Jietai Temple is one of the well-known Buddhist temples in Beijing, housing the “No. 1 Ordination Altar in China”. Situated in Mentougou District in the western suburbs of Beijing, it is 35 kilometers from the city proper and is only 10 kilometers southeast of Tanzhe Temple.
With a history of more than 1,400 years, the Jietai Temple was first built Kaihuang period of the Sui Dynasty (581-600) and was originally called the Huiju Temple (Wisdom Accumulation Temple). Later in Liao Dynasty (1065 – 1074), a monk named Fajun founded an altar here, and eminent monks of the Jin, Ming and Qing dynasties all came to the temple in order to initiate people into the monkhood. Hence the temple is popularly called Jietai Temple (Temple of the Ordination Altar).
The white marble ordination altar housed in the temple is 3.5 meters high, consisting of three levels with exquisitely carved decoration in each level. On top of the altar, there is a statue of Sakyamuni sitting on a lotus pedestal. The ordination altar in Jietai Temple, known as the “No. 1 Ordination Altar in China”, is the largest of the three most famous ordination altars in China together with the altars in Zhaoqing Temple of Hangzhou and Kaiyuan Temple of Quanzhou in Fujian Province.
Facing the east, the Jietai Temple sits on a mountainside looking more like a fortress than a temple, surrounded by forbiddingly tall red walls. All the construction were built along the mountain, scattered but well arranged. With an area of 44,000 square meters, Jietai Temple boasts a complex of buildings with many courtyards, along the southern and northern axis. Along the southern axis stand the Entrance Gate, Hall of Heavenly Kings, Grand Hall, Thousand Buddha Pavilion, and Hall of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Along the northern axis is the Ordination Altar Yard, where the Hall of Ordination Altar, Hall of Great Compassion and Hall of 500 Arhats are built. Most of the buildings here seen at the temple now are from the Qing Dynasty. In the areas surrounding the temple, you can find a white marble archway, tomb pagodas and numerous mysterious caves amidst green pine and cypress trees.
Just as Tanzhe Temple is known for its springs, Jietai Temple is famous for its ancient pine trees. The temple is a tree-lover’s delight, and the five most famous pine trees in the temple are Nine-Dragon Pine, Sensitive Pine, Reclining Dragon Pine, Embracing Pagoda Pine and Carefree Pine. These ancient trees are top attractions, and they actually make the temple very popular. Of them, Nine-Dragon Pine, more than 1,300 years old, is the oldest “whitebark pine” in the world; and Sensitive Pine is the most interesting, because if one branch touched, the whole tree quivers. Emperor Qianlong wrote a poem to speak highly of it, which can still be seen now.
If you are lucky, you can witness religious activities at the temple that are usually held the first and 15th day of every lunar month.