Introducing the Lama Temple (Yong He Gong)

Yonghegong, popularly known as the Lama Temple, is located in the northeast part of Beijing. To its west is the famous Confucius Temple and Imperial Academy. The Lama Temple is the largest and best-preserved lamasery in Beijing which is 480 meters long and 120 meters wide, with a total area of 66,000 square meters. It is also a well-known monastery of the Gelugpa, the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism in mainland China.

 

History

The Lama Temple was originally a palatial residence built in 1694 by Qing Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) for his fourth son, Prince Yongzheng (1678-1735), who later succeeded the throne. After the death of his father, Emperor Yongzheng moved to the Forbidden City and converted half of his former residence into a temple for the monks of Yellow sect, and the other half served as a temporary palace for him. In 1735, Emperor Yongzheng died and then his son Qianlong (1711-1799) succeeded the throne. He put his father’s coffin here for more than one year before moving it to the Western Qing Tombs, the burial ground of the emperors in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). He also upgraded Yonghegong to the status of an Imperial Palace by replacing the green titles of the roof with yellow ones, for the yellow color was the imperial color in the old days. In 1744, Yonghegong was formally converted into a lamasery. After 1949, the Chinese Government attached great importance to the Lama Temple. Several renovations have been carried out since then, and the Temple has taken on a new look. In 1950 and 1952, the government allocated large sums of money to renovate it. In 1961, the Lama Temple was listed by the State Council as a major national cultural relic and historical site under the state’s protection. During the ten-year Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the Lama Temple was very well preserved because of the special care given by former Premier Zhou Enlai. The latest renovation was carried out in 1976, and in 1981 the Lama Temple was reopened to the public.

 

Today, there are rich collections of cultural relics which are preserved in the Lama Temple, especially those related to Tibetan Buddhism. For instance, there is a large number of vividly sculptured Buddhist images of various sizes, each different in posture and expression; a large collection of Tibetan-style paintings known as Tangka paintings; delicate frescoes, scriptures and religious instruments; the inscriptions and calligraphic works on the stele and boards, and Buddhist scriptures in the languages of Manchu, Tibetan, Han, Mongolian and Sanskrit, all of which being of very high cultural and historical value for the Chinese people.

 

Presently, there are nearly 100 lamas in the Lama Temple and most of them are Mongolians, Tibetans and people from Qinghai province. Daily traditional religious ceremonies and activities in the Lama Temple are undertaken strictly according to the regulation and disciplines of Tibetan Buddhism. When people visit the Lama Temple, please pay attention to the belt that the lamas have, because the color of it reflects the rank of them. Lamas in red belts are the lowest rank of lamas in the Temple, while lamas with yellow belts are higher rank of lamas. If people see a lama in orange belt, he is probably the head lama in the Lama Temple.

 

Layout

The Lama Temple mainly consists of seven courtyards from south to north, including three well-decorated elegant archways and six main structure buildings lying along the north-south central axis, with annex halls standing on both sides. The six main buildings are: the Gate of Harmony and Peace (Yonghemen), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghegong Dian), the Hall of Eternal Blessings (Yongyoudian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian), the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness (Wanfuge) and the Pavilion of Peaceful Accomplishment (Suichengge). In addition, there are also four buildings on both sides called “the Four Academic Halls” (Sixuedian).

From south to north, the courtyards along the central axis are progressively reduced in size, while the buildings in each courtyard rise progressively higher, giving people an enigmatic impression of unfathomable infinite height and depth. In the Lama Temple, people can really experience traditional Chinese architecture with a special emphasis on the architectural style of Tibetan Buddhism. The architecture of the overall layout, the unique decorative designs and colors all show a special combination of the architectural styles of the Ming and Qing dynasties blended with the culture of the Han and Tibetan people. It really combines the palace architectural style and temple buildings with the architectural features of the Manchu, Han, Mongolian and Tibetan people into one style. People can also find this feature in the Hall of the Wheel of the Law and the Ten Thousand Happiness Pavilion. The Hall of the Wheel of the Law has five dormer windows in the roof and five gilded pinnacles, which reflect the rich characteristics of the temples of Tibetan Buddhism and the architecture of the Tibetan people. The Ten Thousand Happiness Pavilion has “overhead passages” on either side of the second floor, which is typical of the building style of the Liao and Jin Dynasties. Very few of these kinds of structures are still in existence today. They are rare architectural masterpieces.

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Zhaotai Gate

It is the entrance to the Lama Temple. When the Lama Temple was the residence of Yong Prince, it served as the south reception room. It was transformed into the gate when the residence became a lama temple in 1744. This gate is also called the “Glazed Gate” because the roofs and brackets are decorated with yellow or green glazed tiles and bricks, and the front walls are inlaid with some glazed decorations. A plaque with three Chinese characters meaning “Zhaotai Gate” hangs on the middle of the gate in four languages: Manchu, Han, Tibetan and Mongolian. The Han characters were written by Qing Emperor Qianlong. Entering the gate, one can see a big courtyard. Inside, there are two marble stone pedestals on each side, each containing a flagpole measuring over 30 meters tall. To the east side of the courtyard is the Bell Tower and to the west is the Drum Tower. On every January 1st and 15th of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, all the lamas in the Lama Temple would ring the bell and pray. A huge bronze pot, which was cast in 1744, is placed in the courtyard. In the Qing Dynasty, on December 8th of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, lamas used the pot to make porridge for people to bring them good luck. There are also two double-eaved octagonal pavilions in this courtyard, one on each side. Inside each pavilion, a big tablet about six meters high stands on the back of a stone turtle. The inscription on the tablet in the east pavilion was carved in Manchu and Han characters, while the inscription on the tablet in the west pavilion was carved in the Tibetan and Mongolian languages. All four languages have the same meaning. It not only tells the reason why Yonghegong was converted into the Lama Temple, but also shows how deeply Emperor Qianlong missed his father Emperor Yongzheng. The courtyard was the place where a ceremony was held between the 29th day of January and the 1st day of February in lunar calendar. During the religious ceremony, lamas wearing exotic costumes would perform a religious dance with masks called “Byza”, which in Mongolian means driving away demons and any evil spirits.

Gate of Harmony and Peace

The Gate of Harmony and Peace, also called Hall of Heavenly Kings, used to be the front entrance to the Mansion of Prince Yong. It was changed to the Gate of Harmony and Peace after the mansion was converted into a lamasery. It is actually a hall rather than a gate. According to the Buddhist tradition, the first hall in a lamasery is usually called the Maitreya’s shrine or the Hall of Heavenly Kings. Inside the hall, a gilded wooden statue of Maitreya Buddha with a smiling face is placed in the centre sitting on a golden throne, flanked by the four Heavenly Kings. Buddha Maitreya is popularly known in China as the “Big Belly Buddha” or “Smiling Buddha”. In Chinese folk custom, he always carries a smile with his breast and big belly exposed. And he is said to be the reincarnation of the Future Buddha Maitreya. On each side of the statue of Buddha Maitreya, there is a nine-story sandalwood pagoda known as Longevity Pagoda. On each story of the pagoda, stand many small Longevity Buddha Statues. On both sides of the hall, there are statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, two on each side. According to the Buddhist theory, the earth is divided into four worlds: Eastern, Western, Southern and Northern. And each of the four worlds is guarded by one of the Heavenly Kings: Eastern Heavenly King: The Eastern Heavenly King, Chiguo, holds a musical instrument called Pipa, a kind of four-stringed Chinese lute. It is a magic musical instrument with magical power. When he plunks it, the sound would give the ghosts or his enemies a headache. Southern Heavenly King: The Southern Heavenly King, Zengzhang, holds a sword in his hand. While chanting an incantation, he throws his magic sword up into the sky, and it drops down with a flash like lighting and kills the ghosts and monsters around. Western Heavenly King: The Western Heavenly King, Guangmu, carries a water snake in his hand which has the power of mounting clouds and riding mists. It could disperse its enemies by suddenly spurting out water in all directions. Northern Heavenly King: The Northern Heavenly King, Duowen, holds a precious umbrella in his hand. Whenever he opens it, the sky over the battlefield turns dark with violent storm winds. When he closes it, the enemy would be drawn into the umbrella and captured. Each Heavenly King has two small ghosts under his feet, and altogether the eight ghosts represent all the evil spirits conquered by the Four Heavenly Kings. Weituo: Behind the shrine of the statue of Buddha Maitreya, inside the back gate of the hall, there is a white marble seat on which stands the figure of Skanda Weituo facing north. Wearing a suit of armor and carrying a precious Vajra, he is one of the chief disciples of Sakyamuni. Sakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism who founded Buddhism about 2,500 years ago. Weituo looks like an ancient Chinese Warrior, but actually he is an ancient Indian who followed Sakyamuni closely for 25 years. He holds a Monster Surrender Stick, called Vajra (symbol of might), and it was used for defeating and conquering evil spirits or devils. Because he made great contributions to safeguarding the graveyard of Sakyamuni, he became the symbol of a loyal protector of all the old temples and lamaseries. So wherever there is an old temple in China, there will be a statue of Weituo at the back the first hall, serving as the symbol of a loyal protector.

Imperial Stele Pavilion

Just behind the Bronze Tripod Incense Burner is a pavilion containing a big stone stele inside, known as the Imperial Stele Pavilion. The inscription on the tablet is called “On Lamaism”, written by Qing Emperor Qianlong in 1792 when he was 82 years old. The essay was carved on four sides of the stele in four different languages. They are Han, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan. The Han language version was written by Emperor Qianlong. The Manchu was carved on the front side of the stele; the Han language on the back; the Mongolian on the eastern side and the Tibetan on the west side. The essay describes the history and origin of Lamaism and explains the significance of Buddhism as well as Emperor Qianlong’s attitude towards it.

Mount Sumeru

Behind the Imperial Stele Pavilion, there is a lotus-shaped pond base, made of white marble stone and carved with Buddha images. In the center of the white marble pond base stands a bronze mountain which is called “Sumeru Mountain”, a name from an ancient Indian fairy tale. Sumeru comes from a translation of Sanskrit. It is said that Mount Sumeru was originally a famous mountain in Hindu mythological legends and later adopted by Buddhism. According to the Buddhist Sutra, Mount Sumeru is a representation of the Buddhist world outlook. And here, the bronze Mount Sumeru is supposed to be the centre of the world which consists three parts: top, middle and bottom. On the top of it, lies the legendary paradise with a small altar city where Sakyamuni and men of moral integrity live after their death; on the slopes are the dwellings for mankind and the Four Heavenly Kings. And there are four palace halls in each direction: north, south, east and west that symbolize the four worlds guarded by the Four Heavenly Kings; while the mountains and plains surrounding the palace halls are the dwellings for mankind. At the bottom of the sea waves or beneath the water, is the hell for evil spirits, devils, ghosts and criminals. One who did a lot of good deeds could go to heaven after his death; otherwise he might go to suffer in hell. In this way, Sumeru Mountain reflects Buddhism values and beliefs about man’s world.

Hall of Harmony and Peace

Hall of Harmony and Peace is the main hall of the Lama Temple. It used to be called “Yin An Hall” where Prince Yongzheng used to receive his civil and military officials before he ascended the throne. After his residence was converted into the lamasery, it was named the Hall of Harmony and Peace. According to Buddhism, the second main hall in the temple is usually called “Mahavira Hall” or “Daxiongbaodian in Chinese”. Mahavira is an honorable title for Sakyamuni. Inside the hall, there are three big bronze Buddhist statues and two small ones, all of them are gilded. The three big Buddha Statues, each about two meters high, are sitting enshrined, while the two small statues are standing. The three statues are the Buddha of three ages: the Present Buddha Sakyamuni in the center; the Past Buddha RanDeng on the left; and Future Buddha Maitreya on the right. Standing on both sides of Sakyamuni are his two favorite disciples named Ananda and Kasyapa. Sakyamuni used to be named Gautama Sakyamuni, which in Chinese is “Xidaduo Qiaodamo”. He is the founder of Buddhism and the one who created Buddhism about 2,500 years ago. He was born in ancient Indian in 565 BC, and was the son of King Suddhodana. When he saw all the troubles and suffering of the people, the reality aging, sickness and death, he tried to seek a way to release the people from the miseries of life and help them. At the age of 29, he became a monk and created a set of theories of Buddhism. One day, he was enlightened by sitting under a pipal tree, an Indian fig tree. Since then, he propagated Buddhist doctrines for decades and was highly esteemed as the Buddha. He died at the age of 80 under a pipal tree. The ribbons on their hands are known as “Ha Da”, the most precious gift to the honorable. Placed on the altar in front of the Buddha of the Three Ages are the seven treasures and eight precious jewels that served as magic weapons of Buddhism, and Buddhist auspicious objects. The seven treasures are gold, silver, jade, pearl, sea shell, diamond and jadeite. The eight magic weapons are the wheel of the law, the conch shell, the state umbrella, the canopy, the lotus flower, the covered vase, the pair of fish and the endless knot. On both sides of the hall stand the 18 Arhats, nine on each side. It is said that all the 18 Arhats were disciples of Sakyamuni and were instructed to stay on earth for spreading and maintaining the prosperity of Buddhism at the expense of giving up the chance to enter into Nirvana. According to the Buddhist scripture, the monk who cultivates his moral character could be led to three results: Arhat, Bodhisattva and Buddha. So Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhat are the three ranks for the top monks. But actually to be even an Arhat is not that easy, because one has to give up all his desires and irritations and surpass all the troubles of the eternal cycle of birth and death. There is a painting of Thousand Hand and Eye Guanyin Bodhisattva on the west wall in the back of the Hall of Harmony and Peace. Guanyin is described as a Bodhisattva of Great Mercy who can see all the bitterness and difficulties of the human-being and always help people overcome them, so people regard Guanyin Bodhisattva as the God of Mercy. That is why he has thousand hands and eyes. People solicit his help by chanting his name or calling his title “Bodhisattva Guanyin”. According to Buddhism, Guanyin has 33 different images with 32 incarnations, but many of the images are female ones. The female image of Guanyin first appeared during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), and became quite popular in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). However, the Statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva in most of the temples in China is represented as a gracious female and is often depicted holding a tiny pottery flask in her hand. According to the ranks, Guanyin Bodhisattva is next only to Buddha, but people feel he is closer to the people than Buddha. Guanyin is dressed in an ancient costume instead of Buddha Rope, which gives people an impression of kindness, cordiality and mercy. Bodhisattva Guanyin gained enlightenment on Mount Putuo, one of China’s four famous Buddhist Mountains located in Zhoushan Island, Zhejiang Province. The painting on the east wall is the “Buddha with a big white umbrella” or “White Para”. According to the theory of Buddhism, paras are the incarnations of the Buddha Sakyamuni who is using them to protect the human beings and extricate them from the suffering of the world.

Four Academic Halls

There are four subsidiary halls, known as the Four Academic Halls, which are located on either side of the courtyard for the lama’s study of specialized subjects. Hall of Medicine is the place where lamas study medicine by a great collection of herbal specimens in the hall. The statue of Buddha Bhaisajyaguru is enshrined in this hall. The scriptures concerning the Buddha and other texts of Mongolian and Tibetan medicine are learned and studied by lamas here. In this hall, the previous “Picture of Hundred Herbs”, praised as the Tibetan Compendium of Medial Herbs, is kept. Hall of Mathematics is the place where lamas conducted research on Kalacakra-tantra, a kind of mathematics scriptures concerning the time-wheel doctrine, almanac and Tibetan calendar, as well as doing research in astronomy and geography. Hall of Scripture Preaching is located to the west of the Hall of Harmony and Peace. It is the place where lamas study Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist texts are also preached or discussed here. Since this place is closely related to scholasticism, it is called Hall of Scripture Preaching. Esoteric Hall is located to the east of the Hall of Harmony and Peace. It is the place where lamas study the scriptures of the esoteric sect of Buddhism. Their teaching and learning activities mainly focuses on the esoteric courses that consist of four stages, and each stage deals with a particular group of mystical texts.

Hall of Eternal Blessing

The Hall of Eternal Blessing, Yongyoudian, used to be the bedroom and reading room for Emperor Yongzheng when he was still a prince. The name “Eternal Blessing” was given by Emperor Qianlong when he changed the residence into a lama temple. Yongyou, eternal blessing, means that the everlasting blessing would belong to his father Emperor Yongzheng, and through a blessing his father’s soul would go to paradise. After Emperor Yongzheng died in 1735, his coffin was kept here for more than one year before it was moved to the Western Qing Tombs, the burial ground of Emperors in the Qing Dynasty. At that time, his son, Emperor Qianlong, came here frequently to offer sacrifices to show his eternal blessing to his deceased father. Lamas also came here to perform Buddhist services since Emperor Yongzheng was a pious Buddhist. In the hall, three big gilded Buddha statues, 2.35 meters high each, carved of white sandalwood and gilded were placed on a stone base. The one in the middle, with the Buddha Crown on its head and a treasure vase in its hand is the Longevity Buddha or the Immortal Buddha Amitayus (Sanskrit), the founder of the legendary paradise. Buddhists and pilgrims believe that if they follow the method used by Amitayus to practice Buddhism, they could enjoy long life and peace, and could be permitted go to the legendary paradise after death. In this way, their souls will be released from purgatory. That is why they always chant his name, Amitayus (A Mi Tuo Fo in Chinese), in front of this Buddha. The statue to its west is Bhaisajyaguru, the Buddha of Pharmacy who is the patron of medicine to help people get rid of all kinds of diseases. To its east is Simhanada, the Lion-Roaring Buddha. He is the symbol of wisdom who always preaches Buddhist scripture. He has a loud voice, like a lion roaring, that could threaten devils and evil spirits. On the east wall of the Hall of Eternal Blessing hangs a painting of White Para, while on the west wall hangs a silk embroidery image of the Green Para (Mother Savior). Actually, it is an exquisitely embroidered picture of Green Para, handmade personally by Madame Niugulu, Emperor Qianlong’s mother, with the help of her palace maids more than 300 years ago, in order to show her piety and reverence to the Buddhist female savior. The 2 meters long, 1. 2 meters wide Green Para was made out of 7,000 patches of satin of different sizes and colors. As Empress Dowager Niugulu had personally taken part in the work, the portrait has become the most valuable relic in the Hall of Eternal Blessing. According to Buddhist theory, there are 21 paras altogether appearing in different colors. Paras are supposed to be the incarnations of Guanyin Buddhisattva who would help Sakyamuni save the suffering people on earth.

Hall of the Wheel of the Law

The Hall of the Wheel of the Law is the largest hall in the Lama Temple. It is the place where the lamas gather for Buddhist activities such as: preaching scriptures, giving sermons and conducting rituals and rites. In the morning, all the lamas in the Lama Temple would dress in religious robes and assembled here to pray and read scriptures. Religious activities and prayer services are also held here in the Lama Temple during religious festivals and on memorial days. The Hall of the Wheel of Law embodies a very typical Tibetan Buddhist architecture which comes from the exchanging of Han and Tibetan architectural styles. For instance, the roof is decorated with five dormer windows with five small gilded pagodas. It is a typical characteristic of the temples of Tibetan Buddhism and the architecture of the Tibetan people. Master Tsongkhapa: A huge gilded bronze statue of Tsongkhapa is enshrined right in the center of the hall. He is the founder of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Tsongkhapa was born in Qinghai province in 1357 and died in 1419. He started to study Buddhist scripture at the age of three. When he was sixteen, he went to Tibet to study the theories of Lamaism, also called Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism, is divided into five sects: red, flowery, black, white and yellow. At that time, the Red Sect was very popular and the lama’s hat was red outside and yellow inside. The head lamas of the Red Sect were allowed to get married and their positions were hereditary. Seeing these defects, Tsongkhapa put forward 253 commandments, including the prohibition of marriage and hereditary system. At the same time, he reformed a sect by turning the hat inside out, that is yellow outside and red inside, which was the symbol of the Yellow Sect. This sect had very strict disciplines and fresh ideas that had greatly influenced the society, and soon they won not only popular support from the lamas, but also from the government of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He soon gained both the power of administration and religion in Tibet. Then the Yellow Sect developed and spread rapidly, and became popular in Mongolia and the Han districts of Tibet and Qinghai. All the five Sects have their own head lama, known as the Living Buddha to control their own sect. As for the Yellow Sect, the most famous Living Buddha was Dalai Lama and Banchan Erdeni. Dalai and Banchan are not ordinary names but are religious titles in Lamaism. Both Dalai and Banchan were two famous disciples of Master Tsongkhapa. When he was alive, he had two intelligent followers: one was Dgevdurdrugba and the other was Mkasdrub. After Tsongkhapa died, they were deemed as the reincarnations of him and succeeded the throne of the Living Buddha. Dgevdurdrugba won the title of the first Dalai Lama, while Mkasdrub was the first Banchan Erdeni. Tibet was governed by Dalai and Banchan, and both of them had the same reputation as well as power. According to the belief in reincarnation, they were endorsed as the earliest Buddha of Tibetan Buddhism after their deaths. To replace the old hereditary system, the transmigration system had been introduced ever since; hence the religious names of Dalai and Banchan have been used all along until present day. In September 1954, both Dalai and Banchan came to Beijing to attend the First National Congress of People’s Representatives, and they went to the Lama Temple to preach Buddhist scripture by themselves. On both sides of the Statue of Master Tsongkhapa, there are two seats. The seat on the west was for the 14th Dalai and the one on the east for the 10th Banchan to use for preaching Buddhist scripture in 1954. The statue of Great Master Tsongkhapa, sitting on a lotus base, is six meters high. The statue was cast in 1924 and gilded in 1982. The lotus flower is an often-used symbol in Buddhist scriptures and art. It is often seen with Buddhist statues in the temple not only because of its beauty, but also because of its purity and its exemption from dirt. Buddhists love the lotus flower so much because its purity corresponds to the Buddhist teachings of transcendence from worldliness. Frescoes: The frescoes on the sidewall are called “Picture of the life story of Sakyamuni”. It depicts the life-story of Buddha Sakyamuni. The murals record the course of Sakyamuni’s transformation from a Bodhisattva into a Buddha. They also show 34 episodes of Sakyamuni’s birth, study, becoming a Buddha, creating Buddhist theory and preaching Buddhist doctrines. It is a story of the whole process of how Sakyamuni was born from his mother’s armpit, until he finally created the Buddhist doctrines, and later preached them. Buddhist Scriptures: Along the west side of the wall in this hall are bookshelves holding 108 volumes of the Buddhist Sutras entitles, “the Great Tibetan Buddhist Sutra”. There are 207 volumes of the sequel to the Buddhist sutras placed on the eastern side of the wall. These Buddhist sutras are used for preaching only on the sixth day of the sixth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Every year on that day, lamas would chant the scriptures and take out the original books. That is one of the famous activities in the Lama Temple. On any other day, only copies are used. Now, very few such Buddhist scriptures are preserved in perfect condition. Five Hundred Arhat Hill: In the back of the Hall of the Wheel of the Law, there is a big sculpture of “Five Hundred Arhats Mountain”. The sculptured mountain is 5 meters high, 3.5 meters wide and 30 centimeters thick. It is carved of black sandalwood with 500 Arhats, each 10 centimeters high, and cast in gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. This sculpture depicts a vivid story of 500 Arhats worshipping in some Buddhist Temples. It is said that they were close followers of Sakyamuni. When Sakyamuni preached Buddhist sutras, there was no written scripture, and his followers were afraid that his theory would get lost after his death. Therefore, his 500 disciples proposed collecting all their master’s sayings about Buddhism and compiled “the Great Tibetan Buddhist Sutra” according to what he preached. That was the earliest written Buddhist sutra. For their contributions and in memory of what they did, they were upgraded from lamas to Arhats. The sculpture shows a vivid picture of 500 Arhats on the road to enlightenment. Sadly, right now only 449 statues of Arhats could be seen in the Lama Temple due to the war, the ones made of gold and silver had been robbed. The Mountain of 500 Arhats is one of the three masterpieces of wooden sculptures in the Lama Temple. Fish to Dragon Evolving Basin: The basin is placed in front of the Mountain of 500 Arhats. It is carved out of ebony wood with some fish and sea waves designs. The name “Fish to Dragon Evolving Basin” means “fish turns into dragon” basin, because the Buddhists believed that human beings evolved from fish, and the best of them could continuously evolve to be dragons. This basin is also nicknamed the “Three-day-old-washing Basin”, for it is said that this basin gave Emperor Qianlong a bath three days after his birth.

Ten Thousand Happiness Pavilion

Wanfuge is the most magnificent and highest building in the Lama Temple. Actually it was originally called the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha Pavilion, because of the ten thousand Buddha Statues inside the hall. But in Chinese, the pronunciation of Buddha is similar to happiness. That is why people call it Ten Thousand Happiness Pavilion now. It is 24 meters high with triple upturned eaves, with two pavilions attached to its both sides. The east one called Yongkang Pavilion and west one called Yansui Pavilion are joined by an upturned eave in the middle. There is a giant statue of Buddha standing on a huge white marble seat. It is the statue of Maitreya, Buddha of the Future, carved of a single trunk of white sandalwood. It is 26 meters high, 18 meters above the ground and 8 meters under the ground. The temple was converted into a lamasery in 1744, but this part was not completed until 1750. Emperor Qianlong felt that the area at the back of the Lama Temple was too empty and planned to build a high tower as a protective screen, but it was very difficult to find a sandalwood tree of such size. The Tibetan envoy heard this in Beijing and told the Seventh Dalai Lama about it. Shortly afterwards, the Seventh Dalai Lama heard that a huge white sandalwood tree was being brought to Nepal from India by the king of Nepal. So he bartered this huge tree with a huge amount of precious gems from Nepal, and sent it to the emperor to express his gratitude. Because Emperor Qianlong had sent troops to Tibet to put down a rebellion and turned back the power to the Seventh Dalai Lama. It took 3 years to ship this tree to Beijing and another 3 years for carving. The statue was carved and erected first, and then the hall was built around it. It was recorded in the “Guinness Book of World Records” in August 1990.

Jietai Tower

The Jietai Tower was the place where Emperor Qianlong and other Qing Emperors would sit quietly, chanting sutra and doing some religious activities. It was built for welcoming the 6th Banchan when he came to the Lama Temple to preach sutra and attend religious activities.

Banchan Tower

In 1780, the 6th Banchan came to Beijing to offer his congratulations on the birthday of Emperor Qianlong, as well as preaching scriptures and giving the ordination in the Lama Temple. This pavilion was just set up for welcoming the 6th Banchan to live and preach sutra on that occasion. The 9th Banchan Master and 10th Banchan Master also came here to have religious rites. Now, it has become an exhibition hall. Inside the exhibition, people can see pictures telling the life stories and the reincarnation of the living Buddha Dalai Lamas and Great Master Banchan Erdeni from the first one up to now, especially the 6th Great Master Banchan, who came to Beijing in 1780. In this exhibition room, people could not only get to know something about the establishment of the system of reincarnation of the Tibetan Buddhist living Buddha and other things in detail, but also can see the Gold Vase used to draw lots to decide who would be the future baby Living Buddha.

Zhao Fo Building

To the east of the Banchan Tower is the Zhao Fo Building. It was a private Worshiping Hall used by Emperor Qianlong’s mother for worshipping Buddha. Now, it is still kept in its original form. Inside Zhao Fo Building, there is a bronze statue in the shrine. The shrine, with three layers, was carved out of Nanmu, a special kind of valuable tree in south China. The three-layered shrine has 99 large and small dragons carved on it. It is one of the Three Masterpieces of Wooden Sculptures in the Lama Temple. The Bronze statue of Sakyamuni, with two disciples Ananda and Kasyapa standing on both sides, is a unique carving with the water fold in his clothes like ripples in the water, called water-ripple garment. It is said that before Sakyamuni returned to heaven, the ordinary people wanted to look at his graceful bearing with reverence. However, since the ordinary people could not look at him directly, he stood on the bank of a river. His image, reflected in the water, was worshipped by the people. While worshipping one of the pilgrims who was good at drawing drew the outline of his image reflected in the water with ripples on his clothes. That is why the statue of Sakyamuni has this kind of feature.

Additional Information

Lamaism

Lamaism is also known as Tibetan Buddhism or Buddhism of the Tibetan Language. It is a form of Buddhism, which contains a large element of Hinduism and popular Tibetan religious worship. Lama means “Superior one”. In the 7th century, Buddhism was disseminated to Tibet from India, Nepal and the interior of China. Assimilating the culture of local religion, it formed a special kind of Buddhism with Tibetan characteristics known as “Tibetan Buddhism”, popularly nicknamed as Lamaism, and soon it became influenced by the Tibetan cults. In the 13th century, it spread rapidly into Mongolia and north China. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), the Mongolian and Tibetan people believed in Lamaism and at the same time, both Mongolia and Tibet were very important borders of China. In order to stabilize these regions, Emperor Qianlong found that Lamaism could play an irreplaceable role in uniting and appeasing minority nations, and could strengthen the central power of the Manchu ruler as well. So based on his religion policy, some lama monasteries were founded and Lamaism was especially encouraged by Emperor Qianlong as a means of maintaining political unity with Mongolia and Tibet. In order to safeguard territorial integrity, security and peace, and strengthen its unity with the minority ethnic groups in these areas, Emperor Qianlong changed Yonghegong to a Lamasery. In this way, religion played a very important role in promoting harmony and cementing the relationship between the Mongolian and Tibetan people. He also ordered 500 lamas, who came from Mongolia, to stay in the Lama Temple.

The Reincarnation System

One of the most important treasures on display in the Banchan Tower is the Bampa, a golden vase, which was used to draw lots to decide the future baby Living Buddha in Tibet. The lamas believed that when Dalai Lama died, his spirit would pass out of the corpse into a baby boy who was born right at the moment of the Dalai Lama’s death. Quite often there were many babies born at the same moment when Dalai was dying, so a method of “drawing lots from the gold urn” was established. The system is that many baby boys would be selected from various places after the death of a Living Buddha. Each child had a lot with his name inscribed on it, and all the lots would be put into a gold vase. While lamas reciting Buddhist scriptures, the high commissioners appointed and sent by the emperor would pick up the lot dropped out of the shaking vase and show it to the people. Thus, the boy child with his name on it would be considered to be the reincarnation of the next Living Buddha. This method of using a gold vase to draw lots to decide the reincarnation of the Tibetan Buddhist Living Buddha was established by Emperor Qianlong in 1792.

Opening Hours

09:00-16:30 (Apr.-Oct.)

09:00-16:00 (Nov.-Mar.)

Price

Entrance Fee: ¥ 25

Address

No. 12 Yonghegong Road, Dongcheng District, Beijing

(东城区雍和宫大街12号)

Distance

Downtown

Getting There

Subway:

Line 2 or 5 Yonghegong Exit C

Taxi:

请带我到雍和宫

(Please take me to the Lama Temple)

Travel Tips

No pictures inside any buildings of the Lama Temple

Free incense stickers available inside

Last Updated

2018-05-05 15:00:12

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