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A Yunnan folk temple brings modern miracles

Ancient fertility shrine rediscovered by foreign couple

  • Pear Orchard Temple Shrine, Shaxi Yunnan China

Originally known as 'Ci Yin An' (Temple of Feminine Compassion), this breath taking multi-level temple complex, commanding spectacular views across the valley from its vantage point at the head of Diantou Village, was actually a functioning nunnery for much of its 1,000-year history. The temple was maintained by the Elders of Diantou Village, who collect funds for repairs and temple festivals. But by the mid-2000's, the temple was crumbling and had become too expensive for the village to repair and so began its decline.

In 2011, Chris and Nam Barclay, a Thai-American couple visited the temple to pray for a child at the Guan Yin shrine and soon after their “miracle baby” Hannah was born. In gratitude, the Barclays committed to fund the restoration of the temple to its original condition.

>> You can read more about their moving true story here.

The temple complex houses four unique shrines on four levels, together representing a mix of Buddhist, Daoist and folk religious traditions.

Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion

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Above the main courtyard is the Hall of the Goddess of Compassion (Guan Yin). In this shrine, the Mother Goddess is depicted with a baby as Songzi Guanyin (The Guan Yin Who Brings Children). The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means "Perceiving the Sounds (or lamentations) of the World". It is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit name Avalokitesvara, the Indian bodhisattva of wisdom and compassion, the unfailing savior of all beings.

Guanyin is revered in the general Chinese population due to her unconditional love, compassion and mercy. In Chinese Buddhism, she is the Mother Goddess, the great protector and benefactor of the weak, the ill and especially children and the babies. By this association she is also seen as a fertility goddess capable of granting children. In Daoism she is revered as Songzi Niang Niang, the Maiden Who Brings Children. An old Chinese belief involves a woman wishing to have a child offering a shoe at a Guanyin Temple. Sometimes a borrowed shoe is used then when the expected child is born the shoe is returned to its owner along with a new pair as a "thank you" gift.

Sakyamuni Buddha

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The main shrine of the upper temple celebrates witness the Buddha’s ascension to the Pure Land. His hand gesture or mudra calls upon the earth to witness Sakyamuni's enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Here the Buddha seated on a lotus throne is depicted in Bhumisparsha Mudra where his right hand reaches toward the ground, palm inward. He is accompanied by two sage disciples. Similar depictions can be seen at the Fahua Temple Grottoes of An Ning near Kunming and at Baoshan Temple at the Shibaoshan Grottoes in Shaxi.

The Jade Emperor

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Yù Huáng or Yù Dì in Chinese folk culture is the ruler of Heaven and all realms of existence below including that of Man and Hell, according to a version of Taoist mythology. He is one of the most important gods of the Chinese traditional religion pantheon. In actual Taoism, the Jade Emperor governs the mortals’ entire realm and below, but ranks below the Three Pure Ones. The worship of the Jade Emperor is traced to as early as the 9th century AD, when he was the patron deity of the imperial family.

The Jade Emperor's Birthday  is said to be the ninth day of the first lunar month. On this day Taoist temples hold a Jade Emperor ritual (Bai Tian Kong), literally "heaven worship") at which priests and laymen prostrate themselves, burn incense and make food offerings.

The God of Prosperity

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Cai Shen literally means "God of Wealth" and is the Chinese god of prosperity both of religious Taoism and in folk religion. Though Cai Shen started as a Chinese folk hero, later deified and venerated by local followers and admirers, Taoism and Pure Land Buddhism also came to venerate him as an immortal. He has various magical powers, such as warding off thunder and lightning, and ensuring profit from commercial transactions.

As a historical figure he is identified as Zhao Xuan Tan, "General Zhao of the Dark Terrace", from the Qin Dynasty. He attained enlightenment on top of a mountain. He also assisted Zhang Dao Ling on his search for the life-prolonging elixir. Cai-Shen is portrayed riding on a black tiger, on his head he wears a cap made of iron and he holds a weapon, capable of turning stone and iron into gold. He carries in his other hand a gold ingot, representative of wealth.

Cai Shen's name is often invoked during the Chinese New Year celebrations in temple festivals.

The Ongoing Restoration

You can see Before and After photos of the Temple’s Restoration on our blog.

Local craftsmen were bought in to preserve the original building and showcase their incredible carpentry and stone-masonry skills. Working closely with the local government and village elders, the 1,000 year-old temple is now entering a completely new phase, thanks to the Barclay's vision and commitment. Even now, modern facilities are being added for the local community who still use the buildings as a focus point for village affairs. In addition, work has begun on adding a modern visitor center, a small bakery, and a comfortable cafe where visitors can sample local fare, and learn more of the surprises that await them as they plan to explore the rest of the valley. The two existing kitchens are being fully upgraded, so that local specialties can be sampled by guests from far and wide.