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Big Wild Goose Pagoda

                                    The Big Wild Goose Pagoda


 

In the southern suburb of Xian, about 4 kilometers from the downtown of the city, stands a huge tower called big wild goose pagoda at a height of 64 meters. Built in 652 A.D. in the Tang Dynasty, located in an active Buddhist monastery, Ci’en Temple, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is regarded as one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in China.
 
Known as Wu Lou Si in the Sui Dynasty, the temple was first built in 589 A.D. The temple did not obtain the name Ci`en (benevolence) until the crowned prince Li Zhi started a repairing project on it in memory of his mother Empress Wende who suffered from early death. The magnificent Ci`en temple, large in size, is not only the birthplace of Faxiang sect of Buddhism but also one of the important temples where Buddhist scriptures were translated. In the Tang Dynasty,the Ci`en temple ranked the largest one in Chang’an with almost 2000 rooms, 300 monks. Owning to the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the Ci`en temple lost its importance. The buildings were destroyed and collapsed gradually. The most present architecture we can see now was actually rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty. A lot of renovations have been done to keep the temple as it was since new China was born.
 
According to the record, Master Xuan Zang was invited to serve as the first abbot in the temple after his return from India. A special chamber for the translation of the Buddhist scriptures was built in his honor. Journey to the West written by Wu Chen-en is recognized as one of the four greatest classics in China. It is a Chinese fiction which was based on Xuan Zang’s journey to India for the Buddhist scriptures. Xuan Zang (600-664), a well-known philosopher, explorer, translator and master of Buddhism, also known as Tang Sanzang or Tang Seng, was the founder of the Faxiang sect of Buddhism. Born in Yansi, Henan province in 600A.D, he became a monk at the age of 12. From his childhood, he devoted himself to the study of Buddhism. The more Xuan Zang studied, the more mistakes he found in the scripture translation. There were many different interpretations of a single scripture, most contradicting each other. There was no single standard version of the scriptures. Buddhist sutras, translated into Chinese earlier than the Tang dynasty, were difficult to read and comprehend because many translators were Buddhist monks of non-Han Chinese origin. The different versions of translation confused him. In order to clarify the misunderstanding and learn more about Buddhism, he decided to go to India in person .But at the time, The Tang Dynasty and Eastern Turks were waging war therefore Emperor Tai Zong of China prohibited foreign travel.
 
Xuan Zang respected authority and he struggled with a decision on whether or not to make the journey. As a brilliant and devout man, Xuan Zang finally realized that going to India was the only way to answer questions that had troubled Chinese Buddhists. Xuan Zang, sneaking into refugees, started off from Chang'an (the ancient Xian) at the age of 28 in 628A.D.He went along the Silk Road and through deserts, arriving in India, the cradle of Buddhism. On his route to the destination, Xuan-Zang spread Chinese culture to many countries, including Chinese Buddhism, Chinese medicine, language, literature, etc. He spent 17 years in studying Buddhism in various places,finally won a Great Debate in front of thousands of eminent monks in Nalanda monastery, the biggest of all the Buddhist temples in India. He brought back Indian and Central-Asian culture to China and obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics.
 
The return trip was no less difficult. Xuan Zang was still officially a fugitive in China, because he had left without permission. Xuan Zang wrote a letter to the emperor describing what he had learned. To his surprise, in the spring of 645 AD, 17 years after he left Chang’an, Xuan Zang found the streets lined with people and government officials, all welcoming him home. The emperor invited him into the palace and Xuan Zang answered all his questions about his journey and experiences. Very pleased with Xuan Zang's knowledge and dedication, the emperor appointed him to be an official adviser of the court. Xuan Zang declined because his interest was only in translating the Buddhist scriptures he brought back. With the support of royalty, hundreds of monks were selected into the temple to help him to translate Sanskrit in sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes. His translations were far better than all previous ones in faithfulness and fluency. Based on the journey to India, he wrote a book entitled 'Pilgrimage to the West', in which he described geographical features, customs and religious myths of 111 states he had visited as well as those of the 28 other states he had heard about. Xun Zang also translated one of the Chinese classics ‘Lao Zi’ into Sanskrit. Xuan Zang stayed in the temple for 12 years, and his translation and teaching made Chang'an the center of Buddhism.
 
In 652 AD, Xuan Zang made a proposal to the court for a pagoda to be built so as to store the scriptures and statues he had brought back from India. The emperor agreed with him, and even raised funds by selling things left behind by deceased court maids. Xuan Zang, the first abbot and designer as well,supervised the building of a pagoda and even did manual labor. First built to a height of 60 meters (197 feet) with five stories,during the reign of Empress Wu, it was once increased to 10 stories. Owning to the war and weather it was almost damaged to ruins. When it was rebuilt later, it got 7 stories with the present height of 64.5 meters. The whole structure was made of layers of bricks with a circular staircase to the top. Each floor has four arch gates, one on each side; visitors can climb and have a birds-eye view of the city from the top. The bottom floor has a stone gate decorated with fine engravings of Buddha statues. Pictures of the Heavenly King and Buddha were carved on the door frames and horizontal bars on four sides of the pagoda's base. These stone sculptures provide a lot of information for the study of painting and sculpture of the Tang dynasty. Two stone tablets are mounted inside brick cages along the two sides of the southern entrance door. One tablet was engraved with Emperor Tai Zong's “An Introduction to the Sacred Teaching of Monk Tripitake of the Great Tang Dynasty” while the other was engraved with Emperor Gao Zong’s “Notes on the Introduction to the Sacred Teaching of Monk Tripitake of the Great Tang Dynasty” Both of them were in the handwriting of Mr. Chu Suiliang, one of the four most famous Chinese calligraphers at the beginning of China's Tang Dynasty. The tablets are bordered with beautiful and vivid vine-like design.
 
Big Wild Goose Pagoda was finished in 652 AD. It was built of bricks without any cement in between. The bracket style in traditional Chinese architecture was also used in the construction. The seams between each layer of bricks and the ‘prisms' on each side of the pagoda are clearly visible. The Pagoda was a combination of Indian design and Chinese architectural techniques. It is indeed a good example of ancient people's wisdom and talent. The entire Pagoda is valuable to the studies of Tang Dynasty religion, architecture, carving, painting, and calligraphy.
 
Many people wonder why it is called Big Wild Goose Pagoda, there are many explanations and hearsays concerning the mystery. A legend goes that there were two branches of Buddhism in India, the Mahayana and the Hinayana. The Mahayana believers are vegetarians but the others are meat-eating people. One day, the Hinayana believers couldn't find meat to eat. Suddenly a flock of big wild geese flying over the sky, a monk murmured to him: 'Today we have no meat. I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some.' On hearing this, the leading wild goose broke its wings and dropped dead to the ground. All the monks were startled and believed that Bodhisattva showed his power to order them to be more pious. Instead of eating the goose, they buried it and built a pagoda given a name wild goose. From then on, they converted into the Mahayana by becoming vegetarians. When Xuan Zang told the story to the Tang Emperor, Emperor Tai Zong was deeply moved, saying “Our pagoda can share the name with the pagoda in India.” About half a century later, the other pagoda in Jianfu Temple was built which was much shorter than the previous one. In order to tell the difference between the two pagodas, the word “big” was added to Wild Goose Pagoda. Hence it got the name “Big Wild Goose Pagoda”.
 
In the Tang dynasty, it was great honor for the successful candidates who passed the imperial examinations to climb up the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and wrote poems and inscriptions there. This ritual shows their overwhelming excitement and expectation to a soaring career in the future. The poem by Bai Juyi, goes that “Here under the Ci’en Pagoda, I inscribe my name as the youngest of seventeen candidates.” How happy he was, as we can feel today. The fashion was so popular that poems and inscriptions written by the successful candidates of the imperial examinations could be seen everywhere on the pagoda. It is a pity that the pagoda was once burned in the Northern Song Dynasty, (in the 11th century A.D.) most poems and inscriptions were lost. These poems and inscriptions which have survived are extremely valuable as we study our ancient literature and calligraphy. The custom of writing poems and inscriptions prevailed until the Ming Dynasty.
 
The Da Ci'en temple is still functioning with many worshippers offering incenses and candles every day. Before the main entrance to the temple, there stands a huge bronze statue of Monk Xuan Zang, 4 tons in weight and 4.98 meters in height, designed by professor Cheng Hunan from Xian Academe of Fine Art.
Going across a small bridge, you will see two threatening lions engraved in the Ming Dynasty guarding the gates of the temple. Walking into the temple, visitors will see two small buildings: The one on the east side houses a bell, and the one on the west side a drum. The bell, iron cast in the Ming Dynasty, weights 15 tons. Both the bell and drum were used to strike time for the monks in the temple.
 
Along the central path are arranged the Great Hall of the Buddha and the Doctrine Chamber. Inside the Great Hall of the Buddha in the temple, enshrined in the middle are the statutes of Sakyamuni and those of his two disciples JaYe (on the east side) and Ana (on the west side). On the both side of which are Bodhisattvas Wen Shu(on the east side)and Pu Xian(on the west side). The statutes of 10 Arhats are exhibited on the east and west walls.
 
In the Doctrine Chamber stands the Amitabha Buddha which is a copper statute (1.5m high) made in the Ming Dynasty. And there is a “sound stone”, on which 24 gods were carved. The stone is jade block with patterns of clouds and flying Apsaras. It produces beautiful sound when it is struck.
 
A group of smaller pagodas, actually the tombs of head monks, were built at the southeastern side of the Wild Goose Pagoda. Six of them were built in the Qing Dynasty. The oldest one was built in the 1705AD, and the youngest in 1999.
 
To the north of Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a large enclosed complex consisting of three Halls in the Tang style, occupying 11, 320 square meters. The construction started in 1996 and ended in 2000. Designed by Mrs. Zhang Jinqiu, member of Chinese Academy of Engineering, the compound comprises Bo Re Hall, Tripitaka Master of Dharma Hall and Komyodo Hall.      
 
Bo Re Hall  
 
Bo Re is the translation from Sanskrit meaning super wisdom. The inner wall is chiseled with murals depicting this hierarch's story.
 
Dabianjue Hall
 
Dabianjue is Xuanzang's posthumous name given by Emperor Gao Zong after his parinirvana. The relief sculpture on the west wall is the picture of the Sutra of Maitreya's Ascension. On the north wall is the picture of Maitreya who is preaching in the patio. On the east wall is the picture of the Sutra of Maitreya’s Descent. In this hall are enshrined Xuan Zang's relics and a bronze statue of a seated Xuan Zang.
 
Komyodo Hall (Bright Hall)
 
This hall is named Bright Hall, depicts Xuan Zang's birth, parinirvana, determination to the west for Buddhist scriptures, his hardship during his journey and finally becoming a dignitary.
 
Now the temple covering 76 mu is rated as a National Key Cultural Relics Preserve Unit and AAAA tourist attraction. (Written by Yu Jiangan)

 

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Attractions of Xian


  1. Foping Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas
  2. Xian Ox Culture and Ceramics Museum
  3. North Square of Big Wild Goose Pagoda
  4. Changqing Nature Reserve
  5. Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
  6. Chenlu Ancient Town
  7. Maoxian
  8. Xian
  9. Zhaoling Mausoleum
  10. Yong Le Gong Temple
  11. Qianling Mausoleum
  12. Mausoleum of Yellow Emperor
  13. Han Yangling Mausoleum
  14. Shaanxi Foping National Reserve
  15. Famen Temple
  16. Xian Ancient City Wall
  17. Shaanxi History Museum-II
  18. Bell & Drum Towers
  19. Banpo Museum
  20. Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses
  21. Shaanxi Grand Theater
  22. Peasant Painting Exhibition Hall in Huxian
  23. Huxian Farmer's painting
  24. Tang Dynasty Art Museum
  25. Great Mosque
  26. Hui Nationality
  27. Islamic Religion
  28. Qianling Mausoleum
  29. Hukou Waterfalls
  30. Yan'an Pagoda
  31. Shaanxi Delicacy
  32. City God Temple in Sanyuan
  33. Xingqing Palace
  34. Daming Palace
  35. Blue Dragon Temple
  36. Feiyuan Museum
  37. Mount Hua
  38. Shaanxi History Museum
  39. Anwu Village
  40. Welcome Ceremony at the Ancient City Wall
  41. Luoguantai Shrine
  42. Han Maoling Mausoleum
  43. Han Yangling Tomb
  44. Yao Zhou Kiln Museum
  45. Qujiang Pool
  46. Xian Museum
  47. Xian High Tech Industries Development Zone
  48. The Silk Road
  49. Small Wild Goose Pagoda
  50. Forest of Stone Tablets
  51. Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi
  52. Xianyang
  53. Fuping Ceramic Art Village and Fule International Ceramic Art Museum
  54. Huaqing Hot Springs
  55. Banpo Village Museum
  56. Han Changling Mausoleum
  57. Big Wild Goose Pagoda
  58. Daming Palace National Heritage Park
  59. All Day Mall of the Great Tang Dynasty
  60. International Horticulture Exposition 2011 Xian
  61. Drum Tower
  62. Bell Tower
  63. Xingjiao Temple
  64. Bell Tower
  65. Mt.Hua
  66. Pit No.3 of Terra Cotta Army
  67. Pit No.2 of Terra Cotta Army
  68. Pit No.1 of Terra Cotta Army
  69. Dim Sum Delicacy
  70. Tomb of Princess Yongtai
  71. Bronze Chariots and Horses
  72. Tang Paradise

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