On the beautiful wooded Yu'an Mountain, only twelve kilometers (seven miles)
northwest of Kunming, is the famous Buddhist Qiongzhu Temple. The temple and the
bamboo forest that surround it have a wonderful and mysterious legend about
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Yunnan was a separate country called Dali.
One day, while two brothers of royal lineage were hunting in the hills outside
Kunming, they spotted a bizarre rhinoceros. With hopes of capturing it, they
followed the rhinoceros deep into the woods of Yu'an Mountain where the magical
animal suddenly disappeared. Just as they lost sight of the rhinoceros, the
brothers saw a group of monks who were unlike any monks they had seen before.
When the monks saw the brothers, they vanished in clouds leaving only their
walking sticks planted in the ground. By the following day, these walking sticks
had become an entire bamboo forest. The amazed brothers knew that they had met
enlightened, supernatural beings and, in order to honor them, they built
Qiongzhu Temple in the forest of bamboo.
Even though this is a marvelous story, it does not follow the historic
record. Account of the Qiongzhu Temple dates back to the Song Dynasty, but it
was during the Yuan Dynasty (around 1280) that a highly renowned monk, who was
reputed to have learned Buddhism from central China, gave his teachings that
brought great fame to the temple as a spiritual center. After a devastating
fire, the Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty rebuilt the temple by adding five
pavilions during the late 1880's. The temple's most outstanding artistic (and
perhaps spiritual) feature is the distinguished, finely crafted statues of the
500 Luohans (Buddhist Arhats, or "enlightened ones") sculpted by the brilliant
artist, Li Guangxiu.
Regarded as "a pearl in the treasure house of oriental sculpture," these
life-size clay figures came from Li Guangxiu's and his apprentices' deep study
of people and their inner personalities. After seven years of study and work,
this immense undertaking was completed. Each of these statues represents another
aspect of human life with such accuracy and skill, and look like real people who
are just frozen in a moment in time.
These Luohans, which are not ornately decorated, depict seemingly common
people in the midst of ordinary lives and feelings. The appearances of the old
and the young, the sick and the healthy, the skilled and the unskilled, the
strong and the emaciated, the beautiful and the ugly, the wealthy and the poor,
with expressions of joy, anger, laughter, grief, amusement, satisfaction,
hunger, delight, sadness, compassion, serenity, curiosity, surprise, boredom,
and contemplation are extremely vivid. Each Luohan is unique and expresses its
own singular inner character. It is said that if you pick a Louhan and count
them to the right when you reach your age, you will find the Louhan that depicts
your inner character. Each of the 500 Louhans is a beautiful work of art and
collectively they are awe-inspiring.
Throughout the temple are numerous inscriptions and couplets on columns and
tablets. These inscriptions date back to the 1200's and give us glimpses into
the life and culture of those times. Other notable features of the Qiongzhu
Temple include: the statues of Four Guardian Kings in the entrance hall; the
three large statues of Buddha in the main temple building and two majestic
450-year-old cypress trees that stand in the forecourt. Walking around the
grounds and through the bamboo forest, the world and its problems fade away and
the gentle beauty of life re-emerges.