Mount Wutai, also known as Wutai Mountain (literally Five-Platform Mountain), is located in Wutai County, Xinzhou City in Shanxi Province, about 230 kilometers from Taiyuan, the provincial capital. Mount Wutai is one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism in China, and one of China’s Top Ten Famous Mountains. With its cool and pleasant summer, Mount Wutai has also long been a summer resort of good reputation, thus receiving its alternate name – Mount Qingliang (Clear Cool Mountain). Mount Wutai was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.
Buddhist Culture in Mount Wutai
In the 11th year of Yongping in the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 68), two Buddhist masters from India came from the White Horse Temple in Luoyang to the Wutai Mountain, discovering that its topography is similar to that of Vulture Peak (Griddha Kuta Hill) where Sakyamuni had practiced Buddhism. After they returned to Luoyang, they requested the emperor to build a temple in Wutai Mountain. The completed temple was named the Dafu Lingjiu Temple (“Dafu” means great faith and “Lingjiu” means vulture). Thus, the White Horse Temple and Dafu Lingjiu Temple (the predecessor of Xiantong Temple today) became China’s earliest temples.
Known for its time-honored history in temple establishment and its large scale, Mount Wutai ranks the first among the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism in China, and is generally called Golden Wutai, the other three being the Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province, Mount Emei in Sichuan Province, and Mount Jiuhua in Anhui Province. Each of the four sacred Buddhist mountains is viewed as a bodhimaṇḍa of one of the four great bodhisattvas, and Mount Wutai is the home of Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjusri or Wenshu in Chinese. Many temples and halls have been built here to enshrine Manjusri. Most temples have a Wenshu Hall, and some Wenshu halls are even larger than the Grand Hall where Sakyamuni is enshrined.
The Taihuai Town of Wutai County, with over half of the temples in Mount Wutai built around, is the center of Mount Wutai’s religious and economic events. It has received a great many Buddhist pilgrims from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Burma, Silla and Japan.
During the Qing Dynasty, Lamaism was introduced into Wutai Mountain. Mount Wutai is China’s only holy mountain where both Han Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are practiced.
In the Tang Dynasty when Buddhism reached its zenith, there were as many as over 360 temples in Wutai Mountain, but now only 41 of them exist. Among them, Foguang Temple and Nanchan Temple are the two earliest surviving timber buildings, and the Xiantong Temple, Tayuan Temple, Pusading Temple, Shuxiang Temple and Luohou Temple are the five most famous temples for Buddhist practices.
The Xiantong Temple, first built in 68 during the Eastern Han Dynasty, is the largest and one of the oldest temples in Wutai Mountain, occupying an area of 80,000 square meters. Now, it plays the most important role among the temples, therefore, the Buddhist Association of Mount Wutai is situated here. The bell hanging in the Bell Tower of the Xiantong Temple is the heaviest copper bell of Mount Wutai, weighing nearly 5 tons.
The Tayuan Temple is situated to the south of the Xiantong Temple, and was originally part of it. A big white sarira stupa, designed by a Nepalese architect, was built in 1302 during the Yuan Dynasty in the temple. When the stupa was repaired in the Ming Dynasty, the temple became independent of Xiantong Temple and was then named Tayuan Temple (the Temple of Stupa Yard). The towering stupa, looking magnificent around the temples, is now regarded as the symbol of Mount Wutai.
Located on the Vulture Peak to the north of Xiantong Temple, the Pusading Temple, also called Great Wenshu Temple, is the biggest Lamaist temple in Mount Wutai. It was originally built in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), and rebuilt and expanded in the Qing Dynasty. Its structure was modeled on the imperial palace with three-colored tiles and fine-polished blue bricks, and its grand luxury ranks the top of all temples in Mount Wutai.
The Shuxiang Temple, built in the Yuan Dynasty, is the southwest neighbor of Tayuan Temple. In this temple, you will see a nearly 9.9-meter-high statue of the Manjusri Bodhisattva riding on a suanni, a legendary animal, which is the tallest statue of Manjusri Bodhisattva in Mount Wutai.
To the east of the Xiantong Temple is the Luohou Temple, which was set up as a Lamaist temple in the Tang Dynasty. One of its wonders is a wooden lotus-shaped flower. A mechanic device turns it so the wooden petals could open and close. Inside are carved Buddhist figures on a square platform.
Major Scenic Spots
Mount Wutai is the highest in the northern China. Originally named Mount Wufeng (meaning Five Peaks Mountain), Mount Wutai is surrounded by five flat-topped peaks spreading on a 250-sq-km area in the east, south, west, north, and middle, and the five peaks have an average altitude of over 3,000 meters.
With a height of 2,795 meters above sea level, the East Peak, also named Wanghai Peak (Peak Overlooking the Sea), is an ideal place to admire the beautiful sea of clouds and the sunrise in the morning.
The South Peak, also called Jinxiu Peak, is 2,485 meters above sea level. This peak looks like an over-turned bowel and its beauty is in the colorful flowers that grow all over it.
The West Peak, also named Guayue Peak (Hanging Moon Peak), reaches an altitude of 2,773 meters. This peak is known and so named for its unique sight in the evening when you can see the elegant and graceful moon hanging like a mirror above the dense pine trees on the flat open peak.
The North Peak, also named Yedou Peak, is the main peak of the mountain. With a height of 3,058 meters above sea level, it is known as the Roof Ridge of North China. Looking towards the north from the peak, you can see Mount Hengshan blanketed in endless greenery.
The Central Peak, rising 2,894 meters above sea level, is also called Cuiyan Peak (Peak of Green Rocks). The rocks are green not because of their own color, but because of the moss on their surface.