The White Horse Temple (Baima Si) in Luoyang, Henan Province, was the first Buddhist temple in China, established by Emperor Mingdi in the year 68 AD. The historic, leafy site features several ancient buildings and a highly devotional atmosphere.
History of White Horse Temple
According to legend, the Eastern Han emperor Mingdi dreamed of a golden figure flying over his palace with the sun and moon behind its head. The emperor told his ministers about the dream, and they suggested the figure may be the Buddha in India.
A delegation was thus sent to India to learn more about Buddhism. After three years, the delegation returned with two eminent Indian Buddhit monks, She Moteng and Zhu Falan (also spelled Kasyapamatanga and Dharmavanya or Moton and Chufarlan). The monks brought with them a white horse carrying a bundle of Buddhist sutras and figures.
The next year, the emperor ordered the construction of White Horse Temple to honor the arrival of Buddhism in China and the horse that carried back the sutras. It was China's first Buddhist temple. The introduction of Buddhism in China would have a significant influence not only in the religious sphere, but on Chinese morals, philosophy and ethics.
The first Chinese version of the Sutra of Forty-two Sections was produced at the White Horse Temple, and the temple increased in importance as Buddhism grew within China and spread to Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
In 258, a royal Kuchean monk, Po-Yen, translated six Buddhist texts into Chinese at the temple, including the important Infinite Life Sutra. In 1992, with the assistance of Thai and Chinese donors, the Hall of the Thai Buddha was constructed slightly west of the old temple.
What to See at White Horse Temple
The layout of Baima Si is in keeping with the founding legend - there are two stone horses, one on either side of the entrance, and the tombs of the two Indian monks (earthen mounds surrounded by round stone walls), lie in the first courtyard.
Home to a thriving community of Buddhist monks, the temple is primarily a place of worship and not all areas are open to tourists. Over-inquisitive visitors are tactfully but firmly pointed in the right direction. A sense of peace and quiet pervades the leafy complex, in marked contrast to the busy highway and pushy souvenir sellers outside.
The complex covers an area of 200mu and faces south. A stone archway has been recently built 150 metres in front of the original gate. Between the archway and gate lies a pool with fountains, spanned by three stone bridges.
The visitor first encounters the Hall of Celestial Guardians (or Heavenly Kings), originally built in the Yuan Dynasty and decorated in the Qing Dynasty. Beyond this is the Main Hall (or Hall of Great Buddha), from the Ming Dynasty, which houses a large statue of Sakyamuni Buddha flanked by figures of Manjusri and Samantabhadra.
Near the Great Altar in the Main Hall is an ancient bell weighing more than a ton. It is still struck in time with the chanting of the monks. Its inscription reads: "The sound of the Bell resounds in Buddha's temple causing the ghosts in Hell to tremble with fear."
Behind the Main Hall is the Cool and Clear Terrace, where it is said the original sutras brought by the white horse were stored and translated.
In the magnificently decorated Hall of Mahavira (Yuan Dynasty), the roof is carved with colorful lotus patterns and the walls are hung with thousands of wooden statues. In the center is a two-story Buddhist shrine exquisitely carved with birds in flight and giant winding dragons. Sakyamuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha are surrounded by 18 arhats, all made from silk and hemp.
Other structures at Baima SiI include the Hall of Greeting, the Clear Terrace and the pavilion. On each side of the pavilion are the Sutra House and the Magic Weapon House.
Evidence of the devotional importance of the White Horse Temple can be seen throughout the compound: offerings of fruit pile on the altars, multicolored clothes hang from the ceilings, lighted candles float in basins of water and gusts of incense rise from the burners in the courtyards.
Outside the temple is the tiered, brick Qiyun Pagoda, the oldest of China's ancient pagodas. It is one of the most precious Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) structures in the Central Plains of China. If you stand south of the pagoda and clap your hands, the echoes sound like frogs croaking. This perplexing phenomenon attracts many curious tourists every day.
Quick Facts on White Horse Temple
|Names:||Baimi Si · White Horse Temple|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||34.723912° N, 112.599714° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near White Horse Temple|
- The Rough Guide to China 4 (October 2005), 298-99.
- White Horse Temple - Wikipedia
- White Horse Temple - TravelChinaGuide
- Photos of White Horse Temple - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of White Horse Temple, Luoyang
Below is a location map and aerial view of White Horse Temple. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.