Wutai Shan

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View of the Wutai Shan valley

Mount Wutai Shan (Chi. 五台山, Pin. Wǔtái Shān) or Qingliang (Chi. 清涼山, Pin. Qīngliáng Shān) is identified as the worldly abode of the bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri, located in Shanxi Province, China. It is one of the four great sacred Buddhist mountains of China[1]. Due to its unusually cold weather, with numerous medieval reported mid-summer snow falls, the mountain became known as mount Qingliang, Clear and Cool Mountain (Wyl. ri bo dwangs bsil).[2]

Its five grass covered flat peaks are arranged in a crescent-shaped configuration and are located above the tree-line around 3,000 m. Accordingly, the mountain obtained its name Wutai Shan, the Five-Terrace Mountain. Tibetans and Mongols referred to it as Riwo Tse Nga (Wyl. ri bo rtse lnga), the Five-Peaked Mountain. The mountain peaks appear from the far distance like heavenly altars and are conventionally referred to by their cardinal directions.[3] Together the peaks are believed to constitute Manjushri’s mandala with a different emanation of Manjushri residing on each peak.[4]

History

Since ancient times, Wutai Shan was known to be a mystical and sacred site inhabited by divine spirits, accompanied by unusual events, such as miraculous light appearances at night, that can be seen up to the present day.[5] Thus it attracted pilgrims in search for spiritual accomplishment.[6] In the ninth century Ch’eng-kuan (737-838), who was an influential commentator of Buddhist scriptures, having resided for ten years at Wutai Shan wrote:

The splendid display of its resonant qualities fills the eyes and ears, and even so there are still more such excellent matters. Dragon palaces each in turn open up at night to a thousand moons. Fine and delicate grasses spread out in the mornings among hundreds of flowers. Sometimes there are ten thousand sages arrayed in space. Sometimes five coloured clouds are set firmly among the hill-gaps. Globes of light shine against the halcyon mountain. Auspicious birds soar in the hazy empyrean. One merely hears the name of the Greate Sage Manjushri and no longer is beset by the cares of human existence.[7]

It was the repeated visionary encounters of Manjushri and other bodhisattvas during the fifth century[8] by pilgrims and hermits that fostered the belief that Wutai Shan is the earthly abode of Manjushri.[9] In these visions Manjushri was reported to appear in “several forms, principally as a five-colored cloud, a glowing ball of light, a youthful prince astride a lion,”[10] or in the guise of a monk or mendicant. These stories entered local traditions, commentaries[11] and were recorded on maps.[12] The accounts were then believed to be further supported by Buddhist scriptures referring to and describing Manjushri’s residence. However, it is observed that Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures were purposely edited as to create further scriptural authority and support for recognising Wutai Shan. Thus for example the famously quoted passage confirming Wutai Shan's location in China from the Avatamsaka Sutra is only found in Chinese versions of the scripture. Thus it is debatable whether this and other statements found in the sutras were actually meant to refer to Wutai Shan and not to some other mountain whether in this or other-worldly. [13]

Manjushri became China's patron deity and the Buddhist Chinese rulers were regarded as Manjushri’s emanations.[14] The first monastery was likely built by the Emperor Xiaowen (r. 471-499).[15] Wutai Shan’s fame spread and was carried by the devotees across the Himalayan lands and into the plains of India. This inspired Tibetan, Mongol and Indian, scholars and practitioners to follow the accounts and explore the mountain. Once reaching the mountain, like the Chinese devotees the foreign pilgrims experienced similar visionary encounters with Manjushri. The fame of Wutai Shan had spread and thus influenced the writings of non-Chinese Buddhist scriptures such as the Svayambhu Purana (Skt. Svayaṃbhū Purāṇa), which recounts the origin of Buddhism in the Kathmandu valley.[16] Indian, Tibetan and Mongol Buddhist teachers were often well respected by the Chinese court and thus granted a privileged position, which allowed them to establish monasteries at Wutai Shan.[17] This then led to the establishment of a great diversity of monasteries and traditions at Wutai Shan. At its height in the past, over one hundred monasteries and temples were active at Wutai Shan. Nowadays, around fifty monasteries and temples are active and can be visited, many of which follow Tibetan Buddhism.

Major Buddhist Pilgrims

  • Shri Singha. For seven years, Shri Singha studied all of the outer and inner tantras with Bhelakirti. After taking ordination, he practised discipline for 30 years.[18]
  • Vimalamitra, after his stay in Tibet, left for Wutai Shan. It is said that he remains there, in the rainbow body, the ‘Body of Great Transference’, and there he will remain until all of the 1002 buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon have appeared.
  • Amoghavajra (705-774)
  • Padampa Sangye (d.1117)
  • Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251)
  • Chögyal Pakpa (1235-1280) spent years on Wutai Shan, composing texts that praise Manjushri and the mountain.
  • Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), the third Karamapa established a monastery there[19]
  • Rolpé Dorje (1340-1383), the fourth Karmapa while on pilgrimage to Wutai Shan met five Indian yogins who presented him with a buddharupa carved by Nagarjuna.[20]
  • Jamchen Chöjé Shakya Yeshe (1354-1435)
  • Deshyin Shekpa (1384-1415), the fifth Karmapa who had monasteries there[21]
  • Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1509) stayed on Wutai Shan in meditation for eight months, during which time the five forms of Manjushri appeared to him in a series of visions and spoke prophecies.[22]
  • Changkya Rolpé Dorje (1717-1786) spent thirty-six consecutive summers from 1750 until his death in 1786 in meditative retreat on Wutai shan at his seat there. He wrote a Tibetan guide to Wutai Shan, the Pilgrimage Guide to the Pure Realm of Clear and Cool Mountain (Wyl. zhing mchog ri bo dwangs bsil gyi gnas bshad), which was also translated into Mongolian and actively promoted pilgrimage to Wutai Shan among the Mongols and Tibetans.[23]
  • Thubten Gyatso (1876–1933), the thirteenth Dalai Lama. Escaping British invasion, he found refuge in Wutai Shan in 1908.
  • Khenpo Jikme Phuntsok (1933-2004). In 1987, Khenpo led hundreds of his disciples on a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan. While teaching there, the audience swelled to 10,000 on occasions. He also undertook retreats at sacred locations and caves. There are accounts of many extraordinary occurrences during this pilgrimage.

Besides those who physically travelled, many visionary accounts of travels to the mountain are recorded, such as those of Guru Chöwang (1212-1270).[24]

Notes

  1. Wǔtái Shān which is associated with bodhisattva Manjushri, Éméi Shān with bodhisattva Samantabhadra, Jiǔhuá Shān with bodhisattva Kshitigarbha and Pǔtuó Shān with bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
  2. Mary Anne Cartelli, The Five-Coloured Clouds of Mount Wutai: Poems from Dunhuang (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 30. And, Raoul Birnbaum, “The Manifestation of a Monastery: Shen-Ying’s Experiences on Mount Wu-T’ai in T’ang Context,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 121.
  3. Raoul Birnbaum, “The Manifestation of a Monastery: Shen-Ying’s Experiences on Mount Wu-T’ai in T’ang Context,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 121.
  4. Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (2011): 3.
  5. Ibid., 7.
  6. Raoul Birnbaum, “The Manifestation of a Monastery: Shen-Ying’s Experiences on Mount Wu-T’ai in T’ang Context,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 122-123.
  7. Ibid., 119.
  8. Mary Anne Cartelli, The Five-Colored Clouds of Mount Wutai: Poems from Dunhuang (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 32. Prior Mañjuśrī gained increasing prominence in China, during the second to the fourth centuries, through the translation of various Buddhist scriptures focusing on the bodhisattva. (See canti 37-38)
  9. Raoul Birnbaum, “The Manifestation of a Monastery: Shen-Ying’s Experiences on Mount Wu-T’ai in T’ang Context,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 122-123. Cartelli notes that the exact reasons of why Mount Wutai Shan became renowned as the abode of Mañjuśrī remain unknown. Mary Anne Cartelli, The Five-Colored Clouds of Mount Wutai: Poems from Dunhuang (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 37.
  10. Raoul Birnbaum, “The Manifestation of a Monastery: Shen-Ying’s Experiences on Mount Wu-T’ai in T’ang Context,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 123.
  11. Richard D. McBride, Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist Cults and the Hwaŏm Synthesis in Silla Korea (University of Hawaii Press, 2008), 110.
  12. A famous map of Wutai Shan, including the visionary encounters is found here: http://wutaishan.rma2.org/
  13. Mary Anne Cartelli, The Five-Colored Clouds of Mount Wutai: Poems from Dunhuang (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 38 & 43.
  14. Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (2011): 6.
  15. Mary Anne Cartelli, The Five-Colored Clouds of Mount Wutai: Poems from Dunhuang (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 32.
  16. The Svayaṃbhū Purāṇa tells the history and significance of all the major Buddhist holy places of the Kathmandu valley. According to the Svayaṃbhū Purāṇa Mañjuśrī travels from his abode at Wutai Shan to the Kathmandu valley, where he blessed the Svayaṃbhūnath Stūpa. For more detail, see the site description of Svayaṃbhūnath. See also: Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (2011): 7-9.
  17. Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (2011): 31-33.
  18. Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, p.62.
  19. Karma Thinley, The History of the Sixteen Karmapas of Tibet (Boulder: Prajna Press, 1980), page 58.
  20. ibid, p. 64.
  21. Martin, Michele. Music in the Sky - Biography of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
  22. Könchok Palsang and Dewa Sangpo, Bright Lamp, p. 220
  23. Debreczeny: Wutai shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain, JIATS no. 6, p.36-37.
  24. Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (2011): 10, footnote 15.

Further Reading

  • Birnbaum, Raoul. “Human Traces and the Experience of Powerful Places: A Note on Memory, History, and Practice in Buddhist China.” In Images, Relics, and Legends: The Formation and Transformation of Buddhist Sacred Sites, edited by James A. Benn, Jinhua Chen, and James Robson, 113–38. Toronto: Mosaic Press, 2012.
  • Birnbaum, Raoul. “Light in the Wutai Mountains.” In The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience, edited by Matthew Kapstein, 195–226. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Birnbaum, Raoul. “Secret Halls of the Mountain Lords: The Caves of Wu-T’ai Shan.” Cahiers d’Extreme-Asie 5, no. 1 (1989): 115–140.
  • Birnbaum, Raoul. “The Manifestation of a Monastery: Shen-Ying’s Experiences on Mount Wu-T’ai in
  • T’ang Context.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 106, no. 1 (1986): 119–37.
  • Cartelli, Mary Anne. The Five-Colored Clouds of Mount Wutai: Poems from Dunhuang. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
  • Charleux, Isabelle. Nomads on Pilgrimage: Mongols on Wutaishan (China), 1800-1940 (Brill's Inner Asian Library, 2015).
  • Chou, Wen-shing. Ineffable Paths: Mapping Wutaishan in Qing Dynasty, China Art Bulletin (March 07), 108-129.
  • Debreczeny, Karl. “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (2011): 1–133.
  • McBride, Richard D. Domesticating the Dharma: Buddhist Cults and the Hwaŏm Synthesis in Silla Korea. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
  • Tuttle, Gray. Tibetan Buddhism at Ri bo rtse lnga/Wutai shan in Modern Times, Columbia University. JIATS, no. 2 (August 2006), 35. http://www.thlib.org/collections/texts/jiats/#!jiats=/02/tuttle.
  • Wutai Shan and Qing Culture, JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011). http://www.thlib.org/collections/texts/jiats/#!jiats=/issue06/.
  • Wen-shing Chou, “Maps of Wutai Shan: Individuating the Sacred Landscape through Color,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5713.

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