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Famen Monastery 法門寺, also known as “Aśoka Monastery”, “Chengshi Monastery 成實寺”, “Ayuwang Monastery 阿育王寺”, “Chongzhen Monastery 重真寺” Landry, Nelson


Famen Monastery 法門寺 was an important center of imperial cult during the Tang dynasty. A Fufeng area 扶風 (northwest of modern-day Xi’an) gazetteer dates the foundation of the so-called Aśoka Monastery to the year 67 CE, when one of the Buddha's finger bones was supposedly interred in that area. Excavated Han dynasty tiles have also led some to corroborate the theory that this presumed first iteration of Famen Monastery was indeed founded in the first century. In c. 555 CE, a Northern Wei general would have translated the finger bone to its location at the newly established Famen Monastery. However, by the seventh century the site was in ruins as a result of the anti-Buddhist policies enacted during the Northern Zhou persecution of Buddhism (574-577). The Buddhist historian Daoxuan 道宣 (596-667) noted that a new monastery and pagoda structure was erected by Emperor Wen (r. 581-604) of the Sui dynasty near a place called Phoenix Spring, south of Mount Qi 岐山. At that time, Emperor Wen conferred the name Chengshi Monastery 成實寺 on this complex. The monastery once again fell into disrepair until ithe year 618 when monks from nearby Baochang Monastery 寶昌寺 petitioned the newly crowned Tang Emperor Gaozu for support in re-establishing Famen. However, as the Tang established control over the territory, Famen was most likely used as a fortified garrison against brigands and was destroyed. It was not until 632 under Emperor Taizong that it was properly renovated, at which point multiple relics including the revered finger bone of the Buddha were discovered within the pagoda's foundations on the monastery grounds. A prophesy discovered at that time stated that every thirty years miraculous events would occur and the relic would need once more to be taken out and presented to the people. Indeed, during the Tang dynasty the finger bone was translated to the capitals of Chang'an and Luoyang six times: in 660, 704, 760, 790, 819, and for the last time in 873. The pagoda containing the finger bone constructed during the Tang, also known as the True Body pagoda, stood tall until 1596. The octagonal pagoda built to replace it in 1609 stood thirteen stories tall and remained intact until 1981 when it crumbled after heavy rainfall. In 1987, six years after the True Body pagoda crumbled, the Famen complex was excavated leading to the discovery of a treasure trove of cultural artifacts dating back to the Han through to the Ming dynasty. Of particular importance was the Tang dynasty Famen pagoda crypt last sealed in 874, which had escaped the attention of looters and remained perfectly intact. The same is regrettably not true of the Ming dynasty crypt above it. There is today in Fufeng county a very modern reconstruction of Famen Monastery which sits at the epicenter of a 150 acre park called the "Famen Temple Cultural Scenic Area". The monastery still claims to hold one of the Tang's most revered Buddhist relics which was discovered by archeologists in 1987: the Buddha's finger bone.

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