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Wednesday, November 2, 2016, 10:24

Walking the path to restoration

By Francois Dubé

Shanxi Sakyamuni Wooden Pagoda attracts guests and pilgrims from near and far, but protecting it has proven difficult, as Francois Dub é finds out.

Walking the path to restoration
Sakyamuni Wooden Pagoda, also named Yingxian Wooden Pagoda and built around 1056, is renowned for its unparalleled architecture and precious relics. The unique wooden structure attracts believers from all over China. (Photo by Fan Minda / Xinhua)

In front of the Sakyamuni Wooden Pagoda, the fragrance of incense wafts gently through the air, while Chinese pilgrims prostrate themselves by lying face-down on the ground, showing the full extent of their dedication.

Located in Shanxi province's Yingxian county, the pagoda is also named Yingxian Wooden Pagoda, and is the main tower of the Fogong Buddhist Temple. Thanks to its unparalleled architecture and precious relics, this unique wooden structure attracts believers from all over China.

Visitors are initially impressed by the unique architecture of the wooden tower that was built during the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) in around 1056.

At 67.31 meters high, the tower is the world's tallest wood structure, as certified by Guinness World Records. A stunning feature of the tower, and one which further contributes to its mysterious appeal, is the fact that it is made entirely out of wood - not a single nail was used during its construction.

The octagonal pagoda has five interior and nine exterior floors, and each floor is sheltered by one tile eave, except for the first floor which has double eaves.

The tower stands on a four-meter high stone foundation. The pagoda houses a 10-meter tall Buddha statue surrounded by paintings inspired by the Buddhist scriptures, and has become a place of pilgrimage for Buddhist pilgrims in Shanxi and across China.

The Sakyamuni Wooden Pagoda is known to have survived several earthquakes and disasters since its construction. In a famous incident which took place in 1948, the communist People's Liberation Army fought the Kuomintang Army in a battle at the pagoda.

Precious relics

Beside its striking architecture, perhaps the main reason for the pagoda's fame among Buddhist pilgrims is the precious treasures it houses, perhaps the most precious of which are two teeth that are believed to be those of Sakyamuni, the Buddha himself.

These relics were discovered on June 18, 1966, when a silver box with flower engravings was found inside the Buddha statue. In the box were a few gems, Buddhist scrolls and two teeth.

In the winter of 2005, the highly respected Buddhist monk Hui Li, hailing from Taiwan, visited the pagoda during his tour of Chinese mainland.

When he saw the teeth, the monk was deeply shocked and filled with an indescribable bliss. He later said he felt an "infinite joy" at the sight of these relics of the Buddha.

Hui was quick to contact other Buddhist masters to ascertain the value of the sacred objects based on Buddhist records.

It was discovered that after the Buddha had ascended to nirvana, some of his relics were brought back to China via the Silk Road, together with scriptures, and were eventually given to high officials of the early Tang dynasty (618-907). One of these officials was General Li Jing, whose home was located in Yingxian. It was there that the tower was built to protect the precious relics.

Master Hui began spreading the news of the discovery of Buddha's relics. On Sept 5, 2006, the 950th anniversary of the completion of the pagoda, the teeth were publicly displayed for the first time and thousands of believers came to pay their respects.

Walking the path to restoration

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