To appreciate the beauty of ancient Chinese architecture, temples are definitely a "living fossil" not to be missed.
Whether it is the magnificent Wutai Nanzen Temple, which carries the meteorology of the Tang Dynasty, or the Fuzhou Hualin Temple, which is the most elegant and pure collection of the Song Dynasty, both are the brightest jewels in the architectural crown.
Of course, many people go to temples not to seek the beauty of the architecture, but with the purpose of seeking God and worshiping Buddha.
Although I know it is not very meaningful, it is enough to seek "peace of mind".
In popular parlance, temple has long been a fixed term for a place of prayer for blessing anyway. But careful research will reveal that temple and temple are two different concepts, just as when you think about it you will realize that seeking God and worshipping Buddha are not the same thing.
The ancient literati had a clear distinction between this and would not mix it up at all.
For example, Du Fu's "Wuhou Temple" will clearly write "the remains of the temple Danqing fall, empty mountains grass and trees long."
And Bai Juyi's "Peach Blossoms in the Da Lin Temple" has "The fragrance of April on earth is over, and the peach blossoms in the mountain temple are in full bloom."
So, what exactly is the meaning of the distinctive temples and monasteries?
The temple is not a Buddha but an official
In terms of the most successful cultural import in ancient times, it must be Buddhism. Its entry into China accomplished religious popularity in leaps and bounds, and it soon became a household name.
This religion has not only won the worship of the common people, but also become the second faith of many literati.
Of course, Buddhism has been thoroughly localized since its introduction into China and has long since become completely different, and Zen Buddhism and Indian Buddhism are simply of the same origin but different forms. Nearly two thousand years later, many words have become closely bound to Buddhism, such as temple.
But in fact, both temples and monasteries predate Buddhism.
The word temple first appeared in the Western Zhou Dynasty, hundreds of years before the birth of Buddhism in India. It is clearly explained in the Shuowen: "Temple, also the court, those who have the law, also the rule, also the official house."
In the early days, the temple was actually a derivation of the government and the court, referring to the place where the official offices were located. Those who are familiar with history know that many ancient government departments had the word temple in their names, such as Dali Temple, Honglu Temple, Guanglu Temple, etc.
The word temple has roots in Buddhism going back to the time when it was introduced to China. According to legend, in the tenth year of Yongping in the Eastern Han Dynasty, Emperor Ming of Han Dynasty dreamed of 12 golden figures, which he thought was a divine omen of great luck. Only after the tai shi interpreted the dream for him did the Han emperor realize that he was dreaming of Buddha.
He then ordered that Buddhism be invited to the Middle Kingdom, opening the way for Buddhism to move eastward.
With the official endorsement, the spread of Buddhism in the Central Plains entered the fast lane.
When Buddhism first entered Chang'an, all the followers were housed in the Honglu Temple. Because the latter was in charge of foreign communication at that time, only here were there translators who were familiar with Sanskrit and could communicate smoothly with the monks from India.
But after all, Hongluo Temple is the office of the court, so it is impossible to keep the monks for a long time, and it is necessary to build a special place for them to practice and live.
In 68 A.D., this place was officially completed, and because of the inseparable bond with Honglu Temple, the new residence was given the name of Baima Temple.
It was the first place where Buddhism settled after entering the Central Plains, so the subsequent Zen monasteries were named with the word temple, and slowly the word temple became associated with Buddhism.
The reason why folk may misunderstand the origin of the temple is because people have not been exposed to it before.
The Dali Temple, Honglu Temple and Guanglu Temple are all institutions set up in the central government, with no points at all at the grassroots level. For the people outside Chang'an, these institutions were completely unheard of.
After knowledge became widespread in modern times, the names of government departments changed completely, and official institutions have had nothing to do with "temple" ever since.
Therefore, after the popularity of Buddhism, the place names of White Horse Temple, Famen Temple and Shaolin Temple gradually became familiar to the public, and the common people naturally thought that the origin of the temple was Buddhism.
The temple worships the gods and reveres the ancestors
Although most people habitually speak of temples together, if you think carefully about the temples you have visited, you can see that: in any place, temples are places where monks practice and make offerings, while temples and Buddhism have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
The word temple appeared even earlier than temple, and it first appeared as a place of ancestral worship. In ancient China, there was no religious worship, but there was ancestor worship. People at that time believed that ancestors would not disappear after death, but would become ghosts and gods and needed a place dedicated to sacrifice and worship.
This place is called a shrine in the people, but in the powerful class it is a temple. For example, most people are familiar with the temple name of the emperor, such as Emperor Taizong of Tang, Emperor Wu of Han, and so on.
This temple refers to the Imperial Temple, and the temple name is the title given to them by later generations when they pay their respects.
The "Erya" on the "temple" has a clear record: "temple, appearance, ancestor form in also." Ancient times is a society of rituals and laws, the temple rules are strictly bound to the hierarchy of people. The Son of Heaven is seven temples, the Secretary only five temples, can not exceed the system.
However, after the Han Dynasty, the meaning of the temple has been expanded, it began to flow from the powerful and noble class into the folk, people at that time to the folk worship of some shrines are also called temples, used to posthumous, edict some important people, such as Confucius Temple, Guandi Temple and Wuhou Temple, etc..
As the number of temples increased, its use was no longer limited to the posthumous, edict of the Son of Heaven, many folklore gods and goddesses also had their own temples, such as the Temple of the Dragon King, the Temple of the Land, the Temple of the God of Wealth, etc.
However, most of the gods and goddesses recognized by the ancient people were sages and heroes who had made outstanding contributions, and the use of temples to commemorate them did not conflict with their original purpose of worshipping their ancestors.
Many people confuse temples with religious buildings, which is completely wrong.
In ancient times, the naming of religious buildings had a strict template, with Buddhist buildings named mostly "temple, courtyard, nunnery, hall", while Taoist buildings were mainly "palace, view".
In fact, there is another invisible difference between temples and monasteries, and that is their size. The size of a temple is generally more massive, with not only the Mahamudra but also various side halls and chambers.
Some famous monasteries also have large structures like stupas. And for the comfort of monks, some monasteries are also equipped with small gardens, martial arts training grounds and other living facilities.
The temple is different, most folk temples only occupy a very small piece of space, at most a small side hall where the temple owner lives.
Only the large temples built by the royal family are comparable in size to Buddhist temples, but they are few and far between.
Because they are not religious buildings, temples are usually not taken care of by dedicated people, so in reality we can see broken or deserted temples, but rarely do we see deserted temples.
Campaign to eliminate temples and raise temples
Although the temples are often spoken of together, they actually differ greatly.
The royal attitude towards temples was more casual, with most rulers being laissez-faire and occasionally supportive.
But the attitude toward Buddhist temples was polarized and rather ambiguous. Those who admire Buddhism vigorously promote it and send people from far and wide to seek the true scriptures; those who suppress Buddhism are disgusted with it and will even suppress it wildly throughout the country.
In the history of China, there have been four large-scale movements to exterminate Buddhism, that is, the extermination of Buddhism by the three wu Yi, namely, the extermination of Buddhism by Emperor Tai Wu of the Northern Wei Dynasty, the extermination of Buddhism by Emperor Wu of the Northern Zhou Dynasty, the extermination of Buddhism by Emperor Wu of the Tang Dynasty, and the extermination of Buddhism by Emperor Chai Rong of the Later Zhou Dynasty.
During these four extermination campaigns, a large number of ancient temples were destroyed and countless Buddhist texts were lost in history. Of course, these actions also objectively accelerated the localization of Buddhism in China, leading it to become increasingly self-contained after the Song Dynasty.
Many people feel that Buddhism is harmless and therefore say that the emperor's extermination of Buddhism must be a battle of faith, which is not the case.
They are more for political considerations, the root is economic interests, or the saying "the world is bustling for profit to, the world is bustling for profit to".
Both the Northern Wei and the Northern Zhou exterminated Buddhism for the betterment of Hanization. Because Buddhism was introduced from India, it was considered a Hu religion at that time. After "Sinicization" became politically correct, such "foreign goods" as Buddhism were naturally discarded by the emperor until Sinicization was completely completed.
The latter two exterminations of Buddhism were basically motivated by economic considerations. Because of years of conquests, the treasury of both the Middle and Late Tang and the Later Zhou was relatively empty, while the monks at that time had accumulated a large amount of wealth in the open and the dark, and for the emperor, such a fat lamb must not be missed.
And there was no shortage of emperors who promoted religion throughout the dynasties, and therefore gave them mostly undeserved preferential treatment, such as the ability not to pay taxes, not to pay food, not to work in production. To put it bluntly, they are parasites in the people.
Taoism is relatively much better, because it focuses on the quiet and inaction, few disciples. Buddhism is different, they open the door to numerous people to become monks.
Because monks were not required to pay taxes, many people voted their land and stores into the name of the temple, which led to a large amount of private land being held by monks, causing great harm to the national taxation.
It was because Buddhists were reckless and unrestrained that Emperor Wu of the Tang Dynasty and Emperor Shi Zong of the Zhou Dynasty launched a fierce campaign to destroy Buddhism. This move not only liberated a large number of laborers, but also recovered a lot of land, allowing the state's finances to improve rapidly.
The Cultural Debate Behind the Temples
After reading the above, I believe you can understand a little bit, the so-called temple distinction is actually the difference between religious worship and ancestor worship.
Without the guidance of scientific thought, the ancients were unable to give a reasonable explanation for many things, and gradually derived a variety of worship.
The earliest was nature worship, with the sun, moon, heaven and earth as the main focus; in the latter half of primitive society, a variety of totem worship began to emerge.
After entering slave society, this worship gave rise to two directions of development, one being the religious model of strict distinction between man and God, dominated by Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. The other is the ancestral model that emphasizes the blood relationship between man and God in our ancient times.
In fact, many races and tribes have also given birth to ancestor worship, but the battle was not strong enough and was soon defeated by religion. In contrast, our ancestor worship successfully completed the merging with Confucianism culture during the two Han dynasties, thus possessing a vigorous vitality that has been passed down to this day.
The hundred schools of thought have brought Chinese philosophy to a higher level, so that the mainstream of Chinese thought has always maintained an attitude of "existence without regard" to ghosts and gods. This has allowed our ancestor worship to be completely shielded from religious influence and to be more ethical and moral in flavor.
So even though some of the ancients had believed in religion and had a superstitious side, we have maintained enough dignity for the gods and Buddhas from the beginning to the end.
The children of China have never been slaves of God, and in the matter of worshipping God and seeking Buddha, we have always adhered to a simple pragmatism. If a deity is always unspiritual, it will disappear from the Chinese land after a long time.
Science has evolved to the point where temples are more symbolic to the people, and its role tends to be more and more towards tourist viewing and spiritual healing.
Confusing the two is the norm nowadays, but when it comes to understanding history and cognition of China, we still need to figure out the difference between them so that we can appreciate the persistence and bones of the ancients.
No civilization has ever been able to break free from the shackles of religion and make its own way like we have. This is not the sadness of "Chinese people have no faith" as the Western media says, but the pride and ambition of the descendants of the Yellow River who have been standing up for themselves for 5,000 years.
When disaster struck, the Hebrews looked to the gods for favor and a savior, and this hope gave birth to three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The children of China choose to open the road in the mountains, build bridges in the water, rely on their own hands to overcome trials and tribulations, and never give up the hope of chasing the light. In the Zhou Yi, it has long been said: "Heaven is healthy, and a gentleman never rests on his laurels.
Shuowen Jiezi - Xu Shen
The Book of Han - The Chronicle of Emperor Yuan