Luoyang – an adventure in Chinese Buddhism

Hundreds of thousands of hand-chiseled Buddha effigies and the first Buddhist temple in China also call Luoyang home. These were our destinations for day two.

Longmen Grottoes

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Longmen Grottoes are an impressive monument to Buddhism in China. For more than 1,500 years, believers left their marks of devotion by carving intricate statues, symbols and guardians into man-made caves along the banks of the Yi River just south of Luoyang.

Even amidst the hordes of tourists, this site is a must-see destination not only to see the monuments but also the destruction from early twentieth century looters and from the Cultural Revolution, which left scars of missing heads, hands and complete statues scattered through the grottoes.

It is hard to explain the coolness of this place in words, so just look at the pictures. Due to the extreme smog I didn’t get any great shots from across the river, but I think some of the close-ups are decent.

The park has four areas including a temple and tomb. Also, indicative of most big Chinese tourist destinations, there is a big tourist village before the ticket booth for all your curio needs.

White Horse Temple

Buddhism was carried into China on white horses by monks from the West. When they reached Luoyang, the Emperor had a temple built for them to house the monks and sacred texts they brought with them. Over the past 1,000 years, this temple has grown and been added on by each dynasty and generation as a grand shrine to Buddhism.

Over its life many of the buildings have been destroyed by fire and rebuilt but there is still a lot of history and grandeur to the temple. Throughout there are beautiful gardens, ancient statues and steles and monks helping visiting worshippers. When we were there the irises were in full bloom with great beds full of them, and it looked as if their peonies would be blooming soon.

Besides the excellent examples of Chinese Buddhism in the architecture, statues and symbols, they are also building an international temple zone. Currently, they have a large Indian-style temple and a Thai-style temple is under-construction.

This is also the final destination of the Journey to the West, one of the most famous Chinese legends. Although I am not Buddhist, I found it enlightening to visit the home of Buddhism for China. So much has been influenced by it that it is interesting to see where it all began. 

Both of these places are easy to get to. The grottoes have a handful of public buses that go there for just 1 RMB but it isn’t too far from the city to get a cab either. The Temple is further out but there is a bus that heads that way for the same low price. We opted for a taxi with cost about 35 RMB each way if your driver doesn’t take you the long way. They will try to get you to pay 40-50 but insist on the meter and it should be cheaper.

4 responses to “Luoyang – an adventure in Chinese Buddhism

    • As far as I know and what information they had at the park, the caves were created for the sole purpose of worshiping Buddha. They carved the statues for that purpose. There may be some reason they started carving the statues as a protection from something, but it was not mentioned. That is the case with the giant Buddha in Leshan. It was carved to calm the dangerous currents in the river below it, which coincidentally happened because of all of the rocks falling in the water to change the flow and calm the waters.

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