Wutai was the first of the four mountains to be identified and is often referred to as “first among the four great mountains”. It was identified on the basis of a passage in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, which describes the abodes of many bodhisattvas. In this chapter, Mañjuśrī is said to reside on a “clear cold mountain” in the northeast. This served as charter for the mountain’s identity and its alternate name “Clear Cool Mountain” (Ch: Qīngliáng Shān; 清涼山).
The bodhisattva is believed to frequently appear on the mountain, taking the form of ordinary pilgrims, monks, or most often unusual five-colored clouds. Mount Wutai also has an enduring relationship with Tibetan Buddhism.
Mount Wutai is home to some of the oldest existent wooden buildings in China that have survived since the era of the Tang Dynasty (618–907). This includes the main hall of Nanchan Temple and the East Hall of Foguang Temple, built in 782 and 857, respectively.
Wutai is the home of the Bodhisattva of wisdom, Mañjuśrī (文殊) in Chinese. Mañjuśrī has been associated with Mount Wutai since ancient times. Paul Williams writes:
Apparently the association of Mañjuśrī with Wutai (Wu-t’ai) Shan in north China was known in classical times in India itself, identified by Chinese scholars with the mountain in the ‘north-east’ (when seen from India or Central Asia) referred to as the abode of Mañjuśrī in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. There are said to have been pilgrimages from India and other Asian countries to Wutai Shan by the seventh century.
Mount Emei is one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, and is traditionally regarded as the bodhimaṇḍa, or place of enlightenment, of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. Samantabhadra is known in Mandarin as Pǔxián Púsà (普賢菩薩).
This is the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the 1st century CE. The site has seventy-six Buddhist monasteries of the Ming and Qing period, most of them located near the mountain top. The monasteries demonstrate a flexible architectural style that adapts to the landscape.
Sources of the 16th and 17th centuries allude to the practice of martial arts in the monasteries of Mount Emei made the earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery as Chinese boxing’s place of origin.
Many of the mountain’s shrines and temples are dedicated to Ksitigarbha (known in Chinese as Dìzàng, Chinese: 地藏, in Japanese as Jizō), who is a bodhisattva and protector of beings in hell realms according to Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Pious Buddhists often visit Anhui to climb to Greater Tiantai peak, which is regarded as Jiuhuashan’s most important peak, although it is not the tallest.
In 719 AD, Kim Qiaoque, a Silla prince (today’s Qingzhou city in South Korea) came to Jiuhua Mountain and cultivated himself for 75 years. He died at 99 years of age, his corporeal body stayed intact. Because he was very similar in appearance to Dizang Buddhisattva, the monks there believed Dizang Boddhisattva was reincarnated in him, as a result, Jiuhua Mountain became the place to hold rites for Dizang Boddhisatva. During the golden periods of the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were as many as 360 temples and 4,000 to 5,000 monks and nuns. The mountain is not only famous for its Buddhist culture but also noted for its natural landscapes featuring old pines, green bamboo forests, strange rocks, waterfalls, streams and caves.
Mount Putuo (普陀山) has been a pilgrimage site for over a thousand years. After the Tang dynasty, Putuo Mountain became a center of Guanyin worship. Traditionally there were three main temples: The Puji si 普濟寺 (founded 10th cent.), the Fayu si 法雨寺 (founded 1580 CE), and the Huiji si 慧濟寺 (founded 1793 CE). The site has received numerous renowned visitors over the ages, including the then 20-year-old future Chan-master Yinyuan Longqi (Japanese: Ingen), who came to the site in 1612, while looking for his father, who had disappeared fifteen years earlier. The modern scholar-monk Taixu spent several years in solitary retreat at a small hermitage on Putuo.
Mount Putuo lies in the Eastern Sea of China and incorporates the beauty of both mountain and sea. Its area is approximately 12.5 square kilometers and there are numerous famous temples. Every year on February 19, June 19, and September 19 it welcomes millions of people for the celebration of the birth of Guanyin (God of Mercy).