White Cloud Temple
|White Cloud Temple|
The archway in front of the entrance to the temple site
The White Cloud Temple or the Monastery of the White Clouds (simplified Chinese: 白云观; traditional Chinese: 白雲觀; pinyin: Bái Yún Gùan; literally: "White Cloud Compound") is a Daoist temple located in Beijing, China. It is one of "The Three Great Ancestral Courts" of the Complete Perfection School of Taoism, and is titled "The First Temple under Heaven".
The White Cloud Temple was first founded in the mid-8th century during the Tang dynasty, and was initially called Tianchang Abbey (天長觀; Abbey of Celestial Perpetuity). During this period, the abbey was state-sponsored and staffed by an elite clergy. From 1125 to 1215 when what is now Beijing was controlled by the Jin dynasty, the abbey served as the Daoist administrative headquarters and played an important role in state ceremonies. After Beijing was taken by the Mongols in 1215, the abbey was taken over by the Quanzhen patriarch Qiu Chuji, and became the headquarters of the Quanzhen movement until the establishment of the Ming dynasty. Qiu renamed the abbey Changchun Gong (長春宮; Palace of Eternal Spring). In October 1222, Qiu gave his exposition of Daoism to Genghis Khan after a three-year trek from Shandong Province after being summoned. Qiu's successor, Yin Zhiping (尹志平; 1169-1251) built a memorial shrine over Qiu's grave. This shrine became a temple in its own right called White Cloud Temple. The abbey was damaged when the Mongols took over in the late 13th century, and during the Ming dynasty the Changchun Gong disappeared. However, White Cloud Temple survived and took over the functions of Changchun Gong. During the Ming dynasty, monks from the Zhengyi school took over operations of the abbey, but continued Quanzhen traditions and ordination ceremonies. Zhengyi control over the temple continued until the 17th century, when their monopoly ended and the Quanzhen master Wang Changyue (王常月; ?-1680) took over. To this day, White Cloud Temple remains Quanzhen controlled. During the 20th century, the abbey was without an abbot for the 1940s, and was closed when the Communists came to power in 1949. Unlike many other historical sites which were damaged during the Cultural Revolution, White Cloud Temple was well-protected and remained safe. Today it is again a fully functioning temple and is the seat of the Chinese Daoist Association.
Like most other Chinese temples, the White Cloud Temple is laid out on a north-south axis, with the entrance at the south end. There are five main halls built upon the main axis, beginning with the Main Gate, Yuhuang Hall (玉皇殿), Laolü Hall (老律堂), Qiuzu Hall (丘祖殿) and finally the Sanqing Hall (三清殿). On either side of the main axis are two smaller axes, each containing halls dedicated to a variety of deities. In the rear of the complex is a garden which hosts the abbey’s ordination platform.
This hall was first built in 1661, and was rebuilt in 1788. It is three bays long with a gabled roof, and is flanked by drum and bell towers.
This hall has the same design as the Yuhuang Hall and was first built in 1456. The monastic community holds a twice-daily office in the Laolü Hall, and it is where ordination certificates are issued.
In 1428, the Sanqing hall was built. It is a two-story, five bay structure with a gabled roof that contains statues of the Three Pure ones on the top floor and the Four Celestial Aides on the bottom floor.
Out of 20 Quanzhen ordination centers in the Qing dynasty, White Cloud Temple was the most important. In order to become a Daoist priest, novices first had to spend three years living in a temple. After accomplishing this, they were eligible to be ordained. The ordination was extremely harsh. Each novice had to undergo 100 days of brutal training that sometimes resulted in death. In modern times, this has been reduced to 53 days, and is no longer as dangerous. After this training period, novices had exams on Daoist classics, poetry and precepts. Afterwards, successful novices were ordained as full Daoist priests. During the Qing dynasty, averages of 200 novices were ordained every four years. Ordination ceremonies ended after 1927, but were resumed in 1989.
Every year on the 19th day of the first lunar month a festival is held at the abbey in celebration of Qiu Chuji's birthday. It was thought that Qiu would return to earth as an immortal on this day. The festival was first held during the Yuan dynasty, but was suspended after the People's Republic of China was established in 1949. The festival was revived in the 1990s, and continues to be held to this day.
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