Wutaishan Pilgrimage Photos With Reflections


Lingguang Monastery (灵光寺), which houses one of the Buddha’s tooth relics.

Presenting the super awe-inspiring Yungang Grottoes (云冈石窟) as I saw them, with their intricate and abstract (faded) details. Despite the sands of time, the friendly beckoning cheer of these images is still distinct and infectious! These are photographed only where allowed. Do see the real deal in person, which will include many indoor wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-ceiling coloured sculptures guaranteed to take your breath away!

Zhulin Monastery (竹林寺), as founded by the Fourth Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition Great Master Fazhao (净土宗四祖法照大师) during the Tang Dynasty, featuring a stupa housing the Buddha’s relics. A note on these pictures… These few poorly taken photos, as in the case of the others in this series too, really do not do justice in depicting the scale of the various places’ magnificence! Yes, this is why we go on pilgrimages, to be awed and inspired as fully as we can in person!

Scenes at Xuanzhong Monastery (玄中寺), with colourful educational sutra scenarios as murals. This is one of the major birthplaces of the Chinese Pure Land tradition, as Great Masters Tanluan, Daozhuo and Shandao (昙鸾,道绰,善导大师) were once here, as Grandmaster, Master and Disciple respectively. Great Master Shandao was later conferred as the Second Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition (净土宗二祖). The bronze images are theirs, while the coloured images represent three more great Pure Land teachers – Manjusri, Nagarjuna and Vasubhandu Bodhisattvas (文殊,龙树,世亲菩萨).

Some miscellaneous photos of the pilgrimage towards and at Wutaishan.

Scenes at Qingliang Monastery (清凉寺), which means ‘monastery of the cooling’, where there is the legendary rock said to be the biggest remnant piece from a giant rock brought to Wutaishan by Manjusri Bodhisattva, with its shattered fragments forming the countless pieces of rocks strewn among the mountain range (which can be seen in other photos posted recently). This cool rock is truly cooling to the touch, reflecting how wisdom of the Dharma is spiritually cooling, capable of dissipating the heat of afflictions. Realisation of the Dharma is attainment of true ‘coolness’ and clarity!

Some scenes of Bolinchan Monastery (柏林禅寺), featuring a ‘paradoxical’ doorway named the Gateless Gate (无门关), named after the famous collection of koans with commentary by Chan Master Wumen (无门禅师).

Wutaishan (五台山) or the Five-Terraced Mountain has its highest (northern) peak at 3,058m. It is the tallest mountain in Northern China. Travelling by van already takes some time, requiring fair weather without rain, fog or snow, and a very rickety ride over rocky and winding roads. It is amazing how ancient pilgrims used to trek up these mountains. It is said that not many could make it in one seamless trip up all five peaks, even if over a number of days. It was surely not easy, even for those riding animals, especially for the poor animals!

The truth is, the rocky roads are necessary for sufficient safe traction up the otherwise sandy slopes, which will become very slippery in rain and frost for driving. The rocks prevent excess runoff too. This is a reminder that the rough stuff in life can actually turn out to be good for you, if you see them for what they are worth, to take them in your stride, to inspire you to move forward and upward! There was also an immense sense of gratitude, that past trailblazers did eventually, via their repeated tracks, carve out clear roads for us as the next generation of travellers, making the journey easier for us. This is just as Sakyamuni Buddha, being our world’s spiritual trailblazer, showed us the path to Buddhahood more than 2,500 years ago.

When is a door not a door? When used as a table, or anything else. Thus is all phenomena of mind and matter falsely named (假名), empty of real names as in truly fixed identities or characteristics. This concept was mentioned in a recent Heart Sutra class.

Along the pilgrimage to Wutaishan, two very welcoming Venerables were encountered at two temples (Dafoguang & Lingguang Monastery: 大佛光寺与灵光寺), who presented us personally written calligraphic works placed in envelopes for us to randomly (but actually karmically) draw. It was a little amusing that some seem to take the experience to be like the ‘drawing of lots’, because all the words are surely dharmically auspicious, while lots should have negative and neutral messages too! Many went around asking one another what was received. When ‘wisdom unsurpassable’ (智慧无上), a phrase from the Immeasurable Life Sutra (无量寿经), which I am translating was unfolded, two Buddhist friends said it was apt or matching for me, partly because I teach the Dharma. But I dismissed it in the sense that surely my wisdom is not unsurpassable as I would be a Buddha (佛) if so. Later, I realised there was another kind of aptness. I do aspire to have ever greater wisdom to learn, teach and translate better. And hey, we are after all on a pilgrimage to the holy mountain of the Manjusri Bodhisattva, who personifies the perfectly unsurpassable wisdom of all Buddhas, which all Buddhists should aspire to attain! The words have thus become universal aspirations instead of personal descriptions.

Unfortunately, although grazing totally free range in the vast open plains of Wutaishan (this mountain range that symbolise wisdom), without a single set of fences, the cows, horses and such are still branded by owners, who do exploit them (and probably send them for the slaughter) eventually. It made me wonder who their true captors are. The answer is the dominant fault of animals, the very absence of wisdom due to much ignorance. This is why they are content, not instigating a runaway in the cover of night. Then again, are not we humans too held captive by our spiritual ignorance, to be thus bound to the cycle of rebirth, albeit, hopefully, to a lesser extent? May all beings be free from harm and danger. May all beings be free, well and happy.

Since the recyclable can be renewed, it is not really waste, which in turn means the ‘other waste’ shouldn’t be labelled so; for it is just ‘waste’, with no ‘other’. Waste not. Always reduce and reuse before recycling. Try not to create any actual non-recyclable waste at all. This photo is from China. Recently, there are more of such bins in Singapore. May there be more of them, with more proper usage of them!

The iconic landmark at Tayuan Monastery (塔院寺), that is the great white Buddha relic stupa at the palm of Wutaishan, which is lined with big and small prayer wheels for turning while circumambulating.

Some rare and ancient images and more, continuing to radiate kindness at Fayuan Monastery’s (法源寺) museum and shrines.

We ascended the Dailuo Peak (大螺顶) by 3 hours’ 3-steps-1-bow, up the 1,080 steps of the Path To Great Wisdom (大智路) to pay homage to the 5 replica images of Manjusri Bodhisattva from the 5 peaks of Wutaishan, who represents perfect wisdom of all Buddhas, before descending by a simple, open and scenic cable car ride. Such an ascent is called a minor peak ascent (小朝台), as differentiated from a major peak ascent (大朝台) up each of the 5 peaks, which is at least five times more difficult due to distance and sometimes unpredictable weather conditions of rain and fog. With collective ‘good enough’ karma and blessings of Manjusri Bodhisattva, we managed to do both, with most of the latter by van though! In some of the photos, you can see a streak of stairs going up the peak.

Super ancient (1,300-year-old) wooden images at Fayuan Monastery (法源寺). Astounding works of spiritual artistry.

Scenes of Bairenyan Monastery (白仁岩寺). See the Venerable standing precariously on a rock ledge? He is on the Heart-Testing Rock (试心石), which is for testing one’s fearless pursuit for the Dharma! We heard him chanting aloud into the mountains to bid us farewell as we descended. One of the pictures has a red circle that marks the spot. This is also the monastery where the First Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition Great Master Huiyuan (净土宗初祖慧远大师) practised.

Some views at Shanhua Monastery (善化寺), including from the top of its stupa. Haiku time (on some buildings surrounding the monastery, contrasting the high-rise ones in further away): ‘Do half-built buildings, represent hope, or its ruin?’

Magnificent scenes of strong yet graceful flying devis making various offerings, and more, at the central peak of Wutaishan.

Maitreya Bodhisattva image and ancient well at Loufan Monastery (楼烦寺), where the First Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition Great Master Huiyuan (净土宗初祖慧远大师) was ordained as a monk. It is said that the well water was undrinkable but became pure when he was born in the area. After he moved away though, it became undrinkable again. This showed the great merits of the master in being able to overflow to purify the environment he was in!

Super ancient Manjusri Bodhisattva and Arhat images dating back about 1,200 years ago to the Tang Dynasty at Foguang Monastery (佛光寺), where Great Master Fazhao, the 4th Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition (净土宗法照大师) had an inspiring vision of the Bodhisattva advising him to embrace the Pure Land teachings.

Optical illusion – is the Guanyin Bodhisattva image almost as tall as the stupa? Yingxian Wooden Stupa (应县木塔) is the tallest ancient wooden stupa. It was constructed without a single nail, and naturally protected from insects by generations of flocks of circling swallows. It also miraculously survived earthquakes and attempted bombings in wartime!

Friendly Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (普贤菩萨) image on a friendly elephant with six tusks representing strong and steady practice of the Six Perfections at Shanxingu Monastery (善心古寺). Even the script on the temple’s nameplate is friendly!

Seen at the northern peak of Wutaishan. An interesting Chinese cultural ‘improvisation’ of Tibetan prayer ‘flags’ as papers? Notice someone scattering them in the wind? Traditional flags seem more eco-friendly as they will neither litter nor be trampled upon.

Relics of the 12th Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition Great Master Chewu (净土宗十二祖彻悟大师) at Hongluo Monastery (红螺寺). Other than paying homage, we chanted the Amitabha Sutra there too. (Photo of relics by a travelmate.)

The now semi-natural cave passage at Bairenyan Monastery (白仁岩寺) with the Abbot’s quarters, that leads to where the First Patriarch of the Pure Land tradition Great Master Huiyuan (净土宗初祖慧远大师) used to practise. A room with an image of him has been built to shelter the cave more fully. Note the hole where someone is crawling out from. It is said to be how the master entered the cave, which now is symbolic for crawlers, of the passage of rebirth into the light of Pure Land. (I gave it a go too!)

Perhaps the most eco-friendly way to mark your devotion, to say you were here on the peaks of Wutaishan – make your own mini stone ‘stupa’!

Views at the northern peak of Wutaishan.

Stupa semi-buried by many devotees’ prayer flags on the southern peak of Wutaishan.

An assorted mix of light offerings on one of the peaks of Wutaishan. Perhaps representing the mixed aspirations of many devotees?

Interesting mural at Tayuan Monastery (塔院寺) named Deliverance (度). The stern and rudder of the boat always face the viewer from any angle, as it sails towards a manifestation of Manjusri Bodhisattva, who personifies the perfect wisdom of all Buddhas. Does this not mean we can always start embarking on the voyage towards wisdom, from wherever we are?

A Venerable walking out of a doorway at Bairenyan Monastery (白仁岩寺).

Images of the 12th and 13th Patriarchs of the Pure Land tradition, Great Master Chewu (Jixing) and Yinguang (彻悟大师与印光大师) at Hongluo Monastery (红螺寺).

Makeshift Amituofo shrine of a travelmate on her hotel room desk facing West! (Not a must though.) Featuring the Pure Land Pass Card. (More on its next coming edition later.)

Small yet charmingly smiley Bodhisattva images placed on remains of the old stupa at Lingguang Monastery (灵光寺).

想知五台山大塔院寺文殊菩萨发塔的由来,请看 《贫女乞食》公案的动漫:


If you look carefully here, while passing on the highway, you can see abandoned unmaintained stretches of the Great Wall. It struck me that humankind has come far, to be able to build many more bloodless interconnecting roads than divisive walls that required much bloodshed. Then again, there is still inhumanity in other aspects of life. We need to evolve further. See maintained sections of the wall at https://www.facebook.com/shen.shian/posts/10153825424769001

Interesting Chinese adaptation of Tibetan-styled five-coloured prayer flags as Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) name flags at stupa grounds of Hongluo Monastery (红螺寺).


– 石头安

到了赵州禅师的柏林禅寺‘吃茶去’!照片附有禅师之舍利塔。今日的禅寺欢迎僧众与信徒禅净单或双修。关于’吃茶去’的公案,请看http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2016/01/the-go-drink-tea-koan-%E5%90%83%E8%8C%B6%E5%8E%BB%E7%9A%84%E5%85%AC%E6%A1%88/ 请参!阿弥陀佛!

The Great Wall is indeed an amazing physical wonder. However, its awesomeness should also remind all of the many who perished in building it for defence against invaders. It is a monument of achievement, but also of tragedy. Was it worth it? It is perhaps hard to tell now? May the long deceased have long attained better rebirths. Amituofo. See unmaintained sections of the wall at https://www.facebook.com/shen.shian/posts/10153825548664001


The 3 seemingly recurring stages of pilgrimages, retreats, holidays… Stage 1: The days seem to go by slowly, with many more to come. Stage 2: The days seem to fleet by so quickly that you lose track of them. Stage 3: The days left are numbered and few. Sounds like the story of our lives too? The speed of life seems to vary with age in the 3 same stages too. First, we can’t wait to grow up. Next, we grow older faster than expected. Finally, before you know it, it is time to depart. (This is one reason why I teach so much about life in terms of impending death, which always gives us down to earth perspectives on how best to live life.)

Cloud-making factories! Kidding (again). From observation, the exhaust looks white and dissipates swiftly. Hope it’s all cleaned gas.

Wind-making fans! Kidding. Electricity-generating windmills these are. We should all use as much natural clean energy as possible.

Quaint souvenir cloth map featuring the five peaks of Wutaishan (holy mountain of Manjusri Bodhisattva) and some of the prominent temples among the 108 in the range. It’s like a Dharma treasure map for pilgrims!

Always surreal returning from overseas, to the somewhat familiar yet somewhat changed. Even the one who returns has changed. That’s why we travel – to experience change of environment that hopefully inspires change in us for the better.

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