The Temple of Universal Spiritual Awakening, aka Sleeping Buddha Temple, is situated at the foot of Longevity Hill between the Old Summer Palace and Fragrant Hills Park on Beijing's western fringes. The temple, together with the Old Summer Palace, Fragrant Hills Park and the nearby Temple of Azure Clouds as well as Beijing's Botanical Gardens, form one of the capital's most popular tourist haunts, being located only about 30 kilometers from the heart of Beijing.
Sleeping Buddha Temple owes its unofficial name to the presence of a sculpture in the form of a reclining figure of Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The original sculpture, which dates from the Tang Dynasty origin of the temple itself, was carved in sandalwood. During the Yuan Dynasty restoration and enlargement of the temple, a new reclining figure of Sakyamuni Buddha was made, this time cast in bronze and made on a much larger scale than the original figure. It is the bronze figure of Sakyamuni Buddha that graces the main hall of Sleeping Buddha Temple today.
As a classical Buddhist temple complex, Sleeping Buddha Temple has a compact overall arrangement, its three courtyards forming a center axis, and with the various courtyard buildings arranged symmetrically on either side of this center axis. The main temple structures include the Temple Gate, the Hall of the Temple Gate, the Hall of Four Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Three Boddhisattvas, the Hall of Sleeping Buddha itself, and the Repository of Buddhist Scriptures. The following walk-through description will give a better picture of the temple complex...
The entranceway path that leads to the Temple Gate is lined by towering ancient cypress trees. The Temple Gate itself is a marble archway crowned with glazed tiles of various shapes and colors. Passing through this marble archway, one enters the first of the three courtyards where one encounters a small pond in the shape of a crescent that is spanned by a stone bridge. The Bell Tower and Drum Tower stand erect on either side of the pond.
Beyond the two towers is the Hall of the Temple Gate. It houses the Two Ferocious Gigantic Guardians, the heavenly gods commonly referred to as Heng and Ha, whose task it is to protect the Buddhist doctrine. They are also called vajras, a term which has come to suggest invincibility and indestructibility, and which derives from an ancient Indian weapon, with which the two guardians are also armed (a vajra (i.e., the weapon) resembles more a scepter, or symbol of power and authority, than a weapon, though being made of metal and being rather heavy, it could deliver a not inconsequential blow to the head were it used in this manner - it seems more likely, however, that its power is symbolic).
In the second courtyard lies the Hall of Four Heavenly Kings, in the center of which is a statue of Maitreya Buddha. In all there are four statues of Heavenly Kings in this hall, as the name implies. A fragrant winter tree, aka wintersweet - but also known as calyx canthus (Chimonanthus fragrans) - grows in the courtyard to the left of the Hall of Four Heavenly Kings. The tree blossoms in winter, its sweet fragrance perfuming the entire area and its pretty yellow and white flowers providing a feast for the eyes. Two bodhi trees, or Sacred Fig Trees (Ficus religiosa), one on either side of the wintersweet, complete the arrangement. According to legend, a sick Sakyamuni Buddha once chose to give instruction to his disciples while resting under a bodhi tree, therefore the bodhi tree is also called the Sacred Fig Tree.
The Hall of Three Boddhisattvas is located beyond the Hall of Four Heavenly Kings. It houses three statues of Buddha as well as eighteen arhats (an arhat is a figure depicting an arahant, or one who has attained the ultimate goal of enlightenment, or nirvana, by following in the footsteps of the first such arahant, the Buddha himself, who rediscovered the path to enlightenment and taught it to his followers).
In the third courtyard stands the main hall, the Hall of Sleeping Buddha. Inside this hall is the aforementioned reclining figure, in bronze, of Sakyamuni Buddha, thronged by twelve disciples who seem to be taking instruction from the master. The Sleeping Buddha figure is more than 5 meters in length, and is reputed to have required 54 tons of copper to produce, at a cost of 50 million taels (in eastern Asia, a tael is both a unit of measure - 1 1/3 ounces or 38 grams - and a currency unit equivalent in value to the same weight in standard silver).
The Sleeping Buddha figure lies on its right side, propping up its head in its right hand, its right arm bent correspondingly at the elbow, and with its left arm strectched out along its left side. Besides the Sleeping Buddha and his disciples, there are eight other Buddhist treasures of lesser importance displayed in the hall. Symbolizing good luck, they are: the wheel, the spiral shell, the umbrella, the canopy, the flower, the vase, the fish and the knot. The Repository of Buddhist Scriptures lies beyond the Hall of Sleeping Buddha.
A peony garden is located to the west of Sleeping Buddha Temple and covers an area of some 10,000 square meters. It contains more than 2000 peony plants, aka peony trees (Paeonia suffruticosa), though they are in fact not trees but shrubs that grow to a maximum height of 7 feet, or a little over 2 meters. When the tree peonies are in bloom, they make a spectacular sight.