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.
The temple shop. Actually there are a few in the temple (sign of commercialization) but this was the main one.
A parting shot before we left.
The 5" gold-plated bucha of Huineng that I obtained from the temple. It is now one of the "trinity" of Huineng buchas that sits on my altar.


Anonymous said...

Great information on this site! Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report. I wish to go there in January

hoangkybactien said...


I hope these words will reach you!

I just tumbled on your dharma blog just about three days ago while viewing photos of the Sixth Patriarch on the net.

Reading some of your thoughts on dharma, I feels that you are a very rare devout buddhist. This made me feel compelled to write several comments on your blog to share some personal experience with readers. Hope you don't mind about that.

On this particular post of your --Nanhua Si -- you made an excellent reporting of this trip with a lot of pictures and detail information on every things related to the Sixth Patriarch (fairly speaking, most of your posts -- I say most because I've not finished reading through it yet -- are excellent.) For that alone, I want to say thank you very much for sharing it with everyone.

In the beginning of your blog, you mentioned that you practiced Chan. And couple years later, you practiced vipassana. Are you practicing both methods or you switched it to Vipassana? Just curious. It doesn't matter.

As you are so dedicated and devout, you, too, will attain it in a blink of an eye.

May all sincere dharma practitioners realize their own buddha nature in a sudden.


Wayne Woo said...

Dharma bro,
Yes previously I practiced Chan and learned from the sayings of the past patriarches, ancient and contemporary. Then suddenly I realized that they are just words so I threw them away and started to study the Dharma practice that is popular in this part of the world as well - Vipassana. So far its been fun. Mindfulness and Emptiness are fundamentally non-dual.

hoangkybactien said...


Glad to read your interesting reply.

Very interesting because I did just the opposite: Switching from vipassana to "unconventional" chan!

I did so not because vipassana is not very good, but because my patience is short!

So I switched to "unconventional" chan method that I modified from "traditional" chan. Meaning,
no formal 'huatuo' nor 'koan' practices.

I followed what explained in the Platform Sutra and Faith-In-Mind (shinshinmin) to practice with my mind, together with reciting the Buddha names. I also learned a lot from Ven. Kachenla and Ven. Tomo Geshi Rinpoche of Tibet who have passed away long, long before I was born! I recite their names every day, too.

Having read most of your writings in mahayana/chan, I feel that you already arrived at the door.

In my humble opinion: Don't read contemporary chan by modern day 'masters'.

And don't read too much either!

Don't confuse the mind or polute the mind unnessary, for when it (mind) get tired it shut off the wisdom light. And we fall back into ignorance.

For those who are fond of chan practice, there are more than enough ancient teachings: Such as the Platform sutra, Faith-In-Mind stanza, Buddhidharma's teaching, the teaching of master Huanpo. The teachings of maters Hanshan and Hsuyun, and the Diamond sutra, to practice.

To be clear, this is just a chatting. It is not intented to switch you back to chan from vipassana. Actually, if you like, you can practice both methods, it would not hurt at all!

Yes, in mindfulness one realizes emptiness.

So, be mindful all the time, dear brother.