WITH its many temples, Hangzhou has long been as a focal point of Buddhism in southeast China. For centuries, temples are scattered about in the hills of western of the city. Pilgrims from Zhejiang and other provinces frequent these places of worship regularly.
Must-visit spots include Lingyin and Jingci temples. Ever since the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (AD 907-979), Lingyin Temple has been known for its magnificence and its association with the royal court, prominent monks and intellectuals.
Originally built in AD 954, Jingci Temple is famous for the Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Hill, one of the top scenic sites of West Lake. The two-story bell tower houses a 2-ton bell with a deep, resonant voice.
Other than these two famous religious sites, Hangzhou boasts dozens of temples with fewer visitors, but no less tranquil environments. Shanghai Daily picks three of those tucked away in lush vegetation and resplendent with centuries-old traditions.
Baopu Taoist Temple 抱朴道院
Hangzhou is called “Southeast Buddhist Center” due to its densely dotted Buddhist temples. But Buddha-worshipping isn’t the only prominent tradition in these parts. Actually, the city is also filled with many holy sites dedicated to Taoism.
Taoism originated 1,800 years ago and developed into one of China’s main religions, along with Buddhism. Geling at West Lake is considered a noteworthy Taoist spot, because prominent Taoist Ge Hong is said to have refined the medicines of immortality there during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317-420) .
Ge developed chemical theories during alchemical experiments. He also first described the artemisia annua plant as having antimalarial properties, which inspired Tu Yoyo to develop the anti-malarial medicine that helped her win the Noble Prize in medicine in 2015.
Ge created herbal pills to cure sick people in his own era. His warm personality also won him much respect from natives, who established a temple and named it after his monastic name. The location where the temple was built was also named after him — Geling meaning “Ge’s hill.”
The temple was ruined during wartime in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and then restored in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). At the beginning of the 21st century, the Hangzhou government revamped and opened it to the public. Today, the temple still retains Ge’s alchemical workshop and a Ming Dynasty stone tablet that tells his life story.
The temple was nestled on the Baoshi Hill, which is believed to be the best spot to see West Lake and the heart of the city. On the way to the temple, visitors can get close to nature along the zigzagging trail.
How to get there: Take bus No. 28 and get off at Huanglong Cave station, or bus No. Y10 and get off at Geling station.
Jingshan Temple 径山寺
This temple dates back 1,200 years to when Buddhism boomed in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Pilgrim numbers peaked during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) as Jingshan became the largest temple in the lower reaches of Yangtze River, with more than 1,000 rooms and 1,700 monks.
Meanwhile, many Japanese monks came to Jingshan Temple as ambassadors, and then brought Chinese scriptures and the country’s tea ceremony back to their island home.
The tea ceremony originated at this temple. It includes a series of performances, procedures and particular criterion for using tea leaves and vessels. As a ritual performed during vital occasions, it had a deep influence on Chinese tea-drinking tradition. As for the Japanese, they developed it into an indispensable part of their own culture.
Lu Yu, respected as the “Sage of Tea,” wrote his monumental book “The Classic of Tea” in this temple. This text was the first definitive work on cultivating, making and drinking tea.
The temple is located in Jingshan, in Yuhang District. It has several farmhouses open to visitors, where people can fish and feed animals, observe and learn about rural life. Sleeping over at a local family-run inn is a good option.
How to get there: Take bus No. 153, get off at Huanbeixincun, and then walk to the Wulinmenbei Station and take bus No. 506, get off at Yuhang and transfer to bus No. 553 and then get off at Tongqiao Station. Or you can drive along the Hangzhou-Changxing Expressway and get off at Jingshan.
Three temples at Tianzhu 天竺三寺
The three temples at Tianzhu are the Faxi Monastery, the Fajing Monastery and the Fajing Nunnery. They are less crowded than Lingyin Temple, but are believed to possess the Bodhisattva’s extraordinary blessing power. Centuries ago, a group of renowned monks lived in these temples, including the famous poet Su Manshu.
With pilgrims flocking to Lingyin Temple, local believers avoid that crowded spot and head to the three temples hidden in Tianzhu Hill.
All of the three temples were erected a millennium ago and they share the same age and Buddhist school.
Centuries ago, all Hangzhou families were required to visit temples on auspicious lunar days to burn incense. It was a holy deed to show respect to Buddha and to pray for good luck for the family. The three temples are still popular with devout worshippers. However, they are more tranquil and low-key compared with Lingyin and Jingci temples.
How to get there: Take bus No. 103 and get off at Santianzhu station.