The Temple of Azure Clouds (Biyun Temple) is a Buddhist temple located at the eastern foot of Jubao Hill in Haidian District of Beijing, approximately 20 km from the city center. The well-preserved garden-style temple boasts a compact layout and is known for its fine scenery.
The Temple of Azure Clouds was first built in 1331 during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), with the name of the Nunnery of Azure Clouds. It was rebuilt and enlarged in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The temple buildings are on the gradually sloping hillside, rising almost 100 meters from the temple’s main gate at the foot of the hill to the highest point. The main buildings in the temple include a white stone bridge, Hall of Heavenly Kings, Mahavira Hall, Tablets Pavilion, Hall of Bodhisattvas, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Vajrasana Pagoda, and Hall of the Arhats.
Entering the temple, you will see two Buddhist guardians which were carved during the Ming Dynasty with each measuring 4.8 meters in height. Inside the first compound are the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, while in the center stands the Hall of Heavenly Kings, which houses a bronze image of Maitreya Buddha cast in the Ming Dynasty. A goldfish pond in this courtyard is surrounded by ancient sal trees, white-bark sandalwood trees and gingko trees.
The second courtyard contains the Mahavira Hall. Inside the hall stand images of Sakyamuni and his disciples. A series of clay figurines standing against the walls make up a diorama of the monk Xuanzang’’s passage to India in quest of Buddhist scriptures.
The principal building in the third courtyard is the Hall of Bodhisattvas. The buildings in the fourth courtyard consist of the Rear Hall and its auxiliary halls, all of which are laid out in an orderly and harmonious manner. This complex now serves as the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, in which lies an empty crystal coffin presented by the Soviet government in 1925 in memory of Sun Yat-sen (his body was buried in Nanjing). Photos of Sun Yat-sen, his writing, books, and the statue are also exposed on both sides.
In the pagoda courtyard, there are two beautifully carved memorial archways, behind which stand the magnificent Vajrasana Pagoda, which is the main attraction of the temple. The Indian-influenced Vajrasana Pagoda was constructed in 1736-1795 during the Qing Dynasty with a height of 34.7 meters. In the middle of the square base is a high square tower surrounded by four small square pagodas, all covered with exquisite relief carvings of Buddhas, devaraja and warriors, dragons, phoenixes, lions and elephants. On the first floor of the Vajrasana Pagoda, you can find the cenotaph of Sun Yat-sen.
The Hall of the Arhats, designed in the form of a Greek cross, was modeled after that in Jingci Temple in Hangzhou. There are altogether 500 gilded wooden images and seven Buddha mages crowded in to the hall. Each of these fine specimens of Qing Dynasty woodcarving has its own individual personalities and expressions. It has been said that one of these Arhats is the statue of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. In addition to these life-sized images, there is also a miniature statue of Jigong in the hall. Rather than sitting on a pedestal among his fellows, he is found perching on an overhead beam. The legend tells that he was unable to find a seat among the other immortals for arriving late.
- The Temple of Azure Clouds is located north of the Fragrant Hills Park. A stone-paved road leads from the front gate of Fragrant Hills Park directly to the entrance gate of the temple.
- As the landmark of the Temple of Azure Clouds, the Vajrasana Pagoda stands on the highest spot of the temple and can be seen towering amidst green trees from a far distance. When you climb up to the top, it is a perfect observational position to view all the scenery in the suburbs of Beijing City.
- It’s superb to visit the Temple of Azure Clouds in the autumn, when the abundant maple leaves turn a flaming red.