Chinese Buddhist temples are never single buildings. They always consist of a group buildings following a fundamental patter, which can, however, be modified. The main buildings and their symmetrically corresponding secondary buildings form individual groups and courtyards. The entire temple complex is spacious. The building inside the complex are usually single-storied and the main halls are sometimes decorated with a double roof. The towers, pavilions and halls can be multi-storied structures.
The Chinese temple complex has been subject to great structural changes throughout the centuries. But temple architects follow the basic principles of secular structures from the Tang Dynasty onwards. The complexes stand on a central axis, usually a north-south axis: east-west only as an exception. (Guiyuan Temple is just the very exception.) The main buildings are strung along this central axis, their broadest sides facing south or east.
The most important and most frequently presented building inside a Buddhist temple complex are the main entrance gate, the bell and drum towers, the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the Hall of the Buddha and a pagoda.
Buddhism is said to be founded in India in the 6th century BC by Siddatha Gautama (BC565 –BC486), the son of a nobleman and member of the Kshatriya caste near the present borders of India and Nepal. Buddhism advocates that all the people are created equal and turns against the caste system of Brahmanism, so it was popular with the common people.
It was said that Buddhism was spread to China in 2 BC. At the beginning, it was only regarded as a kind of witch. About 200 AD, Chinese version of Buddhist s criptures began to appear, and thus, Buddhist doctrines began to emerge with traditional Chinese religious thought. From 2nd century to late 6th century, translation and research of Buddhist sects with Chinese characteristics were becoming more and more popular and many temples were built, which reached its peak in Sui Dynasty (581AD-617AD) and Tang Dynasty (618-907). Some Buddhist sects with Chinese characteristics came into being. Buddhism exerts a great influence on Chinese philosophy, literature, art and folk customs.
What is presented before our eyes is a copper statue of a famous bodhisattva in Hynayana Buddhism. Bodhisattva is a tittle which is only next to Buddha. This statue is the image of Avalokitesvara, which has been popular with Chinese people or more than 1,000 years. She is called the Goddess of Mercy cordially by Chinese and is regarded as the symbol of kindness, mercy and benevolence. When we visit the Avalokitesvara Pavilion after a while, I will give a detailed introduction about her. This copper statue was sent to Guiyuan Temple by Taiwan Buddhists in September 1990. It shows that all Chinese, whether in the mainland or in Taiwan, are eager for the reunion of the country, even including religion believers.
The building we see now is the Buddha Hall where one certain Buddha and his two assistant bodhisattvases are worshiped. This Buddha is Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha means incomparable brightness. According to Buddhism, time and space is limitless and thus there are many many Buddhas in different spaces and times. But in a certain space or in a certain period of time, there is only one certain Buddha who is in charge of instructing all living creatures. Amitabha Buddha is the Buddha who presides over the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the west, which will come in the future. Buddhist s criptures describe the Land of Ultimate Bliss as a wonderland, in which no pain exists and the people enjoy their lives. In one word, it’s very attractive. Some people will think it must be very difficult to enter such a world. How can I go to such a paradise? Maybe I have to work hard and bear a lot of sufferings. In fact, it’s very easy to enter the world. He only need often murmur ‘May Buddha preserve us’ sincerely. It’s enough.
You see, the statue in the middle is the very Buddha. On his left is the Goddess of Mercy. On his right is the other bodhisattva who follows the Buddha. It is said that he can save all the living creatures from three kinds of terrible disasters.