Yunju Temple

Yunju TempleOn April 28th, 1987, Zhao Puchu, head of China’s Buddhist Association announced the discovery of two fragments of the bone relics of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. Known as sartra in Sanskrit, the bones were found in 1981 inside two gold bone bowls which were contained inside five progressively smaller boxes in a cave at the Yunju (Heavenly Living) Temple some 75 kilometres southwest of the city of Beijing. Zhao told reporters at a news conference that the bones, about the size of a sand grain, fitted closely descriptions in records from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The relics are one of the important discoveries in Chinese history and Buddhism. It was only made public at the time when the restoration of the temple was nearly finished. The bone bowls are displayed there.

Records said that there were originally three bone bowls, al-though it was not known how they arrived at the temple. The Buddhist bones were discovered and removed for three days by a Ming Dynasty empress in the 15th century and one bowl was lost. Alongside the remaining bowls were found two pearls and curses carved into the lid of the smallest box.

Nestling in the mountains, Yunju Temple is also famed for its 14,278 stone slabs inscribed with Buddhist scriptures in 17 million characters.

In a tower and nine grottoes were engraved by 13.generations of monk starting in the Sui Dynasty (581- 618) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The temple has been ranked with the Dunhuang Grottoes, a well-known store of Buddhist literature in Northwest China.

The stone slabs were mostly excavated during the 1950s. The largest slabs are 2.5 metres long and 60 centimetres wide while the smallest is 76 centimetres long and 40 centimetres wide. If they are placed in a row, they would extend for 20 kilometres.

In 1956, when archaeologists were searching unsuccessfully for the caves, they found a slab in the house of a local farmer. It indicated the location of the relics. Since large-scale restoration of the temple started in l9849 the government has funded the project, while Buddhists in China, Japan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries have donated more than one million yuan ($ 183,486). At present, a four-storey hall which covers 3,000 square metres has been completed. ¬†Some 80,000 trees have been planted in and around the temple and a road 12 kilometres long has been built linking the temple with the highways. Two more halls, including one to enshrine Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, was built in 1990 and a 2, OOO-square-metre storeroom was erected to house 77,000 wooden blocks engraved with tripitaka in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). About 7,000 such wood-en blocks have already been shipped to the temple, adding that China has only about eight sets of tripitaka rubbings, which are now kept in Peking University, the Administration of Museums and Archaeological Materials and Jilin University. When all the 77,000 blocks arrive, the Yunju Temple will become China’s largest museum of Buddhist scriptures.

The temple was destroyed in 1942 by Japanese artillery, but the stone slabs remained intact in underground caves. Renovation began in1984 and was completed in 1991. Now monks have been invited back to the temple and two fragments of the bone ashes of Sakyamuni, which came to the temple in late Sui Dynasty more than 1,400 years ago, are displayed here again.

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