IX – Reflecting time on Spirituality and Philosophy…

Churches, basilicas, abbeys, monasteries, and cathedrals are numerous in Europe. These holy places are often popular tourist sites. Some people might not understand why… But I actually think that you can appreciate the beauty of some sacred places, whether you’re a believer or an atheist. You can enjoy architectural works, sculptures, stained glass, paintings, peace & quiet atmosphere,…

Close-up view of the entrance to the YongHeGong Lama Temple.

I can definitely say that I’ve visited quite a few of them while traveling in Europe. But I’ve never been inside a Temple in my life and I don’t know much about buddhism either…until today! I was on my way to visit the YongHeGong Lama Temple, also known as the ‘Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple’.

For my general culture, I previously read some articles about this temple’s history: “After Prince YongZheng’s ascension (Qing dynasty) to the throne in 1722, half of the building was converted into a lamasery, a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism, while the other half remained an imperial palace. After YongZheng’s death in 1735, his coffin was placed in the temple for mourners. YongZheng’s successor, emperor QianLong, gave the temple imperial status. The monastery became then a lamasery and a residence for large numbers of Tibetan Buddhist monks from Mongolia and Tibet“.

Gate of Peace Declaration (ZhaoTaiMen), patterned with decorative dragons and flowers.

YongHeGong Lama Temple is along a North-South central axis, which has a length of 480m. There are  five  main halls separated by courtyards: the Hall of Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang Dian or Devaraja Hall), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (YongHeGong), the Hall of Everlasting Protection (YongYouDian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (FalunDian), and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses (WanFuGe).

A close-up view of the decorative dragons and flowers.

In the 1st court, there’s a glazed-tile arch, ZhaoTaiMen, patterned with decorative dragons and flowers.

Board of Yonghe Temple

You then reach a three arch gate, named the Gate of Peace. The central passageway was only for emperors.

Walking through it, you then reach a three arch gate, named the Gate of Peace.

In the second court, on each side of the Gate of Peace, stand a Bell Tower and Drum Tower.

………………………………………………In the 2nd court stand a Bell Tower, a Drum Tower and 2 pavilions symmetrically opposite one another. Inscriptions in Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan are engraved on slates to record the temple’s history.

A close-up of the Bell

A lion playing with his ball. Again.

The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is actually no more than an entrance to the other four main halls.

………………….I walk towards the Hall of the Heavenly Kings. In the center stands a smiling statue of the Maitreya Buddha with a sandalwood pagoda on each side. On each pagoda stand many small Buddhist images, which symbolize longevity.

At the center is a statue of Maitreya who is beaming with a kindly smile and sitting with his legs crossed.

The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is so-called because Four Heavenly Kings are enshrined in the hall.

Along the walls, I see the statues of the 4 fearsome Kings (or ‘Celestial Guardians’).

Beautiful courtyard.

On stepping out of the Hall of the Heavenly Kings there's another cute courtyard.

…………………………………………………I loved the main building of YongHeGong, the Hall of Harmony and Peace. It houses three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages. A statue of Gautama Buddha (Buddha of the Present, also called Sakyamuni) is in the center, flanked by a statue of Kasyapa Matanga (Buddha of the Past, right) and Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the Future, left).

Dipamkara, Buddha of the Past on the left.

Sakyamuni, Buddha of the Present in the middle.

Sakyamuni, Buddha of the Present in the middle. Flanking Sakyamuni are statues of Ananda and Kasyapa, his two disciples.

Maitreya, Buddha of the Future on the right.

…………………………………………………………..And, my second favorite building was the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses (love the name too). It contains an amazingly 18m-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha. The statue is carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood and was in the Guinness Book of Records in 1993!

A magnificent 18m-high statue of the Maitreya Buddha.

First impressions of my first visit of a buddhist temple: a very very quiet & serene atmosphere, with a strong smell of incense in the air (it almost hurts my eyes), and a distant sound of monks chanting. I was intrigued by the different offers displayed at the feet of buddhas and the prayers. People close their eyes while holding burning incense in their hands. They say their prayer, and then bow three times in front of the buddha…or they knelt down and their forehead touch the ground three times. It’s fascinating!

Another view on a courtyard. It's really peaceful!

Close by, there’s the Confucius Temple (KongMiao), where people could pay homage to Confucius during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) – and still today.

Confucius was a Chinese thinker and one of the greatest social philosophers in ancient China. He was concerned with how to cultivate good character, how people interact in society, and how to learn and experience new things.

The Confucius Temple is close by, it can be easily be visited after the Lama Temple.

Confucius and me.

The Chengxian street, where is located the Confucius Temple.

……..-“To hear much, select what is good and follow it”- Confucius.

This temple is a real haven of tranquility with halls, pavilions, courtyards, ancient cypress and juniper trees (one of the cypress trees is over 700 years old!). The main structures include Xianshi Gate (Gate of the First Teacher), Dacheng Gate (Gate of Great Accomplishment), Dacheng Hall (Hall of Great Accomplishment) and Chongshengci (Worship Hall). Again, the complex is huge!

Confucius was one of the greatest philosophers in ancient China.

Walking the grounds here instantly took me to a zen state of mind. Away from the traffic and the crowded city’s madness, it’s a quiet, serene and peaceful atmosphere. You are alone with your thoughts… reflecting on philosophy, religion, spirituality, life,…

-“Study without thought is labor lost; thought without study is dangerous”- Confucius.

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