants--one inside the grounds, and one facing the street. Master Juexing is also involved in many charities, including homes for children and seniors.

A jade Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara) at the temple

All of this progressive activity is less surprising when you learn that Yufo (its Chinese name)--unlike Longhua (founded 242), Jing'an (247), and Chenxiang Ge (1600)--was founded in 1882, a mere stripling compared to the others in Shanghai. (See Episodes 090, 094, and 088 respectively.)

At that time, Huigen (d. 1900), a monk from Mount Putuo (where I had been earlier on this trip--see Episodes 056, 076, 078, and 080) made a pilgrimage to Tibet, and continued on to Burma. A Chinese layman living in Burma gave him five jade Buddhas. On his way back to Putuo Shan (by ship--he had walked to Tibet), he left two of these in Shanghai, becoming founding abbot of Jade Buddha Temple. (The other three continued on to Putuo Shan.)

A large jade "Sleeping Buddha" from Singapore

He built the precursor of Yufo Temple to house the two statues. When that temple was overrun in the 1911 Revolution that led to the end of the Qing Dynasty, the statues were moved. A former Qing official, Sheng Xuanhuai, then supported the building of this Yufo's original buildings by a monk named Kecheng (the fourth abbot) in 1918-1928. A third jade Buddha, a gift from Singapore, was added in 1989.


The Temple Today

The "Precious Hall of the Great Hero" (main hall)

The front gate has the usual Laughing Buddha and Four Heavenly Kings. Next comes the "Precious Hall of the Great Hero," which has the usual three Buddhas--Shakyamuni, Amitabha, and Bhaishajyaguru, backed by a "Sea Island Guanyin." Along either side are statues of the 20 zhutian or "heavenly gods," whom we met at Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou (see Episode 072) and again at Longhua here in Shanghai (see Episode 090). They seem to be fairly popular in the Zhejiang region. (There were plaques, though, of the usual Eighteen Arhats on the outside of the building, and a stunning painting of them in an assemblage.)

The three Buddhas (and a fine ceiling) in the main hall

I have to be honest: There may have been a time when the gilded statues of the Buddhas and heavenly gods with somewhat misshapen features were considered attractive. But I prefer the bronze figures with the natural-looking enameled colors we saw, for example, at Puji Temple on Putuo Shan (see Episode 078). These funky old figures are not for me.

A postcard of the jade Buddha brought from Burma

Behind the main hall is the Jade Buddha Hall, containing the temple's namesake and one of the finest such statues I have ever seen (and I've seen a lot of them--probably more plastic than jade). The picture in this Newsletter will beggar any description I can attempt. (I was unable to take a photo, so what I share with you is reproduced from a postcard given out by the temple.) It's a seated figure a little over six feet high, depicting the historic Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment. It's bejeweled with (they tell me) agate and emeralds. Unlike most statues of the sort, it actually seems to be smiling!

Some of the 20 zhutian ("heavenly gods") in the main hall

The other jade Buddha brought by Huigen from Burma is a fairly small figure of the "Sleeping Buddha," which shows him lying on his right side, head propped on his right hand, as he prepares to die. This is just a little over three feet long, and is in a building on the left side of the temple along with the other, larger, Sleeping Buddha brought from Singapore in 1989. That one is a little over thirteen feet long.

A painting of the Eighteen Arhats (see Episodes 057 and 058)

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The temple has all the usual buildings and statues you'd expect, with the addition of the fine jade Buddhas. But as a city temple, it is the engagement with the lives of everyday people that is most commendable.

And that's that! 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: Let's visit beautiful Ishiyama-dera, up the Seta River from Iwama-dera and closer to Lake Biwa.