Yonghegong (Palace of Harmony and Peace) is located in the northeast part of Bejing, which is the largest and best preserved Lama Temple with a rich Tibeten and Chinese Culture combination.
Lamaism is one form of Buddhism known as the yellow sect, containing kind of Hinduism and Tibetan religious worship. Buddhism was originally introduced from India to China in the early 8th Century. On the way, it traveled through Tibet, and was gradually influenced by local cults, formed the Lamaism, and then spread to Mongolia and north China.
In Qing Dynasty, in order to maintain a good relationship with Tibet and Mongolia out of cultural and political reasons, Emperor Qianlong turned Yonghegong Lamasery, which was formerly a grand mansion ordered to be built by Emperor Kangxi (Emperor Qianlong's grandfather) for his fourth son, the later Emperor yongzheng (Emperor Qianlong's father), into a Lamaism temple where lived as many as 500 lamas recruited from Mongolia and Tibet. In 1694, it's originally built and in1915, after the 1911 revolution, it's firstly open to public.
The complex is consisted of five main buildings lying on the north-south central axis, in a symmetric pattern.
Gate of Harmony and Peace (Yonghemen) is actually a hall, not just a single gate now. According to the Buddhism tradition, Maitreya's shrine, also known as the Hall of Heavenly King, is usually the first hall seen once step into a Buddhism temple. Here's no exception. Maitreya is widely known to the Chinese as "big belly Buddha"or "smiling Buddha" who as the legend goes lived more than 2000 years ago and begged food which was later donated to temples with a bag in hand, so he also has a name as "Bag Buddhism". He is a happy and broad-minded symbol among Chinese, and it's said that only the happy and optimistic ones can be accepted by Buddhism. The Maitreya is flanked by two three-meter-high pagodas which are longevity pogodas;274 small Buddha statues are carved on the pagoda with a height of 10 centimeter each; Four heavenly Kings who are said to guard the four worlds in the Buddhist theory stand besides the Maitreya, under whose feet are representations of all evil spirits; Weituo, the symbol of law protector, is always seen whenever there's a Buddhism temple. He's said to be one of the disciples of Sakyamuni and served as his follower for 25 years. After the Sakyamuni's death, he continued to guard his tomb.
Bronze Mount Xumi (Xumishan), is a translation of Sanskrit. It represents the outlook of the Buddhist world in Indian legends and adopted by Buddhism. The top layer represents where Sakyamuni and the men of moral integrity live after their deaths; the slopes are dwellings of the four Heavenly Kings; the bottom layer is the hell for evil spirits devils and criminals.
Hall of harmony and Peace (Yonghegong) is the second main hall in the whole complex. It's also named "Hall of Great Powerful Warrior", which exclusively refers to the Sakyamuni Buddha, the one standing in the middle, who created Buddhism 2500 years ago; on the left is Past Buddha and the right Future buddha.18 Archats who are disciples of Sakyamuni and instructed to stay on earth to propagate Buddhism can be seen vividly on both sides of the hall. Painting of "thousands-eye-and hand Goddess of Mercy" is more eye-catching in this hall. The goddess of Mercy is said to be able to see through all bitterness and difficulties in the human world and help people to get through.
Hall of Eternal Blessing (Yongyoudian) was used to be the bedroom and reading room for Emperor Yongzheng when he was a prince. The present name was actually given by his son, Emperor Qianlong, who hoped to eternally bless his father, even after his father's death, he still came to offer sacrifices. Three Buddhas are in the middle of the altar in the hall. The one in the middle is Longevity Buddha who is believed to be the founder of legendary paradise and lead people to get there when follow the method of practicing Buddhism. The one to the left is Medicine Buddha, who might help to release people’s pains and diseases; to the right is Lion-roaring Buddha, who is able to suppress the evils with his loud and scaring voice.
The fourth main hall is Hall of the wheel of the Law (Falundian), where lamas gather to chant scripture and hold religious activities. The statue of Tsong-kha-pa, founder of the yellow sect, is erected in the middle, with a sword in right hand and scripture in left hand which represent for power and wisdom respectively. He came into lamasery as a 17-year-old young man. Before that age, Lamaism was divided into five sects: red, flowery, white, black and yellow. The Red Sect was popular when Tsong-kha-pa was young and the lama's hat was red tieh a yellow lining. The head lama of the Red Sect was allowed to get married and their position was hereditary. Tsong-Kha-Pa put forward new commandments and prohibitions, thus made him more popular and gained more support from lamas.he then turned the yellow lining out and made the red inside, symbolizing the yellow Sect since then.Each sect is controlled by a head lama called "living Buddha", so the yellow sect followed. Dalai and Baingen Erdeni are two disciples of him and were regarded as the reincarnations of Tsong-kha-pa.
The last main hall in the Lamasery is Tower of Ten-Thousands happiness (Wanfuge). It was built specially to house the giant Buddha statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha. Carved out of a single trunk of white sandalwood, it's 26 meters high with 18 meters above ground and another 8 under. it's a precious gift from the 7th Dalai Lama to Emperor Qianlong, showing his appreciation to the emperor for helping to crack down the rebellion in Tibet and turned the power back to him .it took three years to transport the tree trunk from Nepal to Beijing and another three years to do the carving and painting. The Buddha Statue is listed in the Guinnes Book of World Record as the biggest and tallest Buddha statue carved in the world today.
Yonghegong is indeed a great witness of the friendship between ancient dynasty and Tibet. It would continue to play its role in the stage of history and the world.
Tips of Visiting the Lamasery
Photos are allowed outside, forbidden in the hall.
If take photos of the lamas, do please turn off the flash on the camera.
As Yonghegong Lamasery has been a tourist spot for years, so some relue are becoming flexible to travelers, like you can wear shorts to visit and step into the hall; but some rule are strictly maintained: don't step on the threshold at the doorway of each hall; hats and glasses off are required in the hall; ladies better not wear too little with skin exposed too much, which is regarded as a defense to the Buddhas.
Strong incense burning smell spreads around as the lamasery receives hundreds of worshippers coming from all around the world. If allergic or sensitive to smell like this, better use mask to cover mouth and nose.
When encountered with a Buddhism activity held in the lamasery or the scripture-chanting, that would be more exciting and impressive.