Holy Place of Kuan Yin
Mt. Putuo lies to the east of Zhoushan City. Zhoushan City is situated on Zhoushan Island that in turn gives its name to a group of some four hundred small islands off the east coast of China in Zhejiang Province. These islands are in fact the peaks of submerged mountains and so rise steeply from the sea. Mt. Putuoshan dominates the small rhomboidal land mass with its total area of about 12.5 square kilometres (4.8 square miles). The mountain is of one of four in the country that are held sacred by Buddhists and it was here that over the centuries a once large Buddhist community was to evolve.
The island’s scenic beauty meant it was the perfect setting for temples and other religious buildings. In due course, it became known as the “Heaven of the Sea and Kingdom of the Buddhists”. In its heyday, the island had eighty-two temples and nunneries together with some one hundred and twenty-eight shelters that between them housed 4,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. Even today visitors to the island will encounter monks in their traditional robes as they walk along the many paths that criss-cross the picturesque landscape.
Mount Putuo is the home of Guanyin, and Guanyin is probably the single most popular name in China. Guanyin is the symbol of peace and mercy, and has become the spiritual support for many generations of Chinese believers. Over the long history, many folktales have been told about Mount Putuo and Guanyin.
In 863, there was a Japanese monk Huie visiting and studying on Mount Wutai in China. When it was the time for him to leave the mountain, he asked to take a Guanyin statue with him, to be worshiped in Japan. Huie carried the sacred statue carefully by himself, and traveled by land to Kaiyuan Temple at the port city of Ningbo. He planned to take a boat from here back to Japan. When he tried to board the boat, however, the Guanyin statue suddenly became heavy, and he couldn’t move it by himself. So he asked help and eventually about a dozen people worked together to lift the statue and put it on the boat. The boat soon arrived the lotus sea near Mount Putuo. To everyone’s surprise, the ocean that was smooth like silk turned into a vicious monster, and among the high waves, there were also countless iron lotus flowers scattered the ocean. There was no way the boat could sail further. At night, Huie had a dream. In the dream, a monk told him: “as long as you let me stay in this mountain, I’ll give you the wind that will send you back to Japan”. That woke Huie up and he told the dream to his companions. After worshiping Guanyin, they were able to move the boat to the shore of Mount Putuo, and Huie built a simple straw hut near Chaoyin cave to house the Guanyin statue. The boat was then able to leave the lotus sea, and Huie was back to Japan. Because the Guanyin statue didn’t want to leave for Japan, it was named “reluctant to go” Guanyin. A local resident, Mr. Zhang, learned the story and modified his own house into small temple. The Reluctant to Go Guanyin was moved to the temple and he named the temple Reluctant to Go Guanyin Temple.
People believe that it was Guanyin himself chose Mount Putuo as his place (Dojo) for teaching Buddhism. Not long, the story spread across China and east Asia. Because monk Huie was from Japan, the story was well believed in his home country. Since Tang Dynasty, there has been large amount of Guanyin pilgrims visiting Mount Putuo from Japan. Due to the popularity, later Mount Nazhi was established as a Guanyin Dojo in Japan, and it was modeled after Mount Putuo. Even so, Mount Putuo is still regarded as the original Guanyin Dojo. In September of 1993, the Japanese Guanyin scholars visited Mount Putuo for the third time, and they brought 33 Guanyin statues representing 33 Guanyin temples in Japan. These Guanyin statues are now worshiped inside Huie memorial.
There were three major renovations in Mount Putuo’s history. The largest renovation probably was in 1731 under Emperor Yongzheng. The renovation lasted three years and amassed over 2000 workers. It was also managed by the provincial governor directly, under the policy of “renew all that’s old, build all that’s lacking”.
Emperor also bestowed two white jade plaques with royal inscriptions, one each for Puji and Fayu temples. These unusual treatments was widely speculated as a reward to Mount Putuo for its help during the emperor’s throne succession. Yongzheng was the fourth son among the nine to succeed the throne. The competition was fierce. The story was that in 1720, Monk Zhenliuyuan became the abbot of Puji temple. During a routine teaching session, he singled out the 4th prince (Yongzheng), and gave him special prayers. That was two years before Yongzheng’s father passed away, and the fight inside the palace was still brewing. How did an abbot on a faraway island know the outcome at that time?
Everyone should visit this holy place of Guan Yin (also spelled Kuan Yin: Avalokitesvara) as a sacred pilgrimage site named Mt Putuo or Putuoshan in China.
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