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
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
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
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
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
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 (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 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.