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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Bie Chuan Temple, Guangdong

In April of 2005 my good Dharma Friend Wang Fu Qing invited me to travel with him and his wife and son--along with a friend called "Luohan"--to northern Guangdong province. There we visited several temples--including Dajian Temple in central Shaoguan, where the Sixth Patriarch delivered his Platform Sutra and the world-famous Nanhua Temple just south of Shaoguan--and, to my surprised delight, actually stayed in one.

This was the first time I had left ultra-modern Shenzhen to visit "the real China," and boy, did I get a handful. The stay at Bie Chuan Chan Temple in the Dan Xia Shan scenic area (a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site) north of Shaoguan required climbing up a mountain! I wasn't ready for that. But what a place. And what a view. You can read more about it at my resurrected "You Are That" blog.

The Main Hall

An artistic rendering of the Main Hall at Bie Chuan Chan Temple.

Zhanglaofeng Peak in mist

This is the view from the parking lot toward the mountain where the temple is located.

Dan Xia Shan trail marker

This stands near the bottom of the trail up to the temple

The trail upward


A palanquin carrier

I think this guy was looking at me (I'm a "big guy") and thinking, "Uh-oh."

Reluctant carrier

I asked my friend Mr. Wang to ask this guy to "fake" a picture of him straining to carry me; he ruefully declined, even after I offered to pay for the posed shot.

Wayside stop

A resting station along the way.

More steps

I stopped and took a lot of pictures, more than I needed to--a "cover" for the muscle fatigue in my legs. Even then I was having trouble climbing hills; about a year later I discovered that I had a vitamin B12 deficiency from being a vegetarian, and now, with supplements, things are much better. (And later still, discovered I was diabetic.)

Rock inscriptions 1

Another good excuse to stop: spectacular inscriptions on the rocks along the trail. Note the block of "fine print" in the lower right.

Rock inscriptions 2

This one was high overhead, and part of a complex of inscriptions.

Na Mo Shi Jia Wen Fo

I am investigating this. Had it said "Na Mo Shi Jia Mou Ni Fo" it would be "Praise to the Shakyamuni (that is, the historic) Buddha." Is the "wen" a kind of abbreviation? I have found listings for these characters on the internet, but I can't read the articles--and nothing is listed in "pin yin." Anyway, it's a beautiful engraving. UPDATE: The character "wen" here stands in place of the more common "mou ni." So "Na Mo Shi Jia Wen Fo" means "Praise to the Shakyamuni (that is, the historic) Buddha."

Approaching the outer gate

You can see more inscriptions on the rock to the right

The outer gate

This is an unusual entryway for a temple. The vertical inscription over the door reads "Dan Xia Shan," the name of the mountain. The smaller horizontal figures say "Bie Chuan Temple;" bie chuan means something like "pass on" or "hand down"; see the explanation on the sign three pictures later.

The view upward

This is from inside the gatehouse, looking at the last flight of stairs. The whole place was extremely atmospheric.


Just inside the gate, next to the gatehouse, some women were burning offerings to ancestors. They had several bags of them; I think they must have been doing it for others' ancestors as well.

Descriptive sign

A bilingual note near the entrance tells the temple's history. The mangled line reads: ..."Write nothing down, just pass on something orally" among followers (meaning no spreading to outsiders)

Temple plan

This represents the "historical grandeur and original shape"... I think the existing compound is the small one seen at the back of this diagram, just right of center, to the left of the gigantic pine tree.


A small seven-story pagoda on a lonely hillside near the temple

View of the Scenic Area

The night we arrived we went straight to the dining hall. This is the view from the terrace in front; the two humps right-of-center are one of the Dan Xia Shan scenic area's famous formations. See my journal for an... uh... INteresting note about some of the other formations.

Another view of the Scenic Area

Similar to the last picture, this one is as seen over the temple compound, from in front of the Main Hall.

The Main Compound

I am near the location of the previous shot, but this time looking straight down the compound. Straight ahead is the inside door of the Four Heavenly Kings Hall; on the left is the edge of the Bell Tower (see later picture) and on the right, the Drum Tower.

Alley OOP!

The monk "Luohan" prepares to toss Xiao Wang (Little Wang, or "William," Mr. Wang's son) over the railing into the valley below. Some kind of ritual sacrifice, I guess.

My three guides

Wang Fu Qing (left) is a former student and a Dharma Friend who has shown me great kindness. He suggested this trip, and paid all the expenses. The abbot of the temple is in the center; I have seen him since in a Buddhist restaurant in Shenzhen; and Luohan the monk has become a good friend.

Behind them you can see most of the temple's buildings.

  1. The Four Heavenly Kings Hall is the doorway behind them.
  2. The tall building on the right is the Bell Tower.
  3. The edge of the Drum Tower is on the left.
  4. The roof of the Main Hall (where the Buddha statues reside) seems to touch that of the Four Heavenly Kings Hall, above and to its left.
  5. Above that you can see the left edge and the top of the Lecture Hall.

The Four Heavenly Kings Hall

A closer view of the Four Kings Hall, from the inside of the compound. (An earlier photo shows it from higher up.)

Mo-Li Hai

This is Mo-Li Hai (Sanskrit Virupaksa). He is Lord of the West and derives from the Hindu god Varuna, who among his other powers is known as "Bringer of Rain." Known in Buddhism as Guang Mu, "The One With Broad Perception," he can be recognized because he is holding a dragon or snake, which represents the power of water, weather, and the elements. See more about him here. The figures at Bie Chuan Temple are particularly troll-like and delightful. This one seems to be saying, "Don't mess with the fire extinguisher!"

The Bell Tower

Standing on the right of the compound as you face the Main Hall, the Bell Tower has three stories, the top one containing the bell. Each of the other floors has a small hall containing one bodhisattva. This photo was take from the Drum Tower opposite.

Inside the Bell Tower

This figure of Dizang Pusa (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, Jizo Bosatsu) must get a whopper of a headache each time the bell is rung! You may not be able to tell from the photo, but his head is actually INSIDE the bell! The bell is rung, like the usual Asian bells, not with a clapper inside, but with the large stick you can see tied back to the left of the bell.

The Main Hall

This is the view up to the Main Hall (the same one that was made into a painting at the beginning of this gallery). In front of the blue sign is a censer; notice the red lines of the inscriptions on the rock above and behind.

Na Mo A Mi To Fo

A closer look at the blue sign in the previous shot. Reading from right-to-left, the characters say "Homage to Amitabha Buddha," who is the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. The temple is named Bie Chuan Chan Si, "Chan" meaning "Zen." But the praying of Amitofo is a practice of Pure Land Buddhism. Mainly, Zen teaches enlightenment by self-effort, Pure Land says that you will attain by asking Amitabha for help. (More on that in a walking journal entry.) Virtually every Chinese temple is a blend of both practices.

The Main Hall

These are the closed doors of the Main Hall or "Buddha Hall," where the larger worship ceremonies take place.


Looking above the left corner of the Main Hall, you can see prayers inscribed on the rocks.

The Main Hall: Altar

Here are the Three Buddhas on the central altar. I had never seen the device of placing mirrors behind their heads before; it's very effective, as it reflects the light from the doorway in the darkened hall.

The Main Hall: left side

Nine of the Eighteen Arhats

The Main Hall: right side

The other nine Arhats. I have written numerous times about these enlightened students of the Buddha (also called the "Shi Ba Lo Han") in various places. Start here.

The Memorial Hall

This incomplete hall is not part of the central compound; it's off to the left. Inside is a statue of Di Zang, who advocates for the dead, and numerous memorial tablets with the posthumous names of dead Buddhists.


Daily prayers for the dead are also chanted in this small room next to the Main Hall.


The night we stayed, we had tea with the Abbot after dinner. I seldom regret my lack of Chinese language skills, but when he pulled out this sutra text and began to teach from it, I felt my inabilities keenly.

Note the battered-but-serviceable old teapot behind the Abbot.

So that was my first experience staying in a temple; unbeknownst to me, through the "affinities" of Mr. Wang and his circle, I would be living in one a few years later! But that's another story for another day.

Oh, did I mention the snoring? Luohan and I shared a room, and I snore like a freight train. When I woke in the morning, he was gone--ostensibly he had climbed even hire up for morning chanting, but I suspect he had found another bivouac!

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