Mount Wutai is located to the northeast of the Wutai County, which is situated at Xinzhou in Shanxi Province. It is one of the four famous Buddhist Mountains in China and said to be the Taoist rites of Manjusri.
Mount Wutai stands on the roof of northern China and covers a total area of 2,837 square kilometers. Its highest elevation is 3,058 meters. Mount Wutai is surrounded by five peaks, namely the Wanghai Peak in the east, Jinxiu Peak in the south, Cuiyan Peak in the middle, Guayue Peak in the west and Yedou Peak in the north. There are no trees on the top of these five peaks and the peaks are flat and wide, thus receiving their name “Wutai.” There are 47 temples in Mount Wutai, including 39 temples on the mountains and eight outside the mountains. The famous temples include the Xiantong Temple, Tayuan Temple, Pusading Temple, Nanshan Temple, Dailuoding Temple, Guangji Temple, and the Wanfo Pavilion.
In 1992, Mount Wutai was approved as a national forest park by the Ministry of Forestry and was also approved to be in the first batch of national AAAA tourism scenic spots by the National Tourism Administration in January 2001. In September 2005, Mount Wutai passed the assessment of the fourth batch of national geological parks and became a national geological park. In August 2007, Mount Wutai was approved to be in the first batch of national AAAAA tourism scenic spots by the National Tourism Administration, and on June 26, 2009, it was formally included in the World Heritage List at the 33rd World Heritage Convention held in Sevilla, Spain.
Mount Wutai’s history and the origin of its name
Establishment of Mount Wutai’s Buddhism
It is said that Mount Wutai was a Taoism holy-place at first and in the “Taoist Scripture,” Mount Wutai was called the Zifu Mountain, and the Zifu Temple was once built on it. The “Records of Qingliang Mountain” say that when the Bodhisattva Manjusri of Buddhism came to China for the first time, he lived in the Stone Basin Cave. The cave was actually in the Xuanzhen Taoist Temple. It indicates that Mount Wutai was originally a residence of Taoism.
When Buddhism was just spreading to China, it only had a small amount of followers. In 2 B.C., an emissary named Yi Cun sent by the King of the Da Yuezhi Kingdom (a kingdom established by a minority nationality which originally lived in the Yili River basins in the west of China’s Xinjiang Province, and then moved to Central Asia) arrived in Chang’an (Xi’an at present), China’s capital of that time. He orally passed on Buddhist scriptures to a scholar’s student named Lu Jing. It was the earliest historical record regarding Buddhism spreading to China.
It is generally believed that Buddhism was spread to Mount Wutai in the Eastern Han Dynasty. According to historical books, in December of the Yongping 10th year (67 A.D.), the emissary who was sent to the western regions to seek Buddhist scriptures by the Emperor Hanming returned to Luoyang with two eminent Indian monks named Kashyapa-Matanga and Gobharana.
In the Yongping 11th year, a temple was built on the southern side of the royal path outside the Xiyong Gate of Luoyang City for the two eminent Indian monks to live. In order to memorialize the white horse which transported the Buddhist scriptures (Sutra of Forty-two Chapters) and statues, the temple was named the White Horse Temple.
In the Yongping 11th year, Kashyapa-Matanga and Gobharana went to Mount Wutai (called Qingliang Mountain at that time) from Luoyang. Since the dagoba of King Ashoka had been found in Mount Wutai many years ago and since it was also the place where the Bodhisattva Manjusri once lived, they wanted to build a temple there. However, the mountain was a Taoist holy place, and therefore the two monks were quite unwelcomed. So, they reported the situation to Emperor Hanming. In order to distinguish whether Taoism or Buddhism was better, the Han government decided to let the monks and Taoists give practical shows, demonstrations and verifications. Therefore, the two sides made an agreement to burn their scriptures to compete. (It is said that the burning site is the present Scripture Burning Platform in Xi’an.) The result was that all the Taoist scriptures were burnt to ashes, but the Buddhist scriptures were not damaged.
Therefore, the two monks received the right to build the temple. There were various peaks, grounds and rivers in the mountains, so where was the perfect place for building the temple? The “Records of Qingliang Mountain” show that “on the left side of the great tower, there were footprints of the Sakyamuni Buddha, which were 1.6 chi long and 0.6 chi wide and had complete and clear toe prints and lines.” It is said that the two monks not only found the footprints but also found the Buddha’s relics. The peak in the Yingfang Village was majestic and unusual, and looked quite like Mount Gridhakutta (Sakyamuni Buddha’s practicing place) in India. For these reasons, they decided to build the temple on this peak. The completed temple was named the Lingjiu Temple. Emperor Hanming added “Dafu” (meaning faith) before it, and then the full name of the temple became the Dafu Lingjiu Temple. It was the former body of the current Xiantong Temple. From then on, Mount Wutai became the center of China’s Buddhism. The Dafu Lingjiu Temple and the White Horse Temple were the earliest Buddhist temples of China.