The Zheijang province of China has a long history of being a place where Zen Buddhism developed and took root. Along with many Zen Buddhist temples in the mountains surrounding Ningbo, there is a Zen Buddhist temple right smack in the middle of Ningbo. We have walked by on our way to other places in the past, but this week Landon and I decided to check it out. Built in the Tang dynasty- or 858 A.D., it has undergone numerous renovations and destruction over the years. Because of its proximity to the city, it was completely destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt in 1980. Approaching the temple, there are a string of Buddhist supply shops selling figurines, incense, clothing, and other knick knacks. It would be a fun row to browse without a toddler.
Approaching the temple, there was a main gate, a small red building off to the side that looked like a ticket booth, and a side entrance with a guard/helper. I thought perhaps we had to buy tickets, but when I went over to the booth, they were selling incense and other things for worshipers so we went right in. The guard helped me with my stroller on the steps, and all of a sudden, we were in a quiet courtyard instead of a bustling city street! There are Buddhist monks that live at this temple, so we saw them walking around in their robes and a few worshipers going between the different buildings.
The first building we checked out was the King of Heaven hall. There were huge statues in there, almost exactly like the ones we saw at Tiantong temple. Now I understand when people say that once you’ve been to one Zen Buddhist temple, they are all laid out pretty much the same! At least to a non-worshiping observer. I love the art, architecture and skill put to work in making any house of worship, so that’s why we check out these places and appreciate the work and dedication that people put into them.
There were many smaller halls along the sides of the compound with little statues and offering trays. In one of the larger buildings, monks were doing their chanting and it was a haunting accompaniment to our walk around the compound. The main courtyard with pond (that I promised Landon we would check out to see if there were any fish!) was under construction, along with what appeared to be about half the complex. That was a bummer considering that would have been the highlight of our visit for my boy.
In Korea, we learned about roof guardians. The importance of a building can be determined by looking at the number of animals on the roof points. I think they are typically odd numbers, and the highest number we ever saw in Korea was on a king’s house with 11. Here, there are seven, so that means it’s a pretty important building.
Landon enjoyed wandering about in an area without scooters, and he even wandered into the monks’ living quarters where I’m sure they do not see many white tourists! We saw some ancient monks sitting around, and peeked in the other buildings. Going by myself with Landon to these sites means that on the positive side, we get to see them before we leave China, and on the negative side, I have to balance taking pictures, reading placards, watching a rambunctious toddler and making sure he doesn’t break the world. On this day, that meant prying him away from a fire hydrant that looked like it was half taken apart. I did not want him to figure out how to turn that water on!
I loved the wood carving details of this temple. Whether it be on the roof supports or wood paneling along the sides of buildings, the intricate wood work was exquisite. Also, Landon is smiling for pictures on demand now- it only took three years! By the end of our time at the Buddhist temple, Landon was tired out and just wanted to sit in the stroller. It was a hot day and I don’t blame him! For those with limited time in Ningbo, this temple is easiest to get to and offers much of the same architecture and statuary as the larger temples in the mountains. However, I still prefer the Buddhist temples up in the mountains. If time is not an issue, the Tiantong temple up in the mountains surrounding Ningbo combines the beautiful architecture with a wonderful view, and is much more peaceful and serene.