Monday, March 1, 2021

China | Beijing | Yonghegong

As I mentioned in a previous post there is supposed to be a Shambhala Thangka in the collection of the Yonghegong, or Lama Temple in Beijing. The last time I had been there it was not out on public display, but I decided to pop in again anyhow on the outside chance that it could now be seen.

3 Yonghegong is the biggest surviving Buddhist temple in Beijing. Completed in 1694, it originally served as the residence of Qing Emperor Kangxi’s son Yong Zheng. In 1725, shortly after Yong Zheng became emperor, he upgraded the complex and gave it the name Yonghegong, meaning “Harmony and Peace Palace.” It was Yong Zheng who some believe ordered the assassination of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia in 1723. In any event, Zanabazar died that year in the Yellow Temple in Beijing. Whatever his role in Zanabazar’s death, Yong Zheng, following the instructions of his father Kangxi, built Amarbayasgalant Monastery in northern Mongolia to hold Zanabazar’s remains. In 1744 Yong Zheng’s successor Qian Long turned the complex into a monastery, and along with the Yellow Temple it became an outpost of Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhism in Beijing. It survived the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977) more-or-less intact supposedly because of the direct intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai. The complex was reopened in 1981. Among the chief attractions now is the sixty-foot-tall Standing Maitreya in the Main Temple. Carved from the trunk of a white sandalwood tree, it is said to be the largest statue in the world made from a single piece of wood (duly certified in 1990 by the Guiness Book of World Records, a Chinese obsession). A whole posse of monks is on hand to prevent people from taking photographs of the wooden Maitreya, so no photos of that. 6

I found no trace of the Shambhala thangka, which must still be in storage somewhere, so I mosied across the street to the many shops selling religious paraphernalia to stock up on Nanmu incense, made from the wood of the Nanmu tree. Supposedly Nanmu incense was introduced into China by the Panchen Lama of Tibet, who gave some as a gift to the Qing Emperor Qian Long on the occasion of the latter’s seventieth birthday. It quickly became Emperor’s favorite incense. It has the unusual quality of smelling much stronger on rainy days, and is said to clear the nose and sharpen one’s thoughts. It also drives away mosquitoes. 9 ​ 10 About a block down the street from the temple entrance is a small Tibetan shop ran by a young Tibetan man and woman. They have a nice selection of thangkas, but as one might expect at this venue a little over-priced. The young man was kind enough to restring my mala for me free-of-charge. Next time you are in Beijing and need your beads restrung this is definitely the place to go.