Every so often I come across a little gem of a place here in Beijing that no one I know seems ever to have heard of – or if they have, they have never been there. I came across another one of these gems very recently, situated not that far from where I work.
It’s located in a hutong – a small side street near Dongzhimen. You would hardly notice it if you weren’t actually looking for it. But what Tongjiao Temple (通教寺) lacks in size it amply makes up for in sheer cuteness – if one can actually use that word to describe an active Buddhist temple!
TongJiaoSi was originally built by a eunuch in the Ming Dynasty but later reconstructed into a nunnery named Tongjiao in the Qing Dyansty. Expansions to the temple took place after 1942, when two nuns from Fujian collected money for its repair and expansion. It then regained its former name.
There isn’t much written about this place that I can find; but a website called www.wherethetemple.com has a whole page devoted to it; but unless you are good at deciphering Chinglish, or you actually work for Google Translate, you may not learn an awful lot. For instance: “Is three months, in addition to act for the monks and parents and teachers sick funeral thing, 90 days allowed out of the gate.” Well, don’t say you weren’t warned!
On the gate and surrounding railings are a number of swastikas which represent well-being for all; the circular nature of their points represent the repetitive nature of reincarnation, while the central point of the Swastika represents the navel of Lord Vishnu from which Lord Brahma originated. The word Swastika comes from Sanskrit and is composed of two words, "Su" (good) and "Asati" (to exist) which means "May good prevail."
The expanded temple is now 2,500 square meters in size, and as well as the gate there are three halls inside, including a grandiose Mahavira Hall, a Guardian Deity Hall, Patriarch Hall, dining-room and monks’ and nuns’ dwellings. In its heyday, Tong Jiao Temple was home to around 70 nuns and monks.
Although entrance to the complex is free, most of the inside is closed off to visitors, it still being a working centre. But although it only takes about ten minutes to enjoy the outside views within the courtyard, I’d say it is still worthy of a visit.
Along the central path of the courtyard garden are two incense burners – one which is gaudily decorated in gold and black…
with the other more simple in design, but somehow more elegant.
There is a colourful prayer wheel just to the left of a gong sitting beneath what looks like a fish – or is it a dragon’s head? I still can’t make up my mind…
… while on the opposite side is a drum that looks like it has given many years of service, but is still in tip top condition.
And perhaps my favourite item of all is a simply, but beautifully decorated bell.
And that, dear blog fans, is about all there is to see.
You may well think that it is not worth making a special journey to go and see this place. But if you are in the Dongzhimen region of Beijing anyway, I would suggest it could fill up a pleasant half hour of your time to make your way to 19 Zhenxian Hutong.