Monday, April 13, 2009
The Fountain-head of Chan - Nanhua Si (南华寺)
Last October (2008) I visited Nanhua Si in Shaoguan, Guangdong with my wife. This is the famous temple where the 6th Patriarch Huineng spent most of his life, preaching the Doctrine of the Correct Dharma Eye. It is also the final resting place of his undecaying body, which sits in eternal samadhi for devotees to venerate until the end of the kalpa. Above we see the Caoxi Gate, which is the main entrance of the temple.
A big map showing the layout of the temple. Nanhua Si was first built in 502 CE during the Southern Liang dynasty by Indian Tripitaka Master Prajnabhaisajya (Zhiyao). He prophesied that 160 yrs later there would be a great Bodhisattva who would come and occupy this temple and benefit countless sentient beings. True enough in the year 667 CE of the Tang dynasty, Huineng came to Nanhua Si and became the abbot here. That was the beginning of the mass propagation of the Chan school in China. Today there is a Vihara in the temple to commemorate this master.
General Hum guarding the entrance.
General Ha opposite.
The Pavilion of the 5 Fragrances, which symbolizes Morality, Concentration, Wisdom, Liberation and the Insight that leads to Liberation according to Huineng's teachings.
The Baolin Gate. Nanhua Si was originally known as Baolin Si. It was renamed Nanhua by the first Emperor of the Song dynasty, Zhao Kuangyin in 968 CE.
The Golden Bowl that stands in front the Hall of Heavenly Kings.
Laughing Maitreya Buddha greets all visitors to the temple.
Kings Virupakkha and Vessavana.
Kings Dhatarattha and Virulhaka.
Outside the Grand Hall.
The gold-plated Buddhas of the 3 Worlds, Amitabha, Shakyamuni and Bhaisajyaguru.
The Hall of Scriptures.
This is the Lingzhao Pagoda which used to house Huineng's undecaying body.
The base of the Pagoda.
The Patriarch Hall, where Huineng's undecaying body is located.
A quick shot of the 1,296 yr old undecaying body; no photography was allowed inside the Vihara. The body is coated with dark brown sandalwood paste for better protection from the elements. But it was absolutely amazing that the facial features and even slight smile on his face was still so clear after nearly 13 centuries. Throughout history, the undecaying body was only damaged twice - both times in the last century. The first time was by Japanese soldiers who occupied the temple during WW2. Some of these audacious men wanted to know whether the body was real, so they cut open the back of the body to see whether there was anything inside. They were shocked to find Huinengs organs still intact inside his body! Immediately they quickly prostrated towards him, asked for forgiveness and left. So the hole had to be sewn up and repaired. The second time was during the cultural revolution, where fanatical Red Guards again cut open the body to see whether it was real. Those ignorant fools were not convinced and even paraded Huineng's body along with the undecaying bodies of Master Hanshan and Master Dantian in the streets to denounce them as fakes. They were going to destroy the bodies, but luckily, thanks to the timely and clever intervention of Mr Lin Dezhong, they were returned to Nanhua Si so that "the whole world could see the fake bodies". It was only because of this ruse of Mr Lin that we are still able to see and venerate the undecaying bodies today.
The sanctioned photos of the 3 bodies. On Huineng's left and right sits Master Hanshan and Master Dantian. Master Hanshan was a great Chan Master of the Ming dynasty, but not much is known about Master Dantian, or why he deserves a place beside the Patriarch.
The Fuhu (Subduing Tiger) Pavilion.
The Gate with the words Tianxia Baolin inscribed above. It means "Precious Forest Under Heaven".
The Zhuoxi Fountain. This is the original mystical fountain where Huineng stuck his ritual staff into the earth, and lo and behold, a fountain started to gush out from underneath. The reason for creating this fountain was for him to wash the Buddha's robe passed down through the ages. The bas relief behind the sacred fountain depicts this story from the Platform Sutra. This is the bigger fountain for people to wash their hands and face.
And this is the smaller fountain at the side for people to drink from. I drank some of the holy water and it was totally refreshing indeed.
This is Master Xuyun Memorial Hall. Master Xuyun was perhaps the most influential Chan Master of China in the last century. In 1934 Master Xuyun came to rebuild Nanhua Si as it had become very run down in the chaos and turmoil that ensued since the fall of the Qing dynasty. This hall was built to commemorate his great contribution to the temple.
A live-sized statue of Master Xuyun on the main altar.
The Stupa that houses Master Xuyun's relics.
The Wujin Nunnery next to Nanhua Si. This Nunnery was started by Huineng's first female disciple, Wujin Zang, who questioned him on the meaning of the Nirvana Sutra. Huineng replied he could not read and asked her to recite the verses she could not understand out loud for him. Wujin Zang asked how he could understand the meaning when he did not even know the words. That was where Huineng gave the famous parable of the finger pointing to the moon. He said to see the moon, it was not always necessary to rely on the finger, and that "the subtle meaning of the Buddhas had nothing to do with words". Wujin Zang was deeply impressed by Huineng's wisdom and followed him ever since. Later when he came to Nanhua Si, Wujin Zang also came and established a Nunnery here so that she could continue to learn from him.
The Main Hall of the Nunnery. A special feature of this Nunnery was the use of Burmese white jade for all the holy buchas. On the main altar is this Burmese style Buddha as well as the images of Ven Maha Kassapa and Ven Ananda (the 1st and 2nd Indian Patriarchs). Bodhidharma was the 28th Indian Patriarch.
The 18 Arahat statues at the left and right side of the hall were also carved out of white jade.
The opposite side.
Inside the Memorial Hall of Master Weiyin, the previous abbot of Nanhua Si. His statue is carved out of marble.
The Stupa of Master Weiyin.
The lotus pond and the corridor that leads to the Nanhua Si Buddhist University.