Pilgrimage: Hongluosi, Home of Priceless Artifacts and Heartwarming Legends

- through Francois Leclercq

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Statue of the two fairies in Hongluosi. From cntgol.com


There is an ancient Chinese proverb, “Putuo in the south and Hongluo in the north”. It describes the importance of the Hongluosi (紅螺寺) or Hongluo temple in Beijing in the country's history. The famous Chinese monk Yinguang (印光) (1862–1940), during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (光绪) (1875–1908), traveled to Hongluosi to study Pure Land practice before founding the Pure Land Temple in Putuo (Green China). This is just one example of how even emperors appreciated the importance of Hongluosi, which only increased over time.

History of Hongluosi

Hongluo Temple, over 1 years old, is located in Huairou (怀柔区城) district. This region is widely recognized as the spiritual epicenter of northern China and the cradle of the Buddhist faith. During the Eastern Jin Dynasty (800-317), a prominent monk named Fo Tucheng (佛图澄), impressed by the spiritual ambience and environment, built a temple called "Daming Temple" (大明寺) in 420. The temple's name was eventually changed to better reflect prevailing local myths about the Hongluo (Chang Cheng) fairy. We will learn more about this connection below.

Entrance to the main courtyard of Hongluosi. Photo by Raymond Lam

Various dynasties have maintained close ties with Hongluosi throughout history. For example, Emperor Taizong Li Shimin (唐太宗李世民) (598-649) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) funded the expansion of the temple to promote national unity and harmony. Emperor Shizong (金世宗) (1123-1189) of the Jurchen-ruled Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) designated Hongluosi as the ancestral temple of the royal family. He appointed Chan Master Fojue (佛觉禅师), the Buddhist master revered by his mother, abbot of Hongluosi. Master Fojue preached Buddhism in Hongluosi for many years, attracting large crowds and promoting the piety of the imperial family. As with Shizong (金世宗), the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) also granted Hongluosi the role of the clan temple of the khan. During the time of Kublai Khan's grandfather, Genghis Khan, a "Proclamation Stele" (榜示碑) reads: "Hongluo Mountain Daming Temple is a traditional place of worship for longevity" and “no one should disturb or cause trouble in the temple.” (Chang Cheng)

In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Emperor Yingzong Zhu Qizhen (英宗朱祁镇) (1427-1464) visited the temple to offer incense and saw the Buddha's crown emitting light, which he believed to be an auspicious omen of protection and blessings. . Therefore, he named the temple “Huguo Zifu Chan Temple (护国资福禅寺)” which is still inscribed on the mountain gate. In 1437, Emperor Yingzong's older sister, Princess of Shunde (顺德长公主), married, and the royal family sponsored the renovation of the temple. Emperor Tianqi (明熹宗朱由校) (1605-27) granted Hongluosi a "Tianqi Large Bronze Bell (天启大铜钟)" in 1626, which has been kept in Daxiong Hall for nearly 400 years. (Chang Cheng)

Main courtyard of Hongluosi. Photo by Raymond Lam

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Regent Dorgon (摄政王多尔衮) (1612-50) cast a bell bearing the words "Protect the Great Qing and ensure its eternal stability" in Hongluosi. During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (清嘉庆年间) (1760-1820), the dynasty erected the "Four Border Stelae (四至石碑)" in front of Daxiong Hall of Hongluo Temple. Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) (1835-1908) of the late Qing wrote the words "fortune" and "longevity", which hung in the guest hall of the temple's east courtyard. Soon after returning to the palace, she sent two treasures, "Four Jade Screens" (四扇玉屏风) and "Nine-Loop Lotus Lantern" (九曲莲花灯), to the temple. The jade screens were placed in the living room, while the lotus lantern was hung in front of the statue of Sakyamuni in the center of Daxiong Hall. (Chang Cheng)

temple legends

There are various local traditions regarding the origin of the name Hongluosi. One of the myths is that the two daughters of the Jade Emperor, a pair of fairies, descended into the world from the Celestial Palace. During their wanderings, they came across a large mountain, where they were swept away by the peaceful and exquisite ambience. This sacred and serene area compelled them to stay. They assumed human forms during the day so that they could join the monks in worshiping the Buddha and reciting texts in the temple. At night, they transformed into two huge red snails that lived in the temple's Liberation Pool (now known as Hongluo Spring) and shone thousands of red lights that created a red cloud that enveloped the temple. and the base of the mountain.

Since their arrival, the fairies have ensured the safety of the temple and the inhabitants using their divine power. The weather has been pleasant, forests have flourished, food is plentiful, and citizens have found contentment in their daily lives. (cntgol.com)

Entrance to Guanyinsi. Photo by Raymond Lam

The Jade Emperor later learned that the two fairies had lingered on Earth and called them back to the Heavenly Palace. The locals named the mountain north of the temple "Hongluo Mountain" in recognition of the good deeds of the two Hongluo fairies and in the hope that the fairies would return one day. (cntgol.com)

The second myth concerns the ghost of a black fish that in Yanshan Lake frequently caught boys and girls living in the area and consumed them. The population expressed widespread alarm and asked for divine intervention. The news reached the Jade Emperor, prompting him to send a fairy to stop the spirit of the black fish. The battle between the fairy and the ghost of the black fish lasted eight days and eight nights before the fairy triumphed. The fairy felt sorry for the locals, so she took the form of a giant red snail and took up residence in the lake. Later generations honored it by naming the mountain north of Lake Hongluo Mountain and building Hongluosi at its base. (cntgol.com)

Guanyinsi's main hall. Photo by Raymond Lam

An oasis of calm on an island of beauty

Hongluosi continues to play a vital role in promoting national harmony and unity over many centuries. These tales and myths that have been told from generation to generation and are more than just stories. They recall the power of hope, kindness and benevolence of supernatural powers. Thinking about the treasures and myths of Hongluosi brings out the truth that everything is interconnected: ageless wisdom at the heart of Buddhist teachings.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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