Longhua Temple

First built in 242 AD during the Three Kingdoms Period (220–280), Shanghai’s Longhua Temple is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the “future” Maitreya Buddha. It is also famous for being the city’s largest, most authentic, and most complete ancient temple complex. Originally, the temple and monastery were also surrounded by extensive gardens and orchards, especially noted for their peach trees. Coinciding with the blossoming of the peach trees in Longhua Park, the Longhua Temple Fair, held annually on the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the Lunar Calendar going back to the Ming Dynasty (except during the Cultural Revolution and the SARS outbreak), is when dragons legendarily visit the temple to help grant people’s wishes.

Longhua Pagoda (below), also part of the complex, is said to be one of 13 pagodas used to house the cremated remains of the Buddha. The name Longhua, which literally means “Luster of the Dragon”, was given to the temple since a local legend claims that a dragon once appeared at the site. In his World War II-era autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun, J.G. Ballard describes the Japanese military use of the Longhua Pagoda as a flak-cannon tower. And in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of the book, the Pagoda is clearly visible above the prison camp.

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Although it has been reconstructed numerous times, the temple core retains the architectural design of a Song Dynasty (960–1279) monastery of the Chan School — the originating tradition of Zen Buddhism. However, the majority of the temple buildings were rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) and a modern restoration of the entire temple complex was completed in 1954. The layout of the temple is known as the Sangharama “Five-Hall Style”, where the five main halls are arranged along a central north-south axis. From the entrance, these are:

  1. Maitreya Hall – housing a statue of Maitreya Buddha and another in his manifestation as Budai (“Cloth bag monk”).
  2. Four Heavenly Kings Hall – housing statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, each of whom is believed to watch over one cardinal direction of the world.
  3. Mahavira Hall – the main hall, housing statues of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, and two of his disciples. At the back, a bas-relief carving includes a depiction of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in his female manifestation. There are also 20 Guardians of Buddhist Law around the front and the 16 principal arhats around the back, as well as an ancient bell cast in 1586, during the Ming Dynasty.
  4. Three Sages Hall – housing statues of the Amitābha Buddha (“The Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life”) and the Bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara (in his male form), and Mahāsthāmaprāpta (representing the power of wisdom).
  5. Abbot’s Hall – used for lectures and formal meetings.

There are also a Bell Tower and Drum Tower; a Buddhist Texts Library, housing sutras and other Buddhist works, as well as ceremonial instruments, antiques, and artifacts; and numerous Buddhist statues, including ones for each of the 500 arhats!

  • Visited: 2015

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