If you’ve spent some time touring Asia, I’m sure you’ve gotten to the point where the temple circuit gets a little repetitive. After being in China for one year, in a historical city, full of temples, I was sure I was well acquainted with the temple experience. Also, when you’re living in a city abroad, you don’t feel the same pressure to see the local sights, you’ll be there a while and they’ll be plenty of time to see everything, but then when you near the end of your trip you realize there’s still so much left unseen. Being hungover on my days off, and with most sights closing around 4 or 5, it could be hard to get motivated, but after hearing from a friend who’d been in China for a few years that there was something special about Lingyin temple, I made sure to see it before I left. Lingyin is in fact a special temple. Also known as Temple of the Soul’s Retreat, it is one of the oldest and most famous temples in China, and also the richest.
It is still an active temple, and you can see monks wandering around, preforming ceremonial chants, checking their cell phones. There are also many Buddhist followers making offerings, burning incense and kneeling before the statues.
I often would get excited when visiting temples about signs pointing to caves, but upon finding them would be disappointed, these were not caves with stalactites and stalagmites but damp enclaves with a few dimly lit carvings. Lingyin is similar in that respect, but the carvings are much more impressive, and there are a few caves that can be crawled through until you pop out onto another path, if you’re willing to risk encountering millipedes.
Another thing that sets Lingyin apart is The Hall of Five Hundred Arhats (a spiritual leader in Buddhism), which contains slightly larger than life bronze replicas of various leaders, each one unique. Apparently you are supposed to pick your favourite Arhat and then count a certain number down from it and that will be your chosen Arhat, I suppose it’s similar to being confirmed with a saint.
The interesting thing about visiting temples in Asia, is that even though you will be surrounded by people , a peaceful calm resides due to the religious reverence held by the visitors. In China it can be near impossible to get away from people, you can go hiking in the mountains, and you’ll hear people yodeling, or clapping their hands for their circulation, in fact if you go anywhere that bears any semblance to an attraction you’re bound to find crowded paths and hawkers selling boiled corn or roasted yams. So a temple can be a valuable respite for a foreigner and Lingyin is by far the most remarkable I’ve encountered.