UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Middle Avataṃsaka Monastery (Zhong huayan si 中華嚴寺) Taubes, Hannibal


The Middle Avataṃsaka Monastery (Zhong huayan si 中華嚴寺) is located in the fields about three hundred meters north of the old walled village of Su Family Officials’ Fort (Su guan bu 蘇官堡). As the name implies, there is also an ‘Lower’ (xia 下) Avataṃsaka Monastery located a few kilometers north in Warm Springs Town (Nuanquan zhen 暖泉鎮), and an ‘upper’ (shang 上) Avataṃsaka Monastery in a secluded valley high on the mountain slopes to the south, both of which have existed in some form or other since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Several other sets of monasteries in Yu County iterate in threes from the lowland towns to the southern mountains in this way; it’s unclear whether these originally represented branches of the same institution, pilgrimage routes, or simply local naming conventions. Two steles (not photographed) are set into the side walls of the northern temple building at the Middle monastery. One stele records the creation of a building called (or intended for the use of?) a ‘palace-head’ (xiashou 厦首) at the site in 1866; the nature and purpose of this structure are unclear, although from context it seems to have something to do with managing opera performances at temple fairs. A second stele from 1916 relates a strange story: In the spring of the previous year, ‘Three Buddha-statues arrived (lit. ‘came walking’), we know not from where’ (bu zhi cong hechu zoulai Foxiang san zong 不知從何處走來佛像三宗). The villagers were pleased and had the statues repainted, and after this a monk had the monastery repaired and arranged the purchase of enough land to ensure that incense-lamps were constantly lit before them. The murals in the temple now probably date from this repair; a painter named Wang [illegible]-zhen 王☐珍 is named on the 1916 stele. As of 2018, the monastery had been adopted and restored by a Buddhist group based in Xuanhua District 宣化區 and was being used as a retreat center; there was one young monk and a large and active lay community that came for dharma-talks. The monastery has two main halls, arranged along the north-south axis. The southern hall is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (Dizang pusa 地藏菩薩), a statue of whom occupies the center of the room. The two side walls show the courts of the Ten Courts of the Yama Kings (shidian yanwang 十殿閻王) surrounded by soldiers, officiants, and psychopomps, with images of souls being tortured in Buddhist hells beneath. The two rear (northern) walls flanking the northern door show the sixteen Arhats (luohan 羅漢), with an upper register depicting the intercessory miracles of Avalokiteśvara-Guanyin as found in the ‘Universal Gate’ chapter of the Lotus Sutra (Lianhua jing Pumenpin 蓮華經普門品). The northern building is the main prayer-hall or Mahāvīra Treasure Hall (Daxiong baodian 大雄寶殿). The statues on the altar are the Buddhas of the Three Times (san shi fo 三世佛), while the two side walls depict scenes from the life of Śākyamuṇi Buddha. The text is the same one commonly used in such murals throughout the region, derived from or at least closely related to the Ming-dynasty ‘Collected Deeds of the Origins and Miracles of the Śākya Clan’ (Shishi yuanliu yinghua shiji 釋氏源流應化事蹟). The cartouches read as follows: East wall: bottom row, right to left: 第一家選飯王, 第二乘象入台, 第三樹下誕生, 第四九龍灌浴, 第五仙人占象, 第六姨媽養育, 第七習學書數, ☐☐☐☐☐☐; second row, right to left: 第九擲象成坑, 第十得遇沙門, 第十一路逢老人, 第十二道見病☐, 第十三路覩死屍, 第十四耶踰兆夢, 第十五初啟出家, 第十六夜半踰城; third row, right to left: 第十七落髮貿衣, 第十八車匿辭還, 第十九勸請回宮, 第二十遠飯資☐, 第二十一牧女獻糜, 第二十二魔軍拒戰, 第二十三魔眾拽瓶, 第二十四華嚴大法; top row, right to left: 第二十五轉妙法輪, 第二十六假孕謗佛, 第二十七布金買地, 第二十八漁人求度, 第二十九姨媽求度, 第三十調伏醉象, 第三十一佛法盧志, 第三十二老人出家. West wall: bottom row, right to left: 第三十三白狗吠佛, 第三十四火中取子, 第三十五☐兒見佛, 第三十六度除糞人, 第三十七鬼母尋子, 第三十八採花獻佛, 第三十九小鬼施[王?], 第四十燃燈不?☐; second row, right to left: 第四十一勝光問法, 第四十二圓覺總持, 第四十三楞言大?定 [sic], 第四十四般若真空, 第四十五華嚴法妙典?, 第四十六法傳迦葉, 第四十七佛還觀父, 第四十八為母說法; third row, right to left: 第四十九囑累地藏, 第五十佛指移石, 第五十一囑☐舍利, 第五十二付囑國王, 第五十三付囑諸天, 第五十四純佗後供, 第五十五懸記法住, 第五十六最後垂?訓; top row, right to left: 第五十七茶毘法則, 第五十八臨終遺教, 第五十九雙林入滅, 第六十金剛袁戀, 第六十一佛從棺起, 第六十二聖火自焚, 第六十三均分舍利, 第六十四結集法藏. A partial transcription of the 1866 stele is as follows: 華嚴寺創修厦首碑記 / 蓋聞萬事皆備無庸重為或有不齊尤貴再理即如 / 各廟都有瓣社之屋獨少厦首之所每逢下戲之時 / 不惟有四散之費亦且照管所不便也故茲度其地勢創造房屋非徒壮人之觀實培合郡之瑞耳 / [here follows a long list of names of donors] 蔚州儒學生員郭有權撰文並書丹 … 同治五年六月初六日穀旦立. A partial transcription of the 1916 stele is as follows: 金粧佛像及設香燈碑 / 粵?自佛法流入中國人多敬奉我蘇官堡☐嚴寺廟貌輝煌 神威顯著自昨年春季不 / 知從何處走來 佛像三宗村人喜之不盡愈發菩心捐資募財☐☐ 佛像燦然一新 / 豈非神威之顯著☐☐從自有威納僧思[恩?] / 脩重修本寺以後願興佛前常燃香燈☐ / 募化資材前後共置地貳拾畝以供每年之費謹將上事聊贅數言以誌不朽 [here follows a long list of names of donors] 民國五年歲次柔兆執徐旦月朔日穀旦 立.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International