The Lingyin Temple, also known as the Temple of Soul’s Retreat, is a scenic temple found in a long and narrow valley that lies in between the North Peak and the Peak Flown from Afar. It is found in the northwestern part of West Lake in Hangzhou, and is considered as one of the best tourist spots in the area.
It is also noted as one of the ten most famous Buddhist temples in the country, and in 1961, it was placed under the protection of the government as a key historical and cultural site in the Zhejiang province. It is also considered of primary importance to the research pertaining to Chinese Buddhist culture.
The Lingyin Temple, although it was not yet known as such, is believed to have stood on its present site since the Eastern Jin Dynasty from 317 to 420 AD. According to legend, an Indian monk Huili came to the area and found it fitting as a dwelling for the immortals. Hence he gave it the name ‘Temple of Soul’s Retreat’, which is also sometimes translated as ‘Temple of Inspired Seclusion’. The names are quite fitting given the quiet and the serenity of the area, which makes it an excellent place for contemplation and meditation.
Things to do
The Lingyin Temple is one of the favorite destinations of Buddhist pilgrims as well as those who want to learn more about Buddhism. But it is also very famous among tourists who just want a quiet place to go to. Flanked by mountains on both sides, the Lingyin Temple has a hidden away feel to it. But aside from contemplating while walking around the temple grounds, guests at the temple can also do some sightseeing on the side, thanks to many sights of interest that can be found in the area.
The temple itself is divided into different halls. The first hall, which greets the entrance, holds a historical tablet with words inscribed by Emperor Kangxi himself, the late emperor of the Qing Dynasty. The king was said to have been inspired by the quaint view of the temple shrouded in the mists of the trees that surround it; because of this, he dubbed it as the Cloud Forest Buddhist Temple.
The first hall is also an attraction in itself; featuring double eaves and a long couplet upon the door, it is known as the Hall of the Heavenly Kings. The couplet on the door reads: “Let us sit and wait upon the threshold, where we shall see another peak flying from afar” which is in reference to the hill called Peak Flown From Afar, a hill that is believed to have flown from India to Hangzhou.
Inside the hall are many noteworthy attractions as well. These include the delicately painted ceiling with intricate pictures of dragons and phoenixes, as well as an image of the Four Heavenly Kings. The kings surround Maitreya, a laughing Buddha who is said to have the ability to endure all kinds of intolerance and to laugh at every laughable person in the world.
Beyond the first hall is a courtyard called Da Xiong Bao Dian, also known as the Hall of the Great Hero. The courtyard boasts of a double eaved roof that rises up to 33.6 meters, despite the fact that it is only a single storey structure. Due to this, it is widely considered as the highest single storey building in China.
Other places of note within the temple include the:
• Pharmaceutical Master Hall
• The Cool Spring Pavilion
• Great Mercy Hall
Before guests leave, they are encouraged to try a meal at the Lingyin Vegetarian Restaurant near the temple; they offer excellent food that is widely dubbed as ‘food for the gods’.