Tibetan-Mongolian Monasteries on Wutaishan 1994

Wutaishan 五台山 (Ri-bo rtse-lnga), the five-peaked sacred mountain of Manjushri in Shanxi 山西, China, has 57 Buddhist monasteries. The first of these, Xiantong Si 显通寺, was founded in the seventh-cen­tury when a stupa was brought there from Baima Si 白马寺, according to tradition, the first Buddhist temple in China, in Luoyang 洛阳. The Tibetan Emperor Songtsen-gampo built the first Tibetan temple here shortly afterwards, which is proba­bly the Nubchog Kunduling (Nub-phyogs Kun-’dus-gling), or Shifang Tang 十方堂, but this is not certain. It does not appear as though the monasteries at Wutaishan were destroyed or damaged very much dur­ing the Cultural Revolution. They were mostly closed, and have slowly been reope­ned, starting in 1982.

The monasteries in the central portion of this high plateau are flooded with tourists and Han Chinese merchants selling souvenirs very loudly and aggressively from six in the morning until late at night. There are many obstacles to quiet prac­tice. Some of the Tibetan and Inner Mongolian monasteries have old photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Some of the major monasteries and temples are:

(1) Nubchog Kunduling, with 20 monks primarily from Amdo, per­forming tantric rituals from the Gelug tradition, primarily Yaman­taka and Mahakala. Previously, it had 200 monks.

(2) Chagoe Pungpoe Gonpa (Bya-rgod Phung-po’i dGon-pa, Chin.: Pusa Ding 菩萨顶, or Vulture’s Peak), with ten Han Chin­ese monks, al­though previ­ously, it con­tained 500 monks, primarily from Inner Mongo­lia and is constructed in Tibeto-­Mongolian style. Al­though the monaste­ry con­tains both Yaman­taka and Guru Rin­poche tem­ples, the monks only seem to perform Lama Chopa (bLa-ma mchod-pa) regularly.

(3) Dargyedzin Gonpa (Dar-rgyas-’dzin dGon-pa, Chin.: Luohou Si 罗喉寺), with 30 Inner Mongolian monks performing tantric rituals, primarily Yaman­taka. Previ­ously, it had 150 monks. The monas­tery is Chinese in style and contains a Chinese Pure Land temple to Amitabha.

(4) Chorten Gonpa (mChod-rten dGon-pa, Chin.: Tangtu Si), just recently restarted, with 60 Han Chin­ese and Inner Mon­golian monks, wearing all combina­tions of Chinese, Mon­golian and Tibetan-style robes. They practice both Chin­ese Pure Land and Gelug tantra, primari­ly Yamantaka. This monastery houses the stupa contain­ing one of Buddha’s teeth.

(5) Xiantong Si, with 300 Han Chinese monks, following the Chinese Pure Land tradi­tion. This is the oldest monastery at Wutai­shan.

(6) Changkya Rolpe Dorje Gonpa (lCang-kya Rol-pa’i rdo-rje’i dGon-pa, Chin.: Zhenhai Si 镇海寺), with fifteen Inner Mongo­lian monks just start­ing to learn Tibetan. This was the monastery of Changkya Rolpe Dorje.

(7) Gyalwa Tsangyang Gyatsoe Dragpug (rGyal-ba Tshang-dbyang rGya-mtsho’i Brag-phug, Chin.: Guanyin Tong 观音洞, or Avalokiteshvara Cave), with three monks, where the Sixth Dalai Lama meditated for six years after he left Lhasa.

The Yungang Caves 云冈石窟 in nearby Datong 大同 were built in the second half of the fifth century during the Northern Wei dynasty. Al­though there was a Buddhist monastery here with 3,000 monks, built by the Manchu Kangxi Emperor at the end of the seven­teenth century, there are no traces of it left. It is unclear whether it was from the Tibetan or the Chinese tradition.