Mount Fanjing: a sacred mountain in Chinese Buddhism

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Fanjingshan, an other-worldly peak in China’s Wuling Mountain Range, is one of the newest natural wonders to have been added to Unesco’s ever-expanding list of World Heritage Sites.

Unesco recognises sites that are considered to have “outstanding universal value” and represent the most remarkable places on Earth. The list includes other famous attractions such as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Great Barrier Reef.

The finger-like peak is described by Unesco as an “island of metamorphic rock in a sea of karst,” believed to have been formed during the Tertiary period somewhere between 2 million and 65 million years ago.

The Fanjingshan (梵净山) or Mount Fanjing, located in Tongren, Guizhou province, is the highest peak of the Wuling Mountains in southwestern China, at an elevation of 2,570 m (8,430 ft).

The Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve was established in 1978 and designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1986. Fanjingshan is a sacred mountain in Chinese Buddhism, considered to be the bodhimaṇḍa of the Maitreya Buddha. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018.

Fanjingshan’s relative isolation has ensured a high degree of biodiversity. Endemic species such as the rare Guizhou golden monkey (Rhinopithecus brelichi) and the Fanjingshan fir (Abies fanjingshanensis) occur only in a small region centering on Fanjingshan.

Several endangered species, including the Chinese giant salamander, forest musk deer, and Reeve’s pheasant are also found in Fanjingshan. It is also home to the largest and most contiguous subtropical primeval beech forest.

You shall visit Fanjing Mountian for its ecological splendour. The isolated Wuling Mountain Range is known as “the gene database of China” due to its rich biodiversity. The region has 2,000 types of plant, 31 of which are endangered, and 19 threatened animal species roam these forests.

The mountain’s name “Fanjing” is an abbreviation of Fantian Jingtu (梵天净土), or “Brahma’s Pure Land”. Fantian is the Chinese name for the Buddhist heavenly king Brahmā, and Jingtu is Chinese for “pure land”, the focus of Pure Land Buddhism.

Fanjingshan is considered a sacred mountain of Chinese Buddhism, ranking just below the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism. It is considered the bodhimaṇḍa (or daochang)—a spot in which one reached enlightenment—of the Maitreya Buddha.

Fanjingshan, which in Chinese means “Buddhist tranquility”, has also been a sacred site for Buddhists since the Tang Dynasty. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), 48 Buddhist temples were built on the mountain, many of which have since been destroyed. The ones that remain are significant pilgrimage sites for Buddhist worshippers around the world.

The influence of Buddhism reached Fanjingshan by the Tang dynasty at the latest, especially after Hou Hongren (侯弘仁) constructed the Zangke Road (牂牁道) in 639 AD, which facilitated transport in the mountainous region, and local gazettes record the construction of several temples in the area. More temples were built during the ensuing Song and Yuan dynasties.

Buddhism greatly prospered during the Ming and Qing dynasties, when the cult of Tianguan Maitreya (天冠弥勒) became dominant in Fanjingshan. The Bozhou rebellion in the late 16th century caused great damages to Fanjingshan’s temples. After suppressing the rebellion, the Wanli Emperor ordered the monk Miaoxuan (妙玄) to rebuild the Golden Peak and the Cheng’en Temple (承恩寺). Many other temples were constructed in the area, ushering in the golden era for Buddhism in Fanjingshan. Most temples during the Ming and Qing dynasties belonged to the Pure Land and the Linji sects of Buddhism.

In the turmoil that toppled the Qing dynasty, many temples were destroyed by marauding armies and bandits, and few monks remained in the Republic of China era. After further destructions during the Cultural Revolution, Buddhism has enjoyed a renaissance since the 1980s. Many old temples have been rebuilt and new ones constructed, including the Cheng’en Temple, Huguo Chan Temple (护国禅寺), Great Golden Buddha Temple (大金佛寺), and Longquan Temple (龙泉寺).

In 2010, the Fanjingshan Buddhist Cultural Park was opened, with a Golden Hall that houses a five-meter-tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha made with 250 kilograms (550 lb) of gold and thousands of gems. It is said to be the largest gold Maitreya statue in the world.

Perhaps the most photographed of all of Fanjing’s attractions, the Mushroom Stone stands ten metres high and is magnificently lit up at night. There are many other strange rock formations and stone pillars on Fanjingshan.

Edited by staff

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