Beijing continues its development by embracing and promoting diverse cultures. Religious culture is no exception. Alongside religious development, magnificent temples, churches, mosques and other structures have been built in Beijing, proving this capital as an open city.
It is said that Beijing’s temples top the world. The capital boasts the Tanzhe, Fayuan and Yonghegong Lama temples which best manifest the architectural style and history of Beijing’s Buddhist structures. Beijing is also home to other Buddhist venues which make the city more attractive.
The Tanzhe Temple is at the foot of the Tanzhe Mountain in Mentougou District in the west of Beijing. One old saying goes that the Tanzhe Temple was built earlier than the capital city of the Youzhou Prefecture. The temple was said to be constructed during the Jin Dynasty (AD 265–420) or the Tang Dynasty. According to Mentougou in Jingji congshu (“a series of books about the capital”), the temple was built in AD 316. Named Jiafu Temple then, it wasn’t large, but was the first temple built after Buddhism was introduced to the Yan area.
Monk Daoyan (1335–1418) surnamed Yao, was selected by Zhu Yuanzhang or Ming Emperor Taizu, to serve Zhu Di, then Prince of Yan. When Ming Emperor Jianwen took action to weaken the prince’s power, Zhu Di triggered the Jingnan Campaign according to Yao’s plan, seized the throne, and became Ming Emperor Chengzu.
Yao was designated as one of the chief officials in charge of religious affairs, abbot of the Qingshou Temple, and later “master of the crown prince,” and granted the name “Guangxiao.” Later, Yao resigned from his official posts, and went to the Tanzhe Temple
to live in seclusion and practise Buddhism. Every day, Yao discussed Buddhism with his old friend—master Wuchudeshi, abbot of the temple. Zhu Di once visited Yao at the temple.
Yao was the designer for building Beijing City. Inspired by the architectural style and layout of the temple, Yao had many places built in Beijing according to the temple’s appearances. Pursuant to the Hall of Great Buddha at the temple, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was built.
Though the former is shorter and smaller than the latter, they both have a multiple-eave wudian rooftop (top-level of its kind), and a compartmented ceiling with patterns, each with a golden dragon and imperial seal. When Yao was ordered to take charge of the compiling the Yongle Canon, he left the temple. However, the site of the “quiet room for the master of the crown prince” once inhabited by Yao is still preserved at the temple.
Beginning with Zhu Yuanzhang, Ming emperors, empresses and concubines mostly believed in Buddhism. With funds allocated by the imperial court and money donated by eunuchs, the temple was renovated and expanded many times, which determined the layout of today’s Tanzhe Temple.
Built during the Tang Dynasty, and rebuilt and renovated in various dynasties, the Fayuan Temple is the most famous ancient temple in the south of Beijing. The temple’s Shanmen Gate (gate to a monastery) takes on a palatial style. Through the gate, visitors will enter this solemn temple.
The Hall of the Heavenly King and a pair of bronze lions in front of the hall are surrounded by green pines and cypresses. The bell and drum towers stand on the left and right sides of the hall. To the north of the hall is the Hall of Great Buddha, also called the “great hall” and “principal hall.” The Hall of Great Buddha is the main place where monks chant Buddhist scriptures and hold activities.
In AD 696, during the reign of Wu Zetian, China’s only female monarch (reign: AD 690– 705), the temple was completed, and named the Minzhong Temple. During the An Shi Rebellion (AD 755–763), Tang’s turning point from prosperity to decline, it was renamed the Shuntian Temple. After the rebellion ended, the temple regained its original name.
In 1070, during the Liao Dynasty, it was rebuilt and renamed the Great Minzhong Temple, forming the scale and layout of today’s Fayuan Temple. In 1437 during the Ming Dynasty, master Xiangrong of the temple raised funds, and renovated the temple later granted a name: the Chongfu Temple. In 1734 during the reign of Qing Emperor Yongzheng, the temple was designated as a venue for the Vinaya school of Buddhism, and renamed the Fayuan Temple.
Behind the Hall of Great Buddha is the Minzhong Altar, a structure unique to the Fayuan Temple. On the altar, Emperor Taizong once held rites to release souls of martyrs from purgatory. With 12 pillars as the frame of the outer wall and 12 pillars as indoor supports, the altar has a style similar to that of the Wanchun Pavilion in the Imperial Park at the Forbidden City.
Surangama Altar of Tanzhe Temple
The statue of the Maitreya Buddha in Yonghegong Lama Temple