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Saturday, August 22, 2009

No. 7: Ayuwang Temple, Ningbo, Zhejiang

The large box on the altar in this picture is said to contain a relic
(舍利子) of the skull of Shakyamuni (释迦牟尼), sent there by King Ashoka
(阿育王) of India. At Ayuwang Temple (阿育王寺), Ningbo, Zhejiang (浙江, 宁波市).
Leaving Tiantong Temple in the mountains, my friends, the driver, and I stopped for lunch in a country restaurant. Then we went to a place I was really looking forward to: Ayuwang Temple, near the Ningbo-Beilun highway.

Ayuwang is the Chinese name for King Ashoka, the great unifier of India. He had once been a brutal conqueror, but after converting to Buddhism, he supported and spread the Buddha's teachings until his death in 232 BCE.

One of his well-known acts regarded the relics of the Buddha's body. After the Buddha's death, these had been separated into eight parts and given to various kings. Ashoka gathered the relics together again and divided them into 84,000 parts (!), to be distributed all over the known world. Ayuwang Temple claims to have a portion of the Buddha's skull, sent out at that time.

The temple grounds are spacious, with pagodas on the east and west, and numerous ponds and bamboo groves. After a quick tour of the ancient-looking buildings, we sought out the hall where the relic is kept.

As often happens, the bone itself cannot be seen. Instead it is enshrined in a beautiful red and gold box, with a pagoda-style top and a glass window in front.

Behind this reliquary lies the so-called "Sleeping Buddha," actually a portrayal of the Buddha at the time of his death. This provides context for the display of the relic, showing it near a statue of the one of whose body it was once a part.

With a feeling of accomplishment, we got back into the car and headed back to Beilun.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Shenzhen Daily February 6, 2012.)

GPS Info:
  • 29.846251, 121.744104



Map:




GALLERY

The Bell Tower at Ayuwang Temple, with the Eastern Pagoda behind it
The Relic Hall
The box with the window is the reliquary containing part of the Buddha's skull
A figure of the Sleeping Buddha lies behind the reliquary

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