Sichuan is one of the most beautiful provinces in China, and also has deep historical roots in both Buddhism and Taoism. Despite the crackdown on religion during Mao Zedong’s reign, the temples of Sichuan came roaring back into popularity soon after. Here are the province’s most gorgeous and venerated places of worship.
Wenshu Monastery (Wénshū yuàn, 文殊院)
By far one of the best preserved temples in Chengdu, the Wenshu Monastery is located in the heart of Chengdu and is still home to 80 monks. Initially built during the Southern Dynasty, this temple covers a sprawling area of more than 60,000 square meters (close to 65,000 feet), with five complexes of buildings and gardens and more than 180 different rooms. You’ll also find more than 300 different Buddhas from several different dynasties, along with other precious artifacts, including Buddha scriptures written in gold and a 300-year-old monk robe woven by a royal concubine from the Ming Dynasty. At the very least, the teahouse is a great place to sit and drink tea before visiting the vegetarian restaurant in the back.
Baoguang Temple (Bǎo guāng sì, 宝光寺)
Set in the far northern suburb of the city, this beautiful Buddhist temple is made up of a stupa, five halls and sixteen courtyards. On top of that, it is surrounded by ancient trees and verdant greenery. Often, this temple is quite busy, full of tourists drawn to the legend that their wishes will come true after praying at this temple. In fact, in the front square, there’s a big wall inscribed with the character for “Good Fortune.” The long queue of people in front are waiting to walk forward to touch the wall with their eyes closed for a chance at good fortune for the year. The rest of the temple is just as fascinating. Be sure not to miss the precarious leaning pagoda that continues to defy gravity.
Zhaojue Temple (Zhāo jué sì, 昭觉寺)
Nestled near the Chengdu Zoo, Zhaojue is a key Buddhist temple in China and an important place for Buddhist practitioners. With more than 1,000 years of history, this monastery has been host to a number of renowned monks, who went out to establish temples in Japan and Southeast Asia. It was also once the home of Mr. Zhang Daqian, one of the best-known and most prodigious Chinese artists of the twentieth century. Here, he devoted himself to the study of painting and created a great number of famous works. The temple itself features lovely grounds and a welcome respite from the city’s hubbub.
Qingyang Palace（Qīngyáng gōng, 青羊宫)
This beautiful temple is one of the largest in China and also one of the flashiest. It was originally built during the Zhou Dynasty (1040 BC), and expanded during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) when Taoism was flourishing. Most of the parts of the temple that remain in existence are restorations from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Interestingly enough, it was one of the 21 Taoist temples allowed to reopen by the government in 1983 during Reform.
You’ll also find nuns and monks training at the Two Immortals Monastery toward the back of the temple. It’s the only monastery in southwest China authorized to certify Taoist training, initiations and the passing of lineage. After wandering the grounds, make sure to see the Eight Trigrams Pavilion, which has a gorgeous dome. Then visit the small teahouse on the left to mingle with the local visitors and worshipers.
Outside the city:
Mount Qingcheng (Qīngchéng shān, 青城山）
A 45 minute train ride from the center of Chengdu will drop you near the foot of the verdant Mount Qingcheng, known as one of the four original birthplaces of Taoism in China. Its fame draws not only from the beauty of its 36 peaks, but also from Taoist mythology. The founder of Taoism, Zhao Daoling, thought the serene natural landscape of Mount Qingcheng was the perfect home for the development and prosperity of Taoism.
During the Jin and Tang dynasties, many temples were built on the mountain. It became an important intellectual and spiritual center for Taoism in the seventeenth century. Today, the mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can see more than a dozen Taoist temples built into the front of the mountain (the back part of the mountain is better for natural scenery). The temples were built to represent the traditional architecture of Western Sichuan, including the Erwang Temple, the Fulong Temple, and the Changdao Temple.
Mount Heming (Hè míng shān, 鹤鸣山)
Set just 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Chengdu is beautiful Mount Heming. The mountain is widely known as the birthplace of Taoism after Zhao Daoling founded the “Way of the Celestial Masters” sect of Taoism here in 142 AD. This was when Laozi was said to have descended and ordered Daoling to establish a new covenant between the true gods of Taoism and the people. At its height, the movement controlled a theocratic state in Sichuan.
The mountain itself spans more than 120 kilometers (75 miles), and is so named because it looks like a crane that is about to take flight. In addition to the beautiful natural scenery, the mountain is covered in a variety of temples and halls tucked into crevasses and perched on vistas. The most famous is probably Wenchang Palace (文昌宫), a peaceful place that’s perfect for reflection and rest.
Emei Mountain (Éméi shān, 峨眉山)
The beautiful Emei Shan (Éméi shān, 峨眉山) is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China, featuring incredible natural scenery and breathtaking vistas. It also houses eight fantastic temples that still hold important Buddhist artifacts. One of the most magnificent is the Wannian Temple (Wàn nián sì, 万年寺), which translates to English as “Ten Thousand Year Temple.” Built during the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), it is nationally renowned for housing an amazing Buddha statue. It is still the largest temple in China, weighing more than 62 tons and standing eight meters (26 ft) tall.
Another famous (and lovely) temple is the Baoguo Temple. It offers breathtaking views of waterfalls and is a favorite destination among Buddhist pilgrims.
To get there, take a bus to Leshan town center (the Shiyang bus terminal) from Chengdu – it’s about a two hour ride.