Urban Temples

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The temples at which most Chinese monks and lay Buddhists worshipped  were made of wood, built to last at most a few centuries.  Some were in the mountains, built for monks who wished to remove themselves from the clamor of everyday life.  Lay Buddhists might make pilgrimages to these mountain temples, but there were also Buddhist temples much closer at hand in every town and city.  There are no extant urban temple complexes dating from Tang times, though there are some in Japan that were based on Chinese models.  Here, to capture something of the physical, visual, and material impact of China's urban temples, we take you into a temple still in use today, the Fayuan (Dharma Origin) temple in Beijing. 


Fayuan Temple Tour

Fayuan Temple is located in Beijing. It was first completed in the late seventh century during the Tang. Over the last thousand plus years, the temple was destroyed by warfare, fire, and even an earthquake. Thus it has had to be rebuilt many times, and most of its surviving buildings date to the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries.


Below is an artist's representation of a bird's eye view of the temple complex.

The main gate of the temple is at bottom right. The side buildings are of secondary importance. They include halls to patron saints, halls to remember loved ones and temple offices.


The next layer out is made up of buildings used by monks and nuns rather than lay people. There are dormitories, study halls, and dining halls for those who live in the temple.


How do you think the layout related to the activities of the temple?

Fayuan Temple layout                                                            source


We begin our tour here at the southernmost point. The main gate is also called the mountain gate. Looking inside we see an incense burner set before the first central building and a pair of lions guarding the door, which are common to many kinds of buildings in China, not just Buddhist temples. 











Try to size up the effect the lions have.



Can you imagine the building without the lions?  

  Mountain gate of Fayuan Temple                                              source




Passing through the gate we glance to our right and left and see the drum and bell towers respectively. As the name implies, the drum tower houses a large drum and the bell tower, a bell.


When do you think these instruments are played? Why place them in their own architectural structures?

Drum tower                     source

Bell tower                              source


The central buildings are ones of primary importance. They house the shrines to Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other deities as well as scriptures and holy relics.


Straight ahead we see the first central building. The characters over the door tell us it is the hall of the Divine Kings, the guardians of this temple.


These temple buildings are good examples of traditional Chinese architecture. 

Even today there are attempts to incorporate elements of traditional Chinese architecture into new temple buildings. 


From looking at these buildings from Fayuan Temple can you guess why people today would want to continue incorporating these elements into the architecture of new buildings?

Hall of the Divine Kings                                                                                         source


Below is the main hall for worship.  Letís go up the steps and inside.


What do you think might be the function of the bronze object in the center of this picture, and the stone slabs to either side?



Main Hall                                                                                                              source



To the left is the main altar in the temple. We see a gilded Buddha statue almost four meters tall in the center and two other figures. In front of them are a ceremonial incense burner, candles, a vase of flowers, and plates with offerings of fruit.



Can you identify the type of images flanking the Buddha on either side?

Main altar                                                                            source




Further back in the temple compound we find the building that houses the Buddhist scriptures.


How is this building different from the other halls of worship? 

Scripture Hall                                                                           source

Move on to Buddhist Practice