Sunday, July 08, 2007

Yuquan Temple in Yuxi

Yesterday I travelled by coach from Kunming to the town of Yuxi to visit friends. The journey is only 70 minutes in air conditioned comfort through some outstanding mountainous scenery.

I was quite astonished to find a large new temple compound, completed in 2001, on 60 mu (about 10 acres) just outside the town. The Yuquan (Jade Spring) Temple has 5 large pavilions modelled on the Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou. The Sakyamuni Buddha image is 32 metres high making it, according to the sign outside, "the largest indoor Buddha in Asia" . There is also a very fine enormous lying Buddha image in jade that was imported from Burma.

Evidently this complex cost 150 million yuan (over $20 million Canadian dollars) to build. The money apparently came largely from local people in this prosperous town. Yuxi derives its considerable wealth from the Hongtashan (Red Pagoda) cigarette factory. That is a popular brand which does a lot of sales abroad. The entire town is very beautifully maintained with tropical vegetation and flowering bushes throughout. Yuxi is encircled by misty mountains. The general aspect of the place is paradise-like.

There is nothing modern about the construction of the Yuquan Temple's massive buildings and the beautifully landscaped courtyards. No concession to modern methods has been made in its construction. Elaborate traditional woodwork including unique carving of every window and screen (and there are hundreds of them) dominates, so the Temple compound has the air of having been a place of worship for hundreds of years, not just 6 years. This exquisite temple is just 6 years old! That aspect of it gave me pause for thought.

When I was a student in China in the 1970s, I would use old guide books to try and locate ancient temples in the mountains. All I ever found was the charred and battered remains of buildings that had been destroyed by Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution only a few years before. It was quite discouraging.

But on the Sunday morning I went to the Yuquan Temple there were no tourists aside from us, but I saw some people praying. And the fragrance of incense burning and the faint sound of monks chanting in the distance gently permeated the pavilions and courtyards.

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