Lama Temple

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jul. 8, 2021

Yong He Gong, or the Palace of Harmony and Peace, widely known as the Lama Temple, is the best-preserved Tibetan Buddhist temple in China. Over the hundreds of years, it serves as a holy land for Beijing people to offer incense and pray devoutly for happiness and peace.

Lama Temple Facts

Entrance to the Lama Temple

Entrance to the Lama Temple

  • Name in Chinese: yōng hé gōng (雍和宫)
  • Address: No. 12 Yonghegong Avenue, Dongcheng Strict, Beijing
  • Entrance Fee: RMB 25
  • Opening Hours: 09:00-16:30 (Ari.-Oct.), 09:00-16:00 (Nov.-Mar.)
  • Recommended visiting time: 1-2 hours
  • Highlights: the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing, the largest wooden Buddha, 500-Arhat-Hill
  • How to Get There:
    1. By Subway: Line 2 or Line 5 to Yonghegong Lama Temple
    2. By Bus: Nos. 13, 116, 117, or 684 to Yonghegong Lama Temple

What Makes It Outstanding

Located in the northeast corner of inner Beijing, the Lama Temple covers 66,400 square meters and is 480 meters long from north to south and 120 meters wide from east to west.

The architecture, ornaments, and size of the temple are comparable to those of the Forbidden City, so it is regarded as a miniature royal palace, and a Buddhist temple of the highest rank in China.

Lama Temple History

Lama Temple at Night

Lama Temple at Night

  • In 1694, a palace was built as a residence for Prince Yinzhen, who was known as the Yong Prince, the fourth son of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty (1636-1912).
  • In 1722, Prince Yong took supreme power (as Emperor Yongzheng, 雍正帝). He moved his residence to the Forbidden City and turned half of his old home into a temple for the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • In 1725, the palace was elevated to the status of the imperial palace for short stays, when Emperor Yongzheng was away from the Forbidden City. Henceforth its name was changed to the Palace of Harmony and Peace (Yong He Gong, 雍和宫).
  • In 1744, the palace was officially converted into a Tibetan lamasery by Emperor Qianlong and became the national center of Tibetan Buddhist administration, run by the Qing government.
  • In 1981, it was opened to the public as a Tibetan temple, for tourism and worship.

Layout of the Lama Temple

Central Axis

Central Axis

The 66,400-square-meter Lama Temple consists of seven courtyards from north to south, including three well-decorated elegant archways and five main buildings lying along the north-south central axis, with annex halls standing along both sides. In addition, four buildings called the Four Academic Halls to stand at the sides.

Highlights of the Lama Temple

The Lama Temple, having been the palace of a prince became the sacred place of Tibetan Buddhism, and after centuries of change, it has now become the most popular temple in Beijing (the Temple of Heaven is not really a temple).

1. Yonghe Gate

Yonghe Gate

Yonghe Gate

Between the East Pavilion and West Pavilion, is the Gate of Harmony and Peace (雍和门), which is equivalent to the Hall of Heavenly Kings (天王殿) in Han Buddhism.

Two lifelike bronze lions sit in front of the hall and a statue of the smiling Buddha Maitreya is seated in the center of the hall. On either side are statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, reminding visitors of their duty to suppress evil spirits and protect the world.

2. The Hall of Harmony and Peace

Maitreya Buddha

Maitreya Buddha

When you walk through Yonghe Gate, you’ll see the Hall of Harmony and Peace (雍和宫大殿), which is the main hall of the temple.

Formerly named Yin’an Hall, this was the place where Prince Yong met with guests. Inside the hall, three two-meter-high bronze Buddhas are displayed.

These three statues, Dipamkara Buddha (the bringer of lights), Sakyamuni Buddha (the founder of Buddhism), and Maitreya Buddha, respectively represent the past, the present, and the future, showing that the world of Buddha is from the infinite past to the infinite future.

Their timeline is vertical, hence they are called the “Buddhas of the Three Vertical Ages” (竖三世佛).

3. The Hall of Eternal Blessings

Hall of Iternal Blessings

Hall of Iternal Blessings

The Hall of Eternal Blessings (永佑殿) used to be the study and living room of Prince Yong. “Yongyou” (eternal blessings) means blessing and protection for the souls of previous emperors.

There are three sandalwood Buddha statues at a height of 2.35 meters on the lotus throne in the middle of the hall, Amitabha Buddha, Medicine Buddha, and Lion Roar Buddha.

4. The Hall of the Wheel of Law

Hall of the Wheel of Law

Hall of the Wheel of Law

Going on you’ll see the Hall of the Wheel of Law (法轮殿), which is the crystallization of Han and Tibetan culture.

Standing at the center of the hall, the 6.1-meter bronze Buddha statue with a smile is Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Behind the statue is 500-Arhat-Hill (五百罗汉山), which is nearly 5 meters high and 3.5 meters long, all made of finely-carved red sandalwood, regarded as one of the three most superb wooden sculptures of the Lama Temple.

5. Wanfu Pavilion

Wanfu Pavilion

Wanfu Pavilion

At last, you get to the best attraction and the tallest building of Lama Temple – Wanfu (Ten Thousand Happiness) Pavilion (万福阁).

Inside the pavilion, there’s a huge statue of Maitreya Buddha, which was a tribute gift from the 7th Dalai Lama to the Qing (1644-1912) government.

The Buddha is 8 meters wide and 26 meters tall (including 18 meters above ground and 8 meters underground). It is carved from a single white sandalwood tree and is also one of the best three wooden carvings of the Lama Temple.

The third fabulous wooden artwork is in the Zhaofo Building (照佛楼) of Wanfu Pavilion, named the Golden Silk Buddha’s Shrine. The shrine is made of nanmu wood, with fine veins in three tiers, and 99 carved lifelike intertwined dragons.

Buddhist Ceremonies in the Temple

The Lama Temple also houses a large variety of Tibetan Buddhist antiques and artwork such as Buddhist scriptures and frescos. In addition, the Buddhist ceremonies held at Yonghe Temple are worth attending, to people who love Buddhist culture.

1. Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly

Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly

Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly

Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly (大愿祈祷法会) is one of the most important festivals of Tibetan Buddhism, to commemorate Sakyamuni and pure Dharma.

The Yonghe Lama Temple convenes this annual assembly for a week between mid-February and mid-March (from the 23rd of the first lunar month to the 1st of the second month) each year.

During this period, all the monks of the Lama Temple chant daily in the Hall of the Wheel of Law. On the 29th of the first lunar month and the 1st of the second month, they also dance to drive out devils and to pray for a peaceful year.

2. New Year Dharma Assembly

Offering Incense

Offering Incense at Lunar New Year

The first day of the first lunar month marks the beginning of the New Year. At two o’clock in the morning of this day, monks in the Lama Temple get up and chant the sutras until daybreak.

When it comes to early morning, they move to the Hall of the Wheel of Law with the morning bell and continue to chant scriptures, praying for peace and prosperity in the coming year.

Thousands of people also pray devoutly and offer incense in the Yonghe Lama Temple on Lunar New Year’s Day.

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