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Three Tianzhu Monasteries 三天竺寺 also known as “The Middle Tianzhu Monastery 中天竺寺”, “The Lower Tianzhu Monastery 下天竺 寺”, “The Upper Tianzhu Monastery 上天竺寺” Qi, Guanxiong


Three Tianzhu Monasteries 三天竺寺 represents three prominent Buddhist monasteries—the Upper Tianzhu Monastery 上天竺寺, Middle Tianzhu Monastery 中天竺寺, and Lower Tianzhu Monastery 下天竺寺—in southwest Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. In 595, the Southern Tianzhu Monastery 南天竺寺, the predecessor of the Upper and Lower Tianzhu monasteries, was built by the monk Zhenguan 真觀 (538-611). During the Wuyue 吳越 period (907-978), it was named as the Five-Hundred Arhats Cloister 五百羅漢院. Under the imperial edict, it was officially retitled as the Tianzhu Monastery 天竺寺in 1020, and the Tianzhu Monastery was divided into the Upper and Lower Tianzhu Monasteries in 1023. Together, these two monasteries were the center of Tiantai Buddhism in the Song time (960-1279). Famous Tiantai reformers, such as Ciyun Zunshi 慈雲遵式 (964-1032) and Nanping Fanzhen 南屏梵臻 (d.u.), had served as their abbots. Being the home of the sandal white-robed Guanyin icon, since the middle of the 11th century, the Upper Tianzhu Monastery was widely believed as a domicile of Guanyin and became a famous pilgrimage site of Guanyin. In 1065, the title “Efficacious Guanyin” 靈感觀音 was conferred to the monastery by the Emperor Renzong of Song 宋仁宗 (r. 1022-1063). The marvelous efficacy of its Guanyin icon, in the names of the “White-robed Mahāsattva” 白衣大士 was further popularized through the poems of SU SHI 蘇軾 (1037-1101), an intimate friend of the monastery’s abbot Biancai Yuanjing 辯才元淨 (1011-1091). The Middle Tianzhu Monastery was first built as a meditation courtyard 道場 by the legendary Indian monk Baozhang 寶掌 (?-657) in 597 and reconstructed as the Chongshou Cloister 崇壽院 by Qian Chu 錢俶 (929-988), the last emperor of the Wuyue Kingdom. In the Southern Song period (1127-1279), the monastery was renowned for its efficacious icon of the Bodhisattva Mārīcī 摩利支菩薩. Since the Song dynasty, the monastery is best known for its affiliation with the Chan tradition. Zongle 宗泐 (1318-1390), a close friend of Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (1328-1398) and a successful politician-monk, was trained and tonsured in the monastery and served as its abbot from 1368 to1371. At a similar time, the name Middle Tianzhu Monastery was officially granted to the monastery. Three monasteries all hosted the Southern Tours 南巡 of the Emperor Qianlong 乾隆 (r. 1736-1795), who also changed the names of the monasteries to Faxi Monastery 法喜寺 (Upper), Fajing 法淨寺 (Middle), and Fajing Monastery 法鏡寺 (Lower). Nowadays, the Upper Tianzhu Monastery has become a popular tourist site, the Middle Tianzhu Monastery is associated with the Hangzhou Buddhist Academy 杭州佛學院, and the Lower Tianzhu Monastery is a functioning nunnery.

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