Fayuan Temple

Fayuan Temple (Temple of the Origin of the Dharma) is situated in the south of Jiaozi Hutong, Xicheng District of Beijing. With a long history of more than 1,300 years, it is the oldest Buddhist temple in Beijing. In addition, the Buddhist Academy of China and Buddhist Library and Museum of China are located inside, making it an important place to study the Buddhist culture and cultivate young monks. With its time-honored history, distinctive cultural significance as well as the rich historical relics displayed, the temple is greatly appreciated by visitors. In 2000, the Taiwanese writer Li Ao published a novel, "Martyrs' Shrine: the Story of the Reform Movement of 1898 in China" (another name is Beijing Fayuan Si), set right in this temple, which made the temple even more famous. Since then, more and more Buddhist believers as well as tourists come to visit it year after year.

Fayuan Temple was originally built to mourn the dead soldiers by Emperor Taizong (598-649) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). When finished in 696, Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) gave it the name Minzhong Temple, which means a temple to mourn the late loyal people. However, due to flood, earthquake, war and other damages, the temple has been destroyed, rebuilt, and renamed several times. It was not until the Emperor Yongzheng's throne in the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) that it was greatly repaired and then renamed as Fayuan Temple, which has been retained to the present day. In fact, since the temple was first built to recall the dead soldiers, there were several loyal people who were associated to it in different dynasties. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Xie Fangde (1226-1289), official of the fallen former Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), starved himself to death in the temple as he would not surrender to the new rulers. In the late Qing Dynasty, after the leaders of the Reform Movement in 1898 had been killed, their coffins were stored in this temple for some time. For more than a thousand years, the temple has witnessed the change of history.

Fayuan Temple is the existing largest temple in Beijing City, covering an area of more than 8,000 square yards (6,700 square meters). Facing south, it is built in an axial symmetry pattern. There are six courtyards inside from south to north. The main buildings are all concentrated in the north-south axis line, successively the main gate, the Hall of Heavenly King, the Hall of the Great Buddha, the Hall to Mourn the Loyal, the Pilu Hall, the Great Mercy Hall, and the Pavilion of Buddhist Sutras.

When arriving at the temple, the first thing that catches your eyes is a brick carving screen wall standing in front of the main gate. The main gate behind it is composed of a main entrance and two side doors.

Behind the main gate is the first courtyard where stands the Hall of Heavenly King. In front of the hall, there are several monuments, with Bell Tower and Drum Tower on both sides. In the centre of the hall, enshrines the Ming Dynasty's Buddha Maitreya, who is bare chested and full of joy, with a height of 3.6 feet (1.12 meters). Behind the Buddha Maitreya, is the sitting statue of the courageous and dignified Guardian of Buddhism, Wei Tuo. Right by the Buddha Maitreya, stand the bronze statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, each of them with a height of 3.9 feet (1.2 meters). They are made in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and are all precious historical relics.

To the north of the first courtyard is the second courtyard. The main hall there is the Hall of the Great Buddha, which is the uppermost building in the temple. Six stone steles of the Ming and Qing dynasties are erected in front of the hall, which record the temple's construction process. Under the eaves of the main hall, there are magnificent colorful paintings and golden dragons. Inside the hall enshrines the famous Great Buddha (Vairocana), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Buddha Manjusri) and the Bodhisattva of Universal Virtue (Buddha Samantabhadra). A stele, which is handwritten by Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799), hangs in the beam of the portico. It reads "Fa Hai Zhen Yuan", which means that Buddhism is rich, extensive and profound. In the wings of the main hall stand the statues of the Eighteen Arhats, which are wood carvings of the Qing Dynasty.

The main building in the third courtyard is the Hall to Mourn the Loyal. It is a distinctive building, for it is in a Twelve Column style both inside and outside. There preserve the stone steles and sutras of different dynasties, and one of the most cherished is the Tang Dynasty's Record of Buddhist Relics in Minzhong Temple.

The main building in the fourth courtyard is the Pilu Hall. There is a big Stone Bowl in front of the hall. It is actually the wine bowl of the royal class. Here is a historical story about it. The bowl was made under the order of Kublai (1215-1294) in the Yuan Dynasty to reward his ministers and soldiers. When finished, it was named as the Dushan Jade Bowl and sat in the Guanghan Hall of Wansui Mountain in the Qionghua Isle. Years after, the Guanghan Hall collapsed, and the Dushan Jade Bowl and its pedestal were carried to Zhenwu Taoist Temple. Later when the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty came to the temple, he found the bowl and regarded it as a national treasure and had it renovated and relocated in the Chengguang Hall of the North Sea (a palace name in ancient China). But the pedestal still remained in the temple. Then with the Jade Bowl as a model, Qianlong ordered to carve a stone bowl, and put it on the former jade bowl's pedestal. The Stone Bowl Qianlong ordered to make is just the one in Fayuan Temple now. On the big Stone Bowl are carved pictures of the seawater, rivers, dragons, horses and others, stunning and exquisite. Inside the Pilu Hall is a statue of Five-Direction Buddha with three stages. On the top of the statue is the Pilu Buddha. In the middle is the Buddha of four directions (east, west, north and south). On the bottom, there is the Lotus Base of one thousand leaves, with a small Buddha statue on each of the leaf. The whole statue formed a sight that Pilu Buddha is surrounded by a thousand of Buddhas.

The Great Mercy Hall is the main hall in the fifth courtyard, which is also named as Guanyin Hall. It is an exhibition hall of the statue of Guanyin (the Bodhisattva of Mercy), stone carvings and other artistic treasures of different dynasties in ancient China. A stele written by the Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) in the Qing Dynasty hangs below the crossbeam of the hall. It reads "Cun Cheng" (be sincere), and was given to the Abbot Shou Xi of Fayuan Temple at that time. Besides, there are Buddhist sutras and relics given by other countries.

The main hall in the last courtyard is the Pavilion of Buddhist Sutras. It has two floors and are both paved by gray bricks. Inside the hall, the Thousand Buddha made of Red Sandalwood and other precious cultural relics are exhibited. They are from the Ming Dynasty and made in exquisite skills. Besides, the Ming and Qing dynasties sutras are preserved there. The hall is currently not open to the public.

In fact, Fayuan Temple is not only a solemn place of Buddhist culture, but also a place of plants. The oldest trees here were planted in the Tang Dynasty with a history of more than 1,000 years. In front of the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, there are pines of the Song Dynasty. The two ginkgos in front of the Pavilion of Buddhist Sutras have hundreds of years' history. There are also two crabapple trees of the Qianlong period (1711-1799). After so many years, those old trees still grow with luxuriant foliages. Besides, the temple is known as "Temple of Flowers". Its crabapple flowers and lilac are the best known in Beijing. When spring comes, the temple is always filled with fragrance of flowers.

How to Get to Fayuan Temple

 By Subway:
Take Subway Line 4 or Line 7 and get off at Caishikou Station. Get out from Exit D, and walk south along Caishikou Street. When reaching the intersection of Caishikou Street and West Nanheng Street, turn west to reach the temple. The walking distance is about 1,000 yards (900 meters).
 By Bus:
Take bus no. 53 or 133 and get off at Jiaozi Hutong Nankou Station. Then walk northward along Jiaozi Hutong for 100 meters (109 yards), turn right and walk for 200 meters (219 yards) to the south gate.
Beijing Bus / Subway Search
Opening Time 08:30 - 16:00
Admission Fee Free

Recommended Nearby Attractions

 Ox Street Mosque
 Taoranting Park 
 Guanganmen Food Street

Further Reading:
10 Non Touristy Things to Do in Beijing
8 Interesting Places in Beijing You May Not Know
- Last updated on Jul. 19, 2023 by Gabby Li -
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