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Numinous Cliff Mountain Temple (Lingyan shan si 靈岩山寺) Milburn, Olivia


Numinous Cliff Mountain Temple (Lingyan shan si 靈岩山寺) stands outside the city of Suzhou 蘇州, dominating the waterway that debouches into Lake Tai at Xukouzhen 胥口鎮. This mountain-top site was originally the location of a summer palace, the Guanwa gong 館娃宮 (Lodging Beauties Palace) constructed at vast expense for King Fuchai of Wu 吳王夫差 (r. 495-473 BCE) for his beloved favorite Xi Shi 西施. Xi Shi, one of the four great beauties of ancient China, was presented to the last king of Wu by his greatest enemy, King Goujian of Yue 越王勾踐 (r. 496-465 BCE), to seduce him to his doom. After the fall of Wu in 473 BCE, this great palace was destroyed. The history of the site is obscure until the Eastern Jin dynasty, when Lu Wan 陸玩 (278-341), a member of the distinguished Lu family of Wu Commandery, constructed the first Buddhist temple here. In the Liang dynasty (502-557), the Bodhisattva Zhiji 智積菩薩 (Sanskrit: Pratibhanakuta) is said to have manifested himself here to spread the Buddhist faith. In honor of this, numerous stupas were erected on this site from 503 onwards. In the early Song dynasty, the temple became a Chan Buddhist institution (having previously been a Luzong 律宗 temple), only to be temporarily rededicated as a popular religion foundation honoring Han Shizhong 韓世忠 (1090-1151) at the beginning of the Southern Song dynasty. Han Shizhong had played a key role in the founding of the Southern Song dynasty, as general in command at the battle of Huangtiandang 黃天蕩, during which he held off a massive assault by Jurchen forces for 48 days, allowing the Song court and countless refugees to cross the Yangtze River in safety. Even though the temple soon returned to Chan Buddhist worship, the name of the temple in the Southern Song dynasty still commemorated Han Shizhong, who is buried at the foot of the mountain. The Song dynasty also saw the construction of a magnificent pagoda at the temple. Numinous Cliff Mountain Temple underwent cycles of neglect and restoration throughout the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, only to suffer almost total destruction during the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864. The temple was subsequently rebuilt, but in 1926, it became a Pure Land Buddhist institution, and received its present name in 1932, as chosen by Master Yinguang 印光 (1861-1940). In 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the monastic community was forced to leave, and the buildings were abandoned, but after 1976, restoration began. The temple has officially been active again since 1980 and continues to the present day. In 1990-1991, a program of restoration returned the Song pagoda to its original appearance, and the temple complex remains a popular pilgrimage site as well as receiving the occasional tourist.

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