Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Longhua Temple

For a city of more than twenty million people, it's somewhat eerie how few respectable Buddhist Temples there are. The very few that do exist are more recently-constructed tourist attractions than temples. Really, there's substantially more impressive Buddhist temples in San Francisco or Honolulu, not to mention any city of Japan or Thailand.

The most impressive of the lot is Longhua Temple. It's quite large, and it has a lengthy history, and unlike some of the other Buddhist temples with lengthy histories (such as Jing'an Temple, or Xiahai Temple), it has the feel of a restoration, rather than a wholesale reconstruction.

I don't want to get all Wikipedia with this update, so I'll just give a few basic facts and show the pictures. The temple dates all the way back to 242, and the oldest surviving building is the pagoda outside, which dates to 977.

Most of the other buildings are re-constructions of that period's style, but as opposed to the goofy concrete buildings of other Shanghai temples, these re-constructions feel more authentic, and are often quite old themselves.

The busiest and best time to go is on the first or fifteenth of the Chinese calendar, it corresponds to the new and full moon. For those curious, here's a handy Western-Chinese calendar converter, with an ugly interface. There's a number of worshipers to be seen around Longhua, often bowing before Buddhas:

More popular is lighting incense, there's a lot of bowing and facing different directions that goes along with that. Here's an incense holder, the buckets nearby are actually to hold all the excess ashes:

It's probably stretching the definition of worship, but there's a few visitors who seem inordinately concerned with throwing a coin inside the stupas. The guy in the red shirt was at it for about ten minutes.

It's a Zen Temple, but that doesn't mean as much as it would in the Japanese tradition - the layout and iconography of the temple is basically the same as every other Chinese Buddhist temple. The grounds are pleasant, and the surrounding area is a bunch of tourist streets and shops that make for nice enough surroundings, although still best ignored. There's a cheap vegetarian restaurant inside the temple.

All in all, this temple is impressive if not amazing, and honestly I think it's the only Buddhist temple in Shanghai that's worth a look. It's not entirely convenient to get to, the closest subway is line #3's Longcao Lu, and from there it's about a fifteen minute walk east. It's probably best to go to Xujiahui or the Indoor Stadium, and then take a taxi. There's also the 933 Bus, which goes past Hongkou, Taikang Lu, the Xing Guang camera mall, and then on to a stop across the street from the temple.

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