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Beijing Travel – Lama Temple
Lama Temple is a Buddhist temple of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism in the suburbs of Beijing. Lama Temple is the largest temple for lamas in China and one of the largest and most important Buddhist monasteries in the world.
As you walk through the grounds of the Lama Temple, you will see extraordinary examples of centuries-old architecture and the active practice of an ancient and fascinating religion. Although not in the same class as the more famous places like the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, the Lama Temple is a great travel spot to visit and I really enjoyed wandering around the temple grounds and experiencing the practice of Buddhism there.
The original temple structures were built in 1694 as the residence of Crown Prince Yong of the Qing Dynasty. After ascending to the throne in 1722, Emperor Yong changed the status of his old residence to a temporary palace called Yonghegong, which means Palace of Harmony and Peace. Emperor Yong’s successor Emperor Qianlong turned the palace into a lama temple in 1744.
A large number of Tibetan Buddhist monks from both Tibet and Mongolia stayed at the temple, which became the national center of lama administration in China. The temple was closed during the Cultural Revolution, but not destroyed. Apparently, Premier Zhou Enlai, who was responsible for saving many of China’s religious sites from destruction by the Red Guards during that period, also saved the Lama Temple. The temple was later reopened to the public in 1981.
Grounds and furnishings
The temple was built along a central north-south axis and contains at least 32 large halls and buildings divided into four main areas. The temple’s halls and buildings contain human Buddha statues, Tang-ga (scroll paintings) and precious cultural relics, all on display. The three most famous relics are the Niche of Buddha, the 500 Arhat Mountain and the 18 meter tall Buddha.
There are way too many buildings and halls go over all of them too, so I’ve listed below the main buildings and the ones you’re most likely to see when you visit the temple. The four main areas of the temple are listed according to their location along the temple’s north-south axis
The first area includes Yonghe Gate Hall, West Pavilion and East Pavilion
Yonghe Port Hall – This hall was originally the main entrance to the temple and houses a statue of a seated Buddha called the Big Belly Maitreya. The hall also contains four statues of heavenly kings, two on the left and two on the right, so it is also called the Hall of Heavenly Kings.
East and West pavilions – Both were built in 1744 and contain a white marble stela with inscriptions in Mongolian and Tibetan explaining why Yonghegong was made into a lamasery.
The other area includes the Four Language Stele Pavilion, Yonghegong Hall and an ancient copper copper vessel.
Cooking pot – After passing through the Yonghe Gate Hall into the second area, the first structure you will see is a 1747 Qing Dynasty black copper-copper vessel mounted on a white marble stone, decorated with dragons and lions, and has six doorways in the upper part. Apparently this cooking vessel can bring good luck and there is a constant stream of Chinese tourists trying to throw coins and bills through the cracks in the vessel and the 6 doors covered with wire mesh.
Four languages Stele – This is a small building that contains the stele with the words of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, describing the origin and mean value of the Buddhist lamas in four languages.
Yonghegong Hall – This is supposed to be the main hall of the Lama Temple, but personally I think Falun Hall is more deserving of this title. This hall contains three bronze statues that are the three aspects of the Buddha, Kasyapa-matanga on the right, Sakyamuni in the middle and Maitreya on the left. The left and right sides of the hall each contain 9 seated statues of Buddha’s disciples called Arhats.
The third main area has only one major building, the Falun Hall
Falun Hall – The focus of this building is a large seated statue of Tsong Kha Pa, who was a founder of the Buddhist lama faith. This hall is used for reading the scriptures and contains rows and rows of reading tables and electric lamps.
The fourth main area has one main building, the Wangfuge Pavilion, connected by bridges to two smaller buildings on either side of it.
Wanfuge Pavilion – This building is just incredible and easily my favorite of all the buildings in Lama Temple. The building has three floors and is basically an empty shell with the core or atrium built around a 26 meter statue of Maitreya Buddha. 8 meters of the statue is lowered into the ground with 18 meters above the ground. The building itself was built around the statue, and galleries on the second and third floors on the inside of the building completely surround the statue. Apart from the statue and a large area for prayer in front of the statue, the building is empty. It is very easy to imagine all the galleries and the prayer area full of monks praying and chanting sutras to Maitreya.
The statue itself is carved from a single piece of white sandalwood that was donated to Emperor Qianlong by the Seventh Dalai Lama to express thanks for the services the emperor had rendered to Tibet. Shipping the tree took three years from the Yangtze River up the Grand Canal to Beijing and another three years for carving and construction. The Lama Temple was converted into a lamasery in 1744, but the Wanfuge Pavilion was not completed until 1750, when the carving of the statue was finished.
Just walking into the pavilion and looking up at the head of the statue as it towers over you and seeing the galleries that circle around the statue is a breathtaking experience. Seeing the Wanfuge Pavilion alone makes a trip to the Lama Temple an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
Yansui and Yongkang Pavilions – These are small pavilions to the left and right of the Wanfuge Pavilion and are connected to the Wanfuge Pavilion by bridges on the second floor. The architecture of all you pavilions and connecting bridges excellent.
On the way
Take the subway to Yonghegong, which is at the intersection of subway line 5 and line 2. Exit the station using Exit C, turn left, and the entrance to the temple will be several hundred meters south down the road.
Both sides of the road are lined with shops selling Buddhist goods such as incense to visitors to the temple, so you know when you are getting close to the temple entrance.
Tickets and times
Tickets cost RMB 25 and the temple is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Try to be at the temple no later than 12, and leave yourself two hours to enjoy wandering through the temple grounds and admiring the buildings. Tour buses start pouring in in large numbers around 14.30, so it is best to be out of the temple before then.
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