white horse temple

The White Horse Temple (Baima Si) in Luoyang, Henan Province, was the first Buddhist Temple in China. It is said that one night in the year A. D. 64, Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) dreamed of a golden man 12 feet high, and the light from the man's head illuminated the hall where he stood.

In the morning, the emperor told his officials what he had seen, and one of them, named Fu Yi, said the emperor had dreamed of the Buddha, a god of the West. Then the emperor sent Cai Yin, Qin Jing, and others to Tianzhu (now India) for Buddhist scriptures.

When Cai, Qin, and their group arrived in what is now Afghanistan, they met Kasyapamatanga and Dharmaranya, two eminent Indian monks, who were preaching Buddhism there. In A. D. 67, they loaded Buddhist scriptures written in Sanskrit and a portrait on white felt of Sakyamuni, the Buddha, onto a white horse and returned to Luoyang with the two Indian monks. The emperor lodged the monks at the Honglu Temple, which had a guesthouse for foreign emissaries. When living quarters for the monks were built in the temple the following year, the temple was renamed Baima (White Horse) Temple so people could remember the white horse that carried back the Buddhist scriptures and the portrait of Sakyamuni.

The Baima Temple has been through many changes. What we see today is a rectangular courtyard complex facing south, reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), with an area of 40,000 square meters and a roofed entrance arch with three doorways. The entrance is built of blue stones, including several pieces from the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Arranged along a central axis that extends northward inside the entrance are the Hall of the Heavenly King, the Mahavira Hall, the Receiving and Directing to Paradise Hall, the Vairocana Pavilion, and the majestic Hall of the Giant Buddha, with its upturned eaves and painted brackets.

On the east side of the halls and the pavilion are the Guest Hall, the Hall of Prayer, the Hall of Abstinence, and the living chambers of the monks. On the west are the Hall of the Founder of Buddhism, the Hall of Meditation, and the Preaching Hall. There are two opposite courtyards, and the complex as a whole is well proportioned. It has the flavor of traditional Chinese architecture and shows a distinction between more important and less important structures.

All the halls housing statues of Sakyamuni, Maitreya, Amitabha, the Buddha of Medicine, and various bodhisattvas are built on the central axis following the terrain, and each hall stands higher than the one in front. The Vairocana Pavilion on Qingliang Terrace stands especially prominent and magnificent.

The Qiyun Pagoda was built after the temple was renamed Baima Temple and is known as the first pagoda in China. Originally, it was a pavilion-like wooden structure with paintings depicting Buddhist scriptures. It burned down toward the end of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and was rebuilt in 1175 as a 13-story square brick structure with closely arranged eaves. It is 25 meters in height and 7.8 meters on each side at the bottom. The eaves are built with small, exquisite overlapping bricks.

When one claps one’s hands 20 meters away from the pagoda, the echo reflected from the eaves sounds like frogs croaking.

Tianwang Hall (Heavenly King Hall)
Standing behind the temple gate, Tianwang Hall is the first hall of this temple. In it, the Maitreya Buddha was enshrined with four Heavenly Kings on both sides. The four Heavenly Kings hold respectively a pipa, a sward, a snake and an umbrella in their hand, which symbolizing favorable weather for crops and a prosperous and peaceful country for the people. Behind the Maitreya Buddha is Weituo, the protector of the Buddhist doctrine.

Dafo Hall (Great Buddha Hall)
Great Buddha Hall is the second hall of the temple. It is the place where the grand Buddhist ceremonies are held. The existent hall dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). In its center sits erect a statue of Sakyamuni which is closely flanked by two Bodhisattvas Wenshu and Puxian, and his two disciples Ananda and Jiaye. Behind stand the statue of Avalokitesvara.

In the southeast of the hall, a huge bell is hung from the beam. It was said that when the bell is struck, the toll could be heard far away. More interesting is that once the bell is tolling, the one in Bell Tower in Luoyang Old Town will response it quickly due to the sympathetic vibration. “Horse Temple Bell”, one of the eight scenes in Luoyang city was named from it.

Daxiong Hall (Great Hero Treasure Hall)
Originally built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271- 1368) and rebuilt in the Ming and Qing dynasties, Daxiong Hall was the most magnificent in scale and most splendid in view. The hall houses three Buddhas. Sakyamuni is sitting in the center with Medicine Buddha who from the Eastern Pure Land of Azure Radiance on the left and Amitabha Buddha, the teacher of the Western Pure Land on the right.

The hall also house eighteen Arhats. They are vivid in modeling and unique in gesture and are treasures in Buddhist arts of the Yuan Dynasty.

Qingliang Terrace
The fourth hall is Jieyin Hall (Receiving and Directing to Paradise Hall). Behind it is a platform named Qingliang Terrace. Rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty, Qingliang Terrace was said to be the place where Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty read and rest. Later, the two dignitary monks from Indian once lived here and preached Buddhism and translated scripture books until death. After the Eastern Han Dynasty, this terrace was adopted to house the Buddhist sutra.

Qiyun Pagoda (Cloud Reaching Pagoda)
Located about 200 meters southeast of White Horse Temple is Qiyun Tower. It was originally built in the Later Tang Dynasty during the Five Dynasties as a pavilion-like wooden structure. Later, destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt in 1175 as a 13-story square brick structure with closely arranged eaves.

Qiyun Pagoda is 25 meter in height with 13 stories and 7.8 meters on each side at the bottom. Displaying a unique style, the pagoda belongs to the style of cubic shaped, close eaves brick pagoda. The eaves are built with small, exquisite overlapping bricks. Once you clap your hands 20 meters away from the pagoda, the echo reflected from the eaves sounds like frogs croaking.

Qiyun Pagoda is also one of the few ancient buildings of the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234) in central China.
Besides, White Horse Temple has kept more than 40 upright stone tablets through the ages since the Tang Dynasty. Among them the Notes of Luojing Baima Temple Originating Court handwritten by Zhao Mengfu, a famous calligrapher of the Yuan Dynasty, is the most precious one.

Outside of the temple there is two stone horses, all in life-size. These two horses look geniality and tractability. They are the stone-carved horses made in Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), and they are the excellent artwork.