The Stone Scriptures Exhibition Hall in the Yunju Temple
Famed for its thousands of inscribed Buddhist stone tablets, Yunju Temple is also known as “Beijing's Dunhuang.” These valuable works have survived over 1,400 years and offer rare insights Buddhism's history in China.
The Yunju Temple Stone Scriptures Exhibition Hall, located in Nanshangle Township, Fangshan District, is known as “Beijing's Dunhuang” because of its collection of carved Buddhist stone tablets. Anti-buddhist campaigns in the Northern Wei (AD 386–534) and Northern Zhou (AD 557–581) dynasties led to a large number of Buddhist scriptures being destroyed. For that reason, during the reign of Emperor Yang (AD 604–618) of the Sui Dynasty (AD 581–618), an eminent monk by the name of Jingwan vowed to engrave the Buddhist classics on tablets and hide them in the caves to preserve them and fulfill the wishes of his master (Huisi). Jingwan spent more than 30 years carving the classics— work that was continued for more than 1,000 years after his death. The carving of 1,122 Buddhist scriptures in 3,572 volumes on 14,278 tablets composes one of the largest and longest written works in the history of mankind. Today, these stone tablets are collected in the nine caves of Shijing Mountain and the Scriptures Collection Cave next to Yunju Temple.
The Fangshan Stone Scriptures have become a classic Buddhist work that has been handed down from the Sui Dynasty. They are hugely significant in the study of Buddhism, politics, social economy, art and culture, and have great cultural and artistic value as works of calligraphy. In 1961, the Pagoda and Stone Scriptures in Yunju Temple were included on the list of the State Council's first batch of key cultural relics under national protection.
The ‘Great Temple of North China’
Yunju Temple— also known as the Great Temple of North China— was built by the eminent monk Master Jingwan in the period of Da'ye of the Sui Dynasty. It is home to a huge
collection of Buddhist classics in the form of stone tablets, manuscripts and woodblocks, which are collectively known as the “Three Achievements.” To the east of this magnificent temple is a lake and the entire complex is dominated by mountains. The central axis of the temple features six halls: Tianwang Hall and Pilu Hall, which are flanked by drum and bell towers, and Shijia Hall, Zhantan Hall, Yaoshi Hall and Mi'le Hall are flanked by dormitories for monks, Wenshu Hall and Abbot Hall. On top of the hill is Dabei Hall, the largest building in the temple, which incorporates the Shuofa and Zengjing halls. In the northern part of the temple complex is the brickbuilt Luohan Tower constructed in the Liao Dynasty and known as the North Tower. In the southern part of the temple is the South Tower, known as the Scriptures Protection Tower because of its position atop an underground chamber that stores 10,082 stone scriptures. The South Tower and most of the temple's halls were destroyed during the Second Sino-japanese War— with only the entrance, North Tower and the four small towers around it surviving. In recent years however, the main buildings have been successively rebuilt.
The North Tower is an icon of Yunju Temple. A 34.2-metre-high tile-roofed edifice, it was built from bricks and dates back to the Liao Dynasty. The tower's spire and body are composed of a phase wheel, stupa and pavilion which resemble a bell, drum and pavilion respectively. It has an octagonal base carved with musicians and dancers, reflecting the cultural heritage of the Liao Dynasty and providing material evidence for the study of the music, dance and other arts at that time. The lower section of its base is inlaid with 176 bricks carved with an image of the Buddha and inscribed with Buddhist text. Another of the temple's precious ancient pagodas is a small tower built in AD 711 during the Tang Dynasty by the northwest corner of the North Tower. The oldest Tang Dynasty tower in Beijing, it is built on a square plan, is 3-m high and has seven floors—hence its alternative name: the Seven-floor Tower. The tower's main door is flanked by a statue of Narayana on either side, which is material evidence of the study of Buddhism and Buddhist architecture during the Tang Dynasty.
The most famous artefacts in Yunju Temple are the Fangshan Stone Scriptures housed in Shijing Mountain opposite the temple. The tablets are renowned for being the only Tripitaka carved on stones in the whole of China. Built into the side of Shijing Mountain are nine caves housing the stone classics over two floors, of which eight were sealed by stones and cast in molten iron.
In addition to the stone scriptures, other valuable cultural relics have also been discovered in Yunju Temple. These include Buddha relics, woodblocks of the Lung Tripitaka Scriptures, and the Tongue Blood Scriptures, which appeal to visitors as important evidence of the study of Buddhism, philosophy, history, science and art.
The Buddha Relics in Yunju Temple were unearthed on November 27, 1981 when a stone cave twofeet in length, width and depth and a text carved on white marble were discovered beneath a kneeling stone in Shijing Mountain's Leiyin Cave. Beneath the large marble tablet was a blue stone carved by Jingwan, under which was a white marble tablet carved with text. Under that was a fourth set of small inscribed silvers, and at the bottom was a set of tiny elaborately inscribed jade wares. Two rice-sized red Buddha relics found among the jade wares caused a huge sensation at the time. The two relics, together with the Buddha's finger bone relics at Famen Temple in Shaanxi and the Buddha's tooth relic in Badachu Park in Beijing, are referred to as the “Three National Treasures of China.”
The Lung Tripitaka Scripture woodblocks were created between 1733 and 1738. The 79,000 wooden blocks are carved with 718 works in 1,662 parts over 7,160 volumes. Weighing 400 tons, they are the most valuable woodblock Buddhist classics in China and are elaborately carved on fine pear wood with exquisite workmanship and fine calligraphy. Images of the Buddha perfectly complement the format and are both vivid and aesthetically appealing. This set of woodblocks, which contains a collection of translated Buddhist classics introduced into China 1700 ago, is a valuable piece of Chinese cultural heritage and a globally important Buddhist work. Among them, a wood carving of the Buddha teaching the Buddhist classics to his disciples is titled “Haihui Painting.” The elaborate and finely crafted wood carvings of 76 images of the Buddha, Bodhisattva, Luohan, Feitian and others, are masterpieces of the fine arts.
Yunju Temple contains more than 22,000 volumes of Buddhist classics, including the Ming Dynasty's Yongle Southern Tripitaka
( 1420) and Yongle Northern Tripitaka ( 1440), individual printed sutras, manuscripts and Tibetan scriptures. Of these, the Tongue Blood Scriptures and Tibetan- Chinese scriptures are the rarest and most valuable. The Tongue Blood Scriptures are an 80- volume, 600,000- word “Flower Adornment Sutra,” written during the Ming Dynasty by the venerable monk Zuhui using blood from his tongue— his pious belief evidently displayed by the red letters in the scriptures. The collection of Tibetan- Chinese Buddhist classics were printed using woodblocks. Characterised by horizontal writing in both Tibetan and Chinese languages, they are the oldest of their kind featuring Chinese characters typeset horizontally.