Lingyin Temple is nestled in a long, narrow valley between Fei Lai Feng (Peak flown from Afar) and North Peak to the northwest of the West Lake in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province. The temple is without doubt a premier showpiece in the West Lake area and is also notable 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 center for research on 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 and he was inspired by the spiritual nature of the scenery he found there. In his mind this had to be a dwelling of the Immortals and so he gave the temple a name "Lingyin". 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 contemplation.
The temple gained importance during the Five Dynasties (907-960 AD) when the King of the Wu Yue State initiated large-scale development of the temple as a sign of his devotion to Buddha. In its heyday, the temple comprised of nine buildings, 18 pavilions, 77 palaces and halls with ove1,300 rooms capable of providing accommodation for around three thousand monks. A monastery of 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
Lingyin temple, like many Chinese temples, is constructed according to a basic pattern. Built on a north-south axis with the main entrance to the south, it is surrounded by a protective perimeter wall. The main entrance, secured by heavy gates, is guarded by sculptures of the Four Guardian Warriors-protectors of the temple.
Upon entering the first hall of the temple, a tablet inscribed with words penned by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) can be seen. He was inspired by the sight of the temple shrouded in mist amongst the trees that surrounded it and gave it the title "Cloud Forest Buddhist Temple". This first great hall, with its double eaves at some 60 feet in height, is the "Hall of the Heavenly Kings." Upon the door is a couplet that reads "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 the delicately painted ceiling decorated with phoenixes and dragons is immediately eye-catching. 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, the Da Xiong Bao Dian can be seen. This is the Hall of the Great Saga. It is seven rooms wide, five rooms deep and single storey construction. The double-eaved roof soars to a pinnacle of 33.6 meters 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. This is one of the largest wooden statues in China and is covered with gold leaf. The statue is an impressive sight with its 20 saints flanking the walls and symbolizing the protection of justice 12 imposing disciples who serve as guards are also seated along the rear wall.
Continuing through the temple complex, the visitor arrives at the Pharmaceutical Master Hall, the Great Mercy Hall and the Cool Spring Pavilion. This latter pavilion was erected a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is a 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 along with many other treasures. As a consequence it is a great center of information for those who wish to study aspects of Chinese Buddhism in detail. The palaces, pavilions and halls and their many figures of Buddhist deities represent a splendid and unique collection of architectural and artistic cultural relics. The various buildings and pagodas date from the Southern Song (1127-1279), Ming (1368-1644) and Tang dynasties. Among the ancient writings are scriptures written on pattra leaves, the Diamond Sutra copied by Dong Qichang in the Ming Dynasty and a wood cut edition published during the Qing Dynasty.
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'.