Emei Mountain, China
There is no intention, with this article, to either debase or promote any particular religious belief but just to outline the history and the associated information allowing the reader to build up a mental picture of the importance of Emei Mountain. This interesting tale was discovered while researching the Nepalese rulers, and was considered to be worthy of inclusion in this section. To standardise on the place names they have been taken from the 1982 edition of the Times Atlas of the World.
Missionary stations and monasteries
Prior to 1900 it was common practice for religious groups to travel the world promoting their beliefs. Many established places, which they could use as base camps, from where they could radiate out throughout the area with ease. These 'base camps' became known as Missionary stations, and mainly used by those promoting the Christian faith, but other religions were also doing the same thing. One example of these other establishments spreading the word were the monasteries of the Buddhist faith, and it is one of these monasteries, and its history, that is being discussed here.
History and location
It was in 600 BC when an Indian monk ventured along what is known as the 'Tibetan Silk Road' into China (or Cinisthana as it was called then). While in the vicinity of Chentu (Chengtu), Szechwan province, he discovered and climbed a mountain, when he got to the top he was fascinated by the beautiful scenery and said 'This is the number one mountain in Cinisthana'. Ever since then Emei mountain has been one of the four Buddhist sacred mountain temples in China. The other three sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism are in the provinces of Shansi (Wutai), Chekiang (Putuo), and Anhui (Jiuhua).
The Emei Monasteries were very isolated from the rest of the world, and are to be found 150 miles to the south south west (halfway between south west and south) of Chentu in a remote part of the Szechwan province in western China. It has been suggested that Emei Mountain gets its name from the two peaks that face each other and look like a pair of eyebrows.
Buddhists regard mountains as being the 'Gateway to the Gods', and is their main reason for building their temples all the way up to the summit. Once there were one hundred Temples or monasteries built on Emei Mountain, but now these have been reduced to twenty. The reason for the drastic reduction was during the Taiping Rebellion in 1850 to 1864 when Chinese Christians destroyed most of the Buddhist monasteries and temples.
As the monks progressed through their religious education they moved to the next temple up the mountain. When they had attained their highest position, and could go no further, they found themselves at the temple at the summit. At the summit of Emei Mountain is the monastery known as the 'Golden Summit' or 'Huacang Temple'. This temple originally had a roof made entirely of copper bronze which reflected the sun's rays making it appear golden and hence its name. Because the temple had suffered the ravages of fire three times in its life, the roof is now made of tiles.
At the foot of Emei Mountain is a very fertile region known as the Szechuan Basin. Through this Basin runs the famous Yangtze River (or Yangtze Kiang) before making its long journey across China to join the sea at Shanghai. The Yangtze River is a natural dividing line separating north and south China.
To reach the Golden Summit Temple, which at 10,000 feet high, along the prepared path (three and one eighth miles long), it takes the average walker one day to climb to the top and the same time to descend. The walker experiences all four seasons while travelling along this path. At the Golden Summit the climber will find the temple to be built of glazed tiles with white marble balustrades, and covering half an acre. Also in this temple is a statue of Samantabhdra riding a white elephant with six tusks, standing 24 foot high, weighing 62 tons, which was cast in 980 AD.
Accommodation can be obtained at reasonable prices within the Golden Summit monastery for the weary traveller. As can be expected the prices range from the basic bed and room to a luxurious room with all modern conveniences.
Chinese Buddhism, which incidentally was known as 'Showcase Buddhism', was formed from a mixture of the original (Indian) Buddhism and Nestorian Christianity. This link was established when Genghis Khan captured the Keraits who were devout Nestorians, and his son (Tuli) married one of their princesses. She later became the mother of three Mongol rulers, one of who, Kublai Khan, became the first Mongol Emperor of all China. Genghis was an ardent Buddhist. It was decided to name the capital of China Cumbulac, which is now known as Peking (Beijing). Cumbulac also became the seat of Nestorian Christianity at the same time.
In 1908 Pelliot, in a Buddhist Grotto at Tunhang, discovered a Christian manuscript, of Nestorian origin, written in Chinese from the 8th Century in the northwestern corner of Kansu province. This manuscript contained a hymn to the Holy Trinity and a list of 35 Christian books, proving the close relationship between the two religions.
The two Buddhist faiths, Hinyana (the original Indian doctrine) and Mahayana (the Chinese version) were known as 'The little Ferry boat' and 'The great Ferry boat' respectively. Because of the more liberal attitude of the Mahayana faith it was considered that it would carry more people to the farthest shore of enlightenment, whereas the restrictive teachings of the Hinyana would not carry as many into the faith.
One of the Buddhist commandments, of which they also had ten, says 'Thou shall not kill'. This commandment means that no animal, fish, or fowl should be killed for food, and results in all Buddhists being vegetarians.
Many reference works use the word - monastics - as the collective noun for monks and nuns, but in the Buddhist faith there are very few nuns (if any).
According to the Atlas of the Chinese Empire published in 1908, for the China Inland Mission, states that there were seven Christian missions located in Chentu. These were the American Bible Society, British & Foreign Bible Society, Canadian Methodist Mission, China Inland Mission, Friends Foreign Mission, Methodist Episcopal Mission, and the YMCA. Christian missions were known to be of help to the community by providing hospitals, schools for girls and women, blind school, station classes, and in one or two places leper asylums. One of the schools for girls was named 'Birds' nest', which was set up as an orphanage to educate young girls who were abandoned by their families.
The Chinese constitution stipulated that freedom of religious belief is one of the fundamental rights of its citizens.
It can be seen that China was very open as regards the religious freedom it granted to its people, and allowed many missions into each and every province. This is contrary to the normal image in history books because China is usually portrayed as being a closed country as far as religion is concerned. During the research for an article on the Nepalese Royal Family, which will be appearing in the future, proves that China was very liberal in its attitude to the salvation of her people and this background will add a depth to the forthcoming article. It has been recorded that in addition to the above mentioned missions there were others from continental Europe that were also based in Chentu.
Bibliography, sources of information, and assistance
Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (report by
Corresponding Secretary Rev. Ll. Lloyd)
British Baptists in China by H. R. Williamson
Timothy Richard of China by Professor W. E. Soothill
Atlas of the Chinese Empire (specially prepared for The China Inland Mission) by Edward Stanford
Buddha by Alistair Shearer
The World of Buddhism edited by Heinz Bechert & Richard Gombrich
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics edited by James Hastings (Volumes 3 & 8)
The Pride that was China by Michael Loewe
Rev. Harold Mason for ensuring this article's religious correctness