4 Chinese Sacred Buddhist Peaks

Chinese Buddhism can date back to the Tang Dynasty. Chinese believe that bodhisatvas, or Buddhist disciples who have reached nirvana but come back to earth to help mortals on their own paths to enlightenment, dwell in four sacred mountains.

The Four Holy Mountains:

Wu Tai Shan

Considered the best established of the four Buddhist holy mountains, Wu Tai Shan, “woo tai shahn”, means five-terraced mountain and refers to the five flat peaks in the area. It is the holiest of the sacred peaks and is dedicated to Manjushri (or Wenshu Pusa in Chinese), the Bodhisatva of wisdom and virtue.

Location

Wutai Shan is located along the northeast border of Shanxi provice where it borders Hebei province.

History

Monasteries and temples were established over 2,000 years ago as Buddhist scholars returned from India bringing with them sacred texts and a yearning to study and mediate in relatively peaceful surroundings.
Because of its relative inaccessibility, Wutai Shan didn’t suffer as badly as other Buddhist areas during the Cultural Revolution so it represents a true picture of ancient Chinese religious architecture. While originally established in the first century AD, most of the buildings date from the Tang Dynasty.

Features & Attractions:

Taihuai (“tai hwai”), a small monastic village that is surrounded by the five peaks of Wutai Shan – this is the starting point for a visit to Wutai Shan.
Yedou Peak is the highest, 3058m
Visit Nan Chan Si, the oldest wooden temple in China, built in 782AD
Hiking can be done on any of the many trails that can be found outside of Taihuai
Hike around and visit any or all of the 58 temples and monasteries that dot the mountainsides at Wutai Shan

Jiu Hua Shan

Pronounced “jyo hwah shan”, meaning nine brilliant mountains in Mandarin, Jiuhuashan is the Buddhist holy mountain in the south.

Location

Jiuhuashan is located in Anhui province, a province just west of Shanghai. The Jiuhuashan range actually covers about 100 square km and 99 peaks, the tallest of which is 1341m.

History

Originally revered by Taoists who first built temples in the third century, Jiuhuashan became a site for Buddhist devotees of the Bodhisatva Kshitigarbha, guardian of the earth, after a devout Korean Buddhist named Jin Qiaojue went there in the eighth century and lived as a hermit in a cave on one of the peaks. Inspiring the locals and officials alike by his devotion, after he attained nirvana, it was said that the mountain roared so he became revered as the Earth Buddha.

At its height, there were over 3,000 monks and nuns living and worshipping at Jiuhuashan. It has functioned as a religious center for hundreds of years and today is still very active. Each year hundreds of pilgrims visit the temples and monasteries especially on the anniversary of the Bodhisatva Kshitigarbha’s birthday, also the day of Jin Qiaojue’s nirvana reach, the 30th day of the 7th Lunar month (falling sometime in August or September).

Features & Attractions:

Start at Jiuhua village and make your way along mountain paths and explore 70 Buddhist temples and monasteries that dot the mountains.
Hike along trails that take you by serene stone temples dating from the .
For non-hikers, take a cable car from the valley to Tiantai Zheng peak at 1341m or hire porters to carry you up.

Pu Tuo Shan

Pronounced “poo tuoh shan”, meaning beautiful white flower in Mandarin, Putuoshan is the Buddhist holy mountain in the east.

Location

Putuoshan is located on a small island off the coast of Zhejiang province in the East China Sea. It is easily (and best) accessible from Shanghai.

History

While there are many legends surrounding the establishment of Putuoshan as a Buddhist sanctuary, the most-repeated is that during the ninth century, a Japanese monk making his way from China back to Japan carrying a statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, was caught in a storm. The Goddess appeared and told him to leave the statue and guided him to safety at Putuoshan where he erected a temple (Puji Si) in her honor.

Currently about one-third of the population of 3,000 are nuns and monks. Today the island attracts numerous pilgrims and holiday makers.

Features & Attractions:

Visit the three famous temples: Puji, Fayu and Huiji.
Walk and hike around the whole island. Only 12.5 square km, it can be circumnavigated in a day.
Try the beaches in the summer; the two most famous are the Hundred Step Beach and the Thousand Step Beach.
Hike up to the top of 297m highest peak and site of Huiji Temple for views of the island and the sea.
There are minibuses that you can hop on and off of when you tire of walking and a cable car that will take non-hikers up and down the peak.

Emei Shan

Pronounced “eh-may shan”, meaning delicate eyebrow mountain in Mandarin, Emei Shan is the Buddhist holy mountain in the west.

Location:

Emei Shan is about 90 miles (150km) southwest from the capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu, in western China.

History:

Emei Shan has been a Buddhist sanctuary since the third century when disciples of the Puxian form of Buddhism came and built temples to the Bodhisatva. In the ninth century, further temples were built when a delegation sent by a Song Dynasty emperor returned from India and stopped at Emei Shan. The Ming Dynasty also saw restoration of many temples as well as conversion of ancient Taoist temples to Buddhism.

Features & Attractions:

Follow pilgrims hiking to the 3,099m peak (plan for at least two days, more is better).
Join pilgrims and hikers watching the sun rise or set over the clouds at the summit.
Explore over 30 beautiful temples and monasteries along the hiking paths.
Play with (or avoid) the hundreds of monkeys that look for tourist handouts.
A cable car is available for non-hikers, as are porter-carried chairs.

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