The trip to Longhua Temple turned out to be an absolute treat. I was incredibly impressed with many aspects of the temple. I appreciated our walk around the courtyard before entering the main temple area to both put into context and admire the sheer age of Longhua Temple. The 40-meter tall pagoda in the courtyard itself is a magnificent feat. To think it was restored in the Song dynasty (and perhaps touched up a bit since). I wish we would have been able to climb up in the pagoda so that we might get a clear aerial view of the entirety of the temple area. Regardless, Longhua Temple clearly has a long history, going through several name changes—Longhua to Kongxiang to Chihua Chan and back to Longhua—and living through several dynasties and regimes. On our visit, it appeared both restored and ancient, but certainly beautiful.
The Song dynasty design in the architecture—the “seven-hall system”—gives the entire temple an all-encompassing feel as one passes through the entrance gate. While the grounds are large, everything is also contained and easily walkable. The detail for every statue and shrine in the temple area was clear to the eye. The attention to detail made me realize the amount of time that went into even constructing these buildings, statues, and shrines, let alone the constant reconstruction of them through the Song Dynasty, after the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic of China, and in 1979 post-Cultural Revolution. Throughout the constant reconstruction of Longhua Temple, the Song dynasty design was maintained so that the temple, even though it has witnessed several different parts of Chinese history, has withstood modernization and remains very ancient-looking and almost ethereal.
Taking a closer look at the statues and shrines within the temple, I was struck by a couple of rooms in particular. The first one was what I believe to be the Hall of the Three Sages 三圣殿 , with giant golden statues. They’re quite beautiful and made almost entirely, if not entirely, of gold. I am not sure how old they actually are, but I find the artisanship quite amazing. Another room that caught my eye was the room with the Great Kings of Protecting Dharma due to the sheer size of these statues, as well as the vibrance and diversity of color used. In general, I wanted more context in regards to the statues and the rooms themselves, so I wish Rev. Monk Shi Man-kong gave us even a little bit more context than he provided as a basic introduction to Longhua Temple and Buddhism.
After our walk around the temple, we had a pleasant time learning about calligraphy. I enjoyed exploring the intricate details of how to hold the brush and tracing the characters of an important Buddhist text. I appreciated the moment to sit down and continue practicing my own 汉字 as well. Throughout the calligraphy session, it was nice to discuss Buddhism and other topics of interest related to our visit and to calligraphy.
Overall, the visit to Longhua Temple certainly exposed me more to the temple itself, as well as Buddhism as a whole. It was an informative and fun trip to Longhua Temple!