You will find Ling Yin
Temple in a long, narrow valley between Fei Lai Feng (Peak flown
from Afar) and North Peak to the northwest of the
West Lake at
Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. The
temple is without doubt a premier showpiece in the West Lake
environs and is notable also as one of the ten most famous Buddhist
temples of China. In 1961 the temple was listed for protection as a
key provincial historical and cultural site and is considered a
leading centre for research relative to Chinese Buddhist culture.
The presence of a temple on this site can be traced back to the
Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 - 420AD) when, according to local legend,
Huili an Indian monk came to the area where he was inspired by the
spiritual nature of the scenery to be found here. To his mind this
had to be a dwelling of the Immortals and so he gave the temple a
name "Ling Yin (Temple of the Soul's Retreat). The Chinese name is
translated into English as either "Temple of the Soul's Retreat' or
'Temple of Inspired Seclusion' for the setting has a quiet and
beautiful grandeur that encourages a feeling of peace and for
The temple was to gain in importance during the Five Dynasties
(907-960 AD) when the King of the Wu Yue State initiated a
large-scale development of the temple as a sign of his devotion to
Buddha. In its heyday, the temple comprised nine buildings, eighteen
pavilions, seventy-seven palaces and halls with over thirteen
hundred rooms providing accommodation for around three thousand
monks. A monastery on this scale is difficult to imagine and
needless to say over the centuries it has been subjected to many
changes of fortune due to wars, religious repression and other
calamities. The main temple that can be seen today is a result of
the restoration that was carried out in 1974 following the ten-year
Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Upon entering the first hall of the temple, you will see a tablet
inscribed with words penned by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty
(1644 - 1911). He was inspired by the sight of the temple shrouded
in mist amongst the trees that surround it and gave it the title
'Cloud Forest Buddhist Temple'. This first great hall, with its
double eaves and some sixty feet in height, is the 'Hall of the
Heavenly Kings.' Upon the door is a couplet that says 'Let us sit
and wait upon the threshold, where we shall see another peak flying
from afar. Let us welcome spring with a smile as the snow melts and
the brook starts to flow once more.'
Upon entering the Hall your eyes will be drawn to the delicately
painted ceiling decorated with phoenixes and dragons. Images of the
Four Heavenly Kings stand upon either side of the Maitreya, a
laughing Buddha with a huge belly who is said to be able to 'endure
all intolerance and laugh at every laughable person in the world,'
as he welcomes those who enter the hall. On passing through this
hall and crossing the courtyard beyond, you then enter the Da Xiong
Bao Dian. This is the Hall of the Great Hero. It is seven rooms
wide, five rooms deep and single storey construction. The double
evaded roof soars to a pinnacle of 33.6 meters (110 feet) making it
probably the highest single storey buildings to be found in China.
The hall houses a statue of Sakyamuni carved from 24 sections of
camphor wood with an overall height of 24.8 meters (82 feet). This
is one of the largest wooden statues in China and is covered with
gold leaf. The statue is flanked on either side by twenty saints.
These are said to be protectors of justice. Twelve disciples who
serve as guards are seated along the rear wall. The figures are a
very imposing and impressionable sight to behold.
Continuing through the temple complex, you will come in turn to the
Pharmaceutical Master Hall, Great Mercy Hall and the Cool Spring
Pavilion. This latter pavilion was erected a thousand years ago
during the Tang Dynasty. It is very pleasant place to linger during
the heat of summer when the softly murmuring spring has a cooling
effect upon its surroundings.
The Temple contains an important collection of Buddhist literature
together with many other treasures. As a consequence it is a great
centre of information for those who wish to study aspects of Chinese
Buddhism in detail. The palaces, pavilions and halls together with
their many figures of Buddhist deities represent in total a splendid
and unique collection of architectural and artistic cultural relics.
The various buildings and pagodas date from the Southern Song, Ming
and Tang Dynasties. Among the ancient writings are scriptures
written on patria leaves, the Diamond Sutra copied by Dong Qichang
in the Ming Dynasty and a wood cut edition published during the Qing
To add a final memorable touch to your visit, it is very pleasant to
dine at the Ling Yin Vegetarian Restaurant located near to the
Temple. The vegetarian dishes on offer are typical of the Chinese
culinary style and it is little wonder that in such a setting the
excellent repast is frequently regarded as 'food for the gods'.