Shaxi Pear Orchard Temple and Visitor's Centre
A Yunnan folk temple is reborn
Originally known as Ci Yin An 慈荫庵 (Nunnery of Sheltered Mercy), this breath taking multi-level temple complex is known as the Shaxi Pear Orchard Temple. 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 500-year history. Shaxi Pear Orchard 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.
The temple complex houses four unique shrines on four levels, together representing a mix of Buddhist, Daoist and folk religious traditions.
Songzi Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy Who Brings Children
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.
The most popular and beloved of the enlightened beings, Avalokiteśvara embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Empowered with supernatural powers, she can assume any form, and also has the power to grant children. As the personification of compassion and kindness, the mother-goddess is the patron of mothers. The temple was originally devoted to her, and the original name means 'Sheltered Mercy'.
In the background, you can see from left to right Monkey King, Monk Triptaka, Pigsy, Sandy and the magic white horse White Dragon from the Chinese classic 'Journey to the West'. Tripitaka is on a solo mission from the Chinese emperor to India to fetch one of the first sets of Buddhist scriptures back to help spread Buddhism. However because he is an incarnated being, it is believed that anyone who eats his flesh will live forever, so all demons want to eat him alive. Fortunately Guanyin helps him on his mission, and the accompanying disciples complete their pilgrimage and gain redemption for their past sins.
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.
Laozi and Confucious
To the Buddha’s left is an image of Lao Zi 老子 the Founder of the Daoist School. In his hand he holds dust, symbolizing impermanence and the cycle of life and death. Seated to Laozi’s right, astride a spotted hippo is Confucius (孔子), honoured for bringing cultural literacy to Chinese people, humanitarianism and a system of social analects that established an ethical paradigm on which Chinese society is still based.
The Jade Emperor
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 is the king of the Universe, and a holy god whose origin goes back to 4th century China. In Daoism he is the highest holy spirit – and leader of all the gods in heaven. He looks after all matters related to heaven, earth and human beings. Chinese divided the universe into these three realms: heaven where the holy spirits reside; the earth which is the mother for all forms of life, and human beings. The Jade Emperor governs all three.
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 Jade Emperor is a Daoist god who oversees all three realms of existence and sits atop the Sakyamuni building in a separate ornate shrine, only accessible by a narrow wooden staircase. The elders do not allow young people or women to ascend these stairs. The story of the building of the Jade Emperor hall is featured prominently in the temple’s inscribed historical tablet.
The God of Prosperity and God of Grain
In a separate courtyard, relegated behind and to the right of Guan Yin is Cai Shen (财神) the God of Prosperity that originates from Han Chinese folk legend dating to the Qin Dynasty. Cai Shen is portrayed astride a tiger holding a golden sword. There is an annual Festival of the Prosperity God every April at the temple, with a large turnout of villagers who raise money, leave offerings at the Cai Shen altar, hold ceremonies and cook meals all day for attendees.
Cai Shen 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.
The god of Wealth has an important role to play for humans, ensuring all are free from poverty and can enjoy abundance. He features in both Buddhism and Daoism. Cai Shen's name is often invoked during the Chinese New Year celebrations in temple festivals.
God Of Grains
The god of Grains is a god held in high regard by communities who are reliant on agriculture. The god covers not just grains, such as rice, but all vegetable (non-animal) foods, including fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as plants which grow in water and climbing plants which grow in the air. The god of Grains not only protects all these food sources from disease, pests and disaster, but also ensures that farmers enjoy a bountiful harvest with enough surplus to store for winter.
The Great Black Sky God (Mahakala in Sanskrit)
Mahakala is a protector deity featured prominently in Tibetan Buddhism. A manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva, the god of Time and the time beyond death, depictions of Mahakala usually have two identifying features: the deity is typically presented in the dark color black, symbolizing how all names and forms are absorbed and dissolved into absolute reality and Mahakala usually has many arms. Another identifying feature is a crown of five skulls, which represent the five negative afflictions which are transformed into the five wisdoms. In Tibetan Buddhism, he is viewed as the main protector of the Buddhist teachings, as well as a god of medicine and wealth, and as a manifestation of death. Mahakala is one of the most popular local village protector gods in NW Yunnan (known as Benzu).
Mother Earth (Parvati in Sanskrit)
The goddess of all lands and power, she takes care of the balance between Ying and Yang energies. She is also worshiped as the god of harvest. Parvati is the wife of Shiva, and she is often depicted sitting astride a tiger.
The first Zen Buddhist master in China, he was a Buddhist monk who grew up in south India in the 5th century, but he traveled by sea to China and later crossed the mighty Yangtze River to introduce Buddhist practice to China. One of his famous sayings was: Zen points directly to the human heart. See into your nature, and become Buddha'.
The 18 Arhats
They are the early disciples and original followers of the Buddha, whom that reached state of Nirvana and are free of worldly cravings. They are charged to protect the faith, to wait on earth for the coming of" Maitreya " the future Buddha. They are depicted here displaying various feats of their legendary feats of spiritual magic.
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 500 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, there are galleries featuring Shaxi Low-Carbon Tourism maps and artifacts salvaged from the renovation. There is also a modern kitchen and vegetarian restaurant (the Pear Blossom Organic) 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 have been fully upgraded for use by the village for large temple festivals throughout the year.