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Top 10 Buddhist Temples and Monasteries in China

The Buddhism was introduced to China around the Christian era and can be traced far back to Western Han and Eastern Han Dynasties (202 BC -220 AD). Then the developing Buddhism has influenced Chinese culture in a great variety of the areas of philosophy, literature, art, politics, medicine and material culture.

Many temples and monasteries in China witness the development of Buddhism and record people’s devoted believes. Some of these temples and monasteries play an extremely dynamic role in Buddhism. Check the top 10 Buddhist temples and monasteries in China, and take a closer sight of Chinese Buddhism as well as the topping architectures and arts.

1. Shaolin Temple – Source of Zen Buddhism and Chinese Marital

Firstly built in 495 (during Northern Wei Dynasty), Shaolin Temple is constructed in Wuru Peak of Mount Songshan under the reign of Xiaowen Emperor to place an Eminent Indian monk Buddhabhadra. 32 years later, another venerable Indian monk Bodhidarma came here to preach Zen Buddhism. After that, Bodhidarma is honored as the ancestor of Chinese Zen Buddhism and Shaolin Temple became the ancestor court of Zen Buddhism. Besides, it is also the source place of Chinese Martial.

With a history of over 1500 years, Shaolin Temple has developed to a world-famous Buddhist temple. The temple has many important buildings, like Daxiong Hall, Arhat Hall, West Facing Hall, Forest of Steles, Chuzu Temple, Tripitaka Sutra Pavilion, Dodhidharma Cave etc. The Chuzu Temple is a battered and quiet counterpoint to the main building. The main structure of Chuzu Temple is the oldest wooden one in Henan Province. The Arhat Hall enjoys several fashioned monks who have achieved enlightenment and passed to nirvana at death. In the Forest of Steles, there is a cemetery of 248 brick pagodas, including the ashes of eminent monks. The Forest of Steles in Shaolin temple is the largest survived forest of steles in China. Shaolin Temple now is famed for its dazzling Kung Fu Show, which has attracted many tourists from home and abroad.

Type: Chinese Buddhist Temple, Zen Buddhist Temple, UNESCO Cultural Heritage

History: over 1500 years

Recommended Visiting Time: 3~4 hours

Location: Songshan Mountain, Dengfeng, Zhengzhou

Highlights: Arhat Hall, Forest of Steles, Tripitaka Sutra Pavilion, Kungfu Show

2. Jokhang Temple – Spiritual Center of Tibet

Jokhang Temple is the spiritual heart of Tibet and a sacred pilgrim destination for Buddhists for Buddhists. In the 7th century, the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo gave order to construct Jokhang Temple to house the statue of Shkayamuni brought from Nepal firstly. It was named Rasa and it is said that Lhasa was named after Rasa. Later, another statue of life-size statue of 12-year-old Jowa Sakyamuni was brought by Wencheng Princess from China. It is this statue which gives the temple its name Jokhang (literally meaning house of Buddha) and its spiritual potency.

The whole structure of Jokhang Temple was designed according to the shape of Manda. What will catch your eyes at the first sight is the beautiful Gold Roof. From the rooftop, you can take a good view of the Barkhor Street and Potala Palace. In the temple, many sacred statues of Buddha housed in the chapels. The hanging Thangkas are also worthy of your appreciation. At Jokhang Temple Square, there are continuous waves of devoted pilgrims prostrating themselves day and night. Many pilgrims prostrated themselves to Jokhang Temple and from far countryside every year. They believe their sincerity will bring happiness, safety and fitness to their families.

Type: Tibetan Buddhist Temple, UNESCO Cultural Heritage

History: over 1300 years

Recommended Visiting Time: 1~2 hours

Location: Barkhor Street, Chengguan District, Lhasa

Highlights: Life-size Statue of Sakyamuni, Gold Roof

3. White Horse Temple – First Buddhist Temple in China

In 64 AD, the emperor in Han Dynasty dreamed a gold man whom is believed to be Buddha flied to his palace, and then he dispatched envoys to the western regions for Buddhist scriptures. Three years later, the envoys invited two eminent Indian monks Kasyapamatanga and Dharmaratna to Luoyang with white horses carrying many Buddhist statues and scriptures. In 68, the emperor decided to build a temple for preaching Buddhism and named it White Horse Temple. The first Chinese Buddhist temple was born. The two monks translated Forty-two Chapters Buddhist Sutras successfully, which became the first Chinse Buddhist scripture . Following the steps of the monks, there were more west monks coming to the White Horse Temple to sermon and translate scriptures. In the next 150 years, 395 scriptures were translated to Chinese. As a result, the temple became the first Ashram for translating scripture .

Just as Chinse traditional buildings, the White Horse is built facing-south in a symmetrical pattern. Though it has experienced several destructions, some precious statues still survived. In front of the gate, you can see two stone horses. Walk in and you will find two tombs of the first Indian monks in the temple. After visiting the halls in sequence, you can explore the palace of translating scriptures – Cool and Clear Terrace. Outside the temple is tiered with Qiyun Pagoda (oldest pagoda in China ) and foreign temple, including Indian Temple, Thailand Temple and Burmese Temple, showing the cultural exchange between China and other countries.

Type: Chinese Buddhist Temple

History: over 1900 years

Recommended Visiting Time: 2~3 hours

Location: No. 6 Luoyang road, Luolong district, Luoyang

Highlights: Qiyun Pagoda, Cool and Clear Terrace

4. Famen Temple – the Ninth Wonder of the World

Famen Temple was originally built in the end of Eastern Han Dynasty and has been reconstructed several times. During Tang Dynasty, it became the imperial temple with the large scale and high profile. However, after Ming and Qing Dynasty, it went to the down fall. In 1987, after the opening of the underground palace in Famen Temple, over 2000 cultural relics dating back to Tang Dynasty were found, including Buddha’s relics, gold & silver relics, colored glaze, ceramics, silk, figure of Buddha, and the Finger Sarira of Sakyamuni. There are four sarira found, and three of them are called duplicate relics and used to protect the true relic –the finger bone of Sakyamuni. This sacred finger sarira is the fifth sarira of Sakyamuni found in China. Then, Famen Temple became a popular Buddhist site for pilgrimage. The UNESCO described it as the ninth wonder of the world.

Famen Temple now can be divided into three parts – Old Famen Pagoda, Namaste Dagoba and Famen Temple Museum and. The Underground Palace was located in the old Famen Pagoda, and three duplicate relics were cherished in the Underground Palace usually. The Namaste Dagoba was designed in a shape of folding hands by famed architecture designer Mr. Li Zuyuan and constructed in 2009. The sarira of Sakyamuni was housed in this dagoba. The Famen Temple Museum is a must to admire the valuable treasures. What you can’t miss includes the Gilded Bronze Buddha, Silver Container, Mystic Color Ceramics...

Tips: The Finger Sarira of Sakyamuni was only displayed in weekends, the lunar 1 st and 15th day of every month, and some special festivals usually. If you want to pay homage to the sarira, make sure you visit in the right day.

Type: Chinese Buddhist Temple, Imperial Temple

History: over 1700 years

Recommended Visiting Time: 2~4 hours 

Location: Famen Town, Fufeng County, Baoji

Highlights: Sarira of Sakyamuni, Underground Palace, Famen Museum

5. Hanging Temple – Wonder on the Cliff

As its name implies, the Hanging Temple is a temple built into a cliff incredibly and 50 meters above the ground. It was constructed without any supportive structures and the present pillars were added later because no one dares to visit the temple without visible support. Time magazine listed it in the world'stop ten most odd unstable s buildings. In fact, the construction is based on the principles of mechanics and uphelders are hidden inside the bedrock. In addition to its miraculous architectures, the Hanging Temple is also notable as the only exiting temple with combination of China’s three traditional religions – Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism .

The main buildings in the Hanging temple are Southern Pavilion, Northern Pavilion and Changxian Bridge. The Southern Pavilion is a three-storyed building equipped with Chunyang Palace, Sanguan Hall, Sangong Palace and Leiyin Hall. Sangong Palace is the biggest hall of the temple and Sanguan Hall keeps the tallest sculpture of the temple. The Northern Pavilion has Wufo Hall, Guanyin Hall and Sanjiao Hall. The statues of the founders of three religions - Shakyamuni of Buddhism, Laozi of Taoism and Confucius of Confucianism are worshipped in the Sanjiao Hall. Beautiful carvings and various statues can be seen in the temple.

Tips: Make sure you arrive there early in the morning, because the place is very small and if you find a long queue you might risk losing a lot of time before getting inside.

Type: Chinese Buddhist Temple, Taoist Temple, Confucian Temple

History: over 1500 years

Recommended Visiting Time: 2~4 hours 2 ~ 3 hours

Location: Hengshan Mountain, Hunyuan County, Datong

Highlights: Southern Pavilion, Northern Pavilion and Changxian Bridge

6. Tashilhunpo Monastery – Official Seat of Panchen Lama

Covering an area of 150,000 square meters, Tashilhunpo Monastery is the largest as well as most important monastery in Shigatse. Combined with the tree greatest monasteries in Lhasa, it is honored as one of the Four Major Monasteries of Gelugpa of Tibetan Buddhism. What makes it so famous is that it has been the official seat of Panchen Lama since the fourth Panchen Lama came here. Till now, the 11th Panchen Lama still meets the followers in Tashilhunpo Monastery. The lucky tourists are able to see him sometimes. Moreover, most the former Panchen Lamas’ stupas are also housed in Tashilhunpo Monastery.

Before entering the monastery, you can get a grand view of this magnificent buildings group. Above the white quarters are four ochre palaces topped with gold. The first palace is Chapel of Jamba which housing a gold statue of Jamba, the Future Buddha, which is the largest gilded statue in the world. Then there comes the 10th Panchen Lama’s Stupa, the 4th Panchen Lama’s Stupa and the 5th – 9th Panchen Lamas’ multi-burial stupa. On the right of the four palaces, there is a platform used for hanging with the huge Thangka of Buddha during important festivals. In the Assembly Hall, there will be some monks chanting scriptures in some special days.

Type: Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

History: over 500 years

Recommended Visiting Time:  2~3 hours

Location: Westside of Shigatse City

Highlights: Future Buddha Statue, Panchen Lama’s Stupas, Assembly Hall

7. Wenshu Monastery – Peaceful Monastery in Busy City

Wenshu Monastery was firstly built in Sui Dynasty (605 ~ 617) and used to be a small counrtyard. During Song Dynasty, it was renamed as Xinxiang Temple and later destroyed in the war. In Qing Dynasty, some people saw the Manjusri Bodhisattva appearing there with red light. So the temple was renovated and named Wenshu Monastery. Wenshu is the Chinese name of Manjusri Bodhisattva. With long history and strong Buddhist influence, Wenshu Monastery is one of the Four Chinese Zen Buddhist Monasteries. Though it located in the busy downtown area of Chengdu, Wenshu Monastery enjoys a tranquil atmosphere fabulously.

With traditional feature Chinese ancient palaces, the main architectures of Wenshu Monastery were built facing south and on the axis from the gate to Sutra Mansion. All buildings show the typical Qing Dynasty style with upturned eaves. Thousands of Buddhist scriptures, paintings and Calligraphy are also collected in the monastery. Every day, many local people will worship and burn incense there.

Except for savoring the ancient buildings and Buddhist fragrance, Wenshu Monastery is a good place to relax yourself. The awesome old-school Teahouse in Wenshu Monastery is also famous for Chinse tea and folk shows. The nearby Vegetarian Restaurant offers very excellent vegetarian dishes. Even a short walk in Wenshu Monastery will be interesting.

Type: Chinese Buddhist Monastery

History: over 1000 years

Recommended Visiting Time: 2 hours

Location: No.66 Wenshuyuan Street, Qingyang District, Chengdu

Highlights: Five Halls, Dhammapala Weituo’s Statue, Teahouse, Vegetarian Restaurant

8. Kumbum Monastery – Birthplace of Gelugpa’s Founder

Kumbum Monastery, also called Taer Monastery in Chinse, is an important Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in China. It is mostly famous as the birth Place of Tsongkhapa. In 1357, Tsongkhapa - the founder of Gelupa (Yellow Hat Sect, the most important sect of Tibetan Buddhism) was born here. When Tsongkahapa was 16 years old, he went to Tibet for further Buddhist study and seldom came back home. He told his mother to build a pagoda in his birthplace, and she can visit pagoda if she missed him. Then Kumbum Monastery was built. With its enormous historic significance, the monastery is honored one of the Six Greatest Monasteries of Gelupa and Tibetan Buddhist Center in North China.

Tarer Monastery’s buildings exhibit both Tibetan and Han Style. The Eight Pagodas of Buddha Sakyamuni is the great building of Taer Monastery to commemorate the eight merits and virtues of Buddha Shakyamuni. Many Buddhist treasures are place in these pagodas. Tourists are also interested in the Three Art Wonders in Kumbum Monastery, including exquisite murals, vivid Butter Scuptures and imaginative Barbolas, which show the master-hand of Tibet Buddhists. The Buddhist Scripture Debating also takes place in Kumbum Monastery, and often begins in 15:00 ~ 16:00.

Type: Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

History: over 500 years

Recommended Visiting Time:  2~4 hours

Location: Lushaer Town, Huangzhong County, Xining

Highlights: Pagodas of Buddha Shakyamuni

9. Sertar Larung Gar – World-famous Buddhist Academy

Sertar is a big gathering place of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, and all the monasteries here belong to Ningma (Red Hat) Sect. More than a large-scaled Tibetan Buddhist monasteries group, Sertar Larung Gar always attracts tourists and Buddhist followers as a Buddhist Academy. In 1880, Dejiang Duoji set up a Buddhist institute with about 30 apprentices. In 1987, the 10th Panchen Lama thought the institute should be developed and asked the government for support. Then the Sertar Larung Gar Buddhist Academy was set up and developed to the largest Buddhist Academy in the World . Growing number of Buddhist learners come there for further Buddhist study. Till today, there must be over 20,000 Buddhist apprentices studying there. In such a solemn and harsh academy, the apprentices stand a life of self-denial and early morning, you can hear the they chanting scriptures.

The whole Buddhist Academy looks like a red river of buildings, which providing an awe-inspiring view. When night comes and the lights were lighten, the view becomes more extraordinary glorious. So it is also a good place to take some spectacular pictures. In the highest peak, there is a golden Mandala, which is the religious site for sacrifice and pilgrimage. The Buddhist followers believed that 100 circles around the Manda can relive all diseases and disasters.

Tips: 1) located in such a remote area, the accommodation and food are both rather basic; 2) from 2016, Sertar Larung Gar Buddhist Academy is under reconstruction and not open to tourists.

Type: Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Buddhist Academy

History: over 100 years

Recommended Visiting Time:  1~2 days

Location: Jinma Avenue, Sertar County, Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province

Highlights: Large-scale Buildings Group, Night View

10. Lingyin Temple - Peaceful Temple in Lush Forest

Lingyin Temple was originally built in 326 AD by an Indian monk. When he visited Hangzhou, he was fascinated by the unworldly peaks there. So he built a temple and called it Linyin which means soul’s retreat. With a location between trees-wrapped Feilai Peak and Begao Peak, Lingyin Temple really deserves its name. During the Northern and Southern Dynasty, Lingyin expanded with the bestowing land from Liangwu Emperor. In its heyday, the population of the monks once reached to 3,000. In Song Dynasty, Feilai Peak was praised as one of the five Jiangnan Zen Buddhist Mountains because of the status of Linyin Temple.

Visiting this ancient temple, you have much to explore, including natural scenery and cultural constructions. The first building on the axis of Lingyin Temple is Hall of Heavenly Kings, housing the Future Buddha. In the Grand Hall of Great Sage sits a screaming statue of Sakyamuni on a lotus flower. On the back side of this statue is a group of tridimensional statues, including Bodhisattva with 150 small figures. The Palace of Medicine Buddha is really worshipped by most people for removing their diseases. If you visit Lingyin Temple, you can’t miss Feilai Peak. The numerous Buddhist carvings inside the grottoes of Feilai Peak is a treasure to appreciate

Type: Chinese Zen Buddhist Temple

History: over 1700 years

Recommended Visiting Time:  2~3 days

Location: No.1 Fayun Alley, Lingyin Road, Xihu District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province

Highlights: Hall of Heavenly Kings, Palace of Medicine Buddha, Statues in the Grand Hall, Feilai Peak

Explore Chinese Buddhist Temples and Monasteries

Do you want to visit these top 10 Temples and Monasteries or even more? Are interested Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism? Feel free to contact us and our travel consultant will customize a private Buddhist tour for you. You could add the other top attractions involving nature, culture, history and local life as well. All the itinerary and details will be made according to you own needs and interests.

During the tour, you will get rid of the hustle and public transportation and troublesome navigation. Our local guides and drivers will escort you to any attractions with speed and convenience, and take care of you all the time. The professional travel guides can explain you the history and culture of the different Temples and Monasteries, and some interesting legends.

Tips for visiting Temples and Monasteries in China

  1. Behave with good manner when you visit a monastery or temple. Lower your voice, avoid as smoking and do not use your fingers to point at the monks or statues.
  2. Dress modestly and avoid wearing short shorts and skirts. Remember to remove your hats and sunglasses before entering the chapels.
  3. Photography is always forbidden in the most chapels and sometimes you have to pay for it. If you want to take photo of the monks or pilgrims, you are suggested to ask for their permission first.
  4. The kora in or around the monasteries (Tibetan monasteries especially) should be undertaken in clockwise direction, unless you are a follower of the Bon, who always walk kora in counter-clockwise direction.


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