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Yonghe Lamasery

 

Yonghegong, popularly known as the "Lama Temple", is a famous lamasery in the northeastern part of the old city of Beijing. It is located next to the northern side of the Second Ring Road, with the Temple of Cypress Grove to its east and the Temple of Confucius and the Imperial Academy to the west. Yonghegong Lamasery is also a well-known monastery of the Gelugpa, Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the mainland of China.

Originally Yonghegong Lamasery was the residence of the Prince Yong, the fourth son of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. After Yong prince succeeded the throne in 1723, he moved to the Forbidden City and became the Emperor Yongzheng. Based on his religious policy, some lama monasteries were erected and Lamaism was especially encouraged by Emperor Qianlong as a means of maintaining political unity with Mongolia and Tibet. In order to safeguard territorial integrity, security and peace, and strengthen its unity with the minority ethnic groups in these areas, Emperor Qianlong changed Yongzheng to a lamasery. In this way religion played a very important role in promoting harmony and closing the relationship with the Mongolian and Tibetan people.

Yonghegong Lamasery mainly consists of seven courtyards from south to north. The five main buildings are: the Gate of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Eternal Blessings, the Hall of Dharma Wheel, and the Pavilion of Ten-thousand-happiness. They are all built along the north-south central axis.

Firstly, we will go into the Gate of Harmony and Peace. It is actually a hall rather a gate. According to the Buddhist tradition, the first hall in a lamasery is usually called the Hall of Heavenly Kings. Inside the hall, a gilded wooden statue of Maitreya Buddha is in the center sitting on a golden throne with a smiling face, flanked by the four Heavenly Kings. Behind the shrine of statue of Buddha Maitreya inside the back gate of the hall, there is a white marble seat on which stands the figure of Skanda Weituo facing backwards to the north. Whenever there is a temple, the statue of Weituo is seen at the back of the first hall, serving as the symbol of a loyal protector.

Walk out from the first hall, we can see the Bronze Tripod Incense Burner, the Imperial Stele Pavilion and the Mount Sumeru. Go through them, we will go into the second hall, the Hall of Harmony and Peace. This is the main hall in the lamasery. Inside the hall, there are three big bronze Buddhist statues and two small ones worship respectively. The three big Buddha statues, about 2 meters high, are sitting enshrined while the two small statues are standing, and all of them are gilded. The three Buddhas are Buddhas of the Three Ages: the Present Buddha Sakyamuni is in the center; the Past Buddha Ran Deng standing for the past is on the left and the Future Buddha Maitreya is on the right. Sakyamuni used to be named Gautama Sakyamuni. He is the founder of Buddhism. On both sides of the hall there are 18 figures of Arhats, 9 on each side. According to the Buddhist scripture, the monk who cultivates has moral character that can lead to three results: the first will be Arhat, the second one will be Bodhisattva and the best one will become a Buddha. So Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhat are three ranks for the monks, but to be even an Arhat is not that easy, for he has to give up all desires and irritations and surpass all the troubles of eternal cycle of birth and death.

The Hall of Eternal Blessing used to be the bedroom and reading room for Emperor Yongzheng when he was still a prince. In the hall, three big gilded Buddha statues, 2 meters high in each, were engraved out of white sandalwood and placed on a stone-carved base. The one in the middle, with the Buddha-Crown on head and a treasure vase in hand, is the Longevity Buddha. It is said that he is the founder of the Legendary Paradise, and he is also the Buddha guiding to the Western Paradise. The statue to its west is the Buddha of Pharmacy. To its east, is the Lion-roaring Buddha.

The Hall of Dharma Wheel is the largest hall in Yonghegong Lamasery. In the early morning everyday, all the lamas in Yonghegong Lamasery are dressed in religious robes and assembled here to pray and read scriptures. Religious activities and prayer service are also held here in Yonghegong on religious festivals and memorial days. There is a gilded bronze statue of Master Tsongkhapa in the center of the hall. He was the founder of the Yellow Sect, which is the most popular religion of Buddhism in Tibet. After Tsongkhapa died, Dalai and Banchan were deemed as the reincarnations of Tsongkhapa and succeeded the throne of the Living Buddhas. On both sides of the statue of Master Tsongkhapa, there are two seats. The seat on the west was for Dalai Lama, and the east one for Banchan Erdeni.


The Ten-thousand-happiness Pavilion also known as the Tower of the Great Buddha is the highest building in Yonghegong Lamasery. There is a huge statue of Buddha inside. This is the Future Buddha----Maitreya. It is 26 meters high, 18 meters above the ground and 8 meters underground. According to the historical record, this was a gift for Emperor Qianlong from the 7th Dalai Lama. In Qing Dynasty, the Dalai Lama heard that the Emperor Qianlong planned to construct lamasery and to erect huge statue of Buddha. The 7th Dalai Lama immediately sent people to look for a huge tree. Finally they found this huge sandalwood, and sent it to Beijing as a gift to Emperor Qianlong had helped him by sending troops to Tibet to put down a rebellion and turned the power back to the 7th Dalai Lama. It took three years to ship this huge tree to Beijing and another three years for carving. It was recorded in the "Guinness Book of World Records" in 1990.

Besides the structures described above, the Yonghe lamasery has a number of auxiliary buildings lining the courtyards on the east and west, many of which display exotic Lamaist sculptures and paintings. The buildings set along the central axis rise progressively from south to north, and a visitor entering from the southernmost gate looking north will see a series of roof-ridges rising impressively one above the next.

The lamaseries house a treasury of Buddhist art. To mention a few of the most interesting items: examples of the calligraphy of Qing emperors written on scrolls and inscribed on stelae; bronze lions and incense burners; sculptured images of gods, demons and Buddhas; and Tibetan-style murals.

Suggestion: Souvenirs may be purchased by negotiation in the Lamasery, and the incenses for sale here are perfect.

Admission Fee: CNY 25
Opening Hours: 09:00 to 16:00
Recommended
Time for a Visit:
One hour
Bus Route: 13, 18, 44, 62, 116, 407, 807

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