Zen and Chan History

King Asoka Temple – Ningbo, China


Historical notes:

Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163) was given the abbacy at Mt. Ashoka.
By the time Dahui died in 1163 he had become one of the two or three preeminent Chan abbots and teachers of the empire, and the one of his generation who had by far the greatest impact on future generations.

“During the Jianyan period (1127–1130) of the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), the stupa was transferred to the imperial palace for worship, Emperor Gaozong bestowed a plaque on the temple with the Chinese characters “佛顶光明之塔“. In 1156, master Zonggao (宗杲) was appointed the new abbot of the temple. The temple had reached unprecedented heyday at that time with more than 6,000 monks living in the temple.”

Master Xu Yun (1840-1959) was a proponent of the “hua tou” method which Dahui taught.

Chinul (1158-1210) in Korea, was an important teacher who particularly valued and taught Dahui’s approach.


Mt. Ashoka was both a Chan training center and a major pilgrimage center, for it housed the most sacred Buddhist relic in China, the Buddha’s finger bone.  As one of the most prominent imperially sanctioned Chan monasteries it merited the leadership of a first-rate abbot.

King Asoka Temple is situated on King Asoka Mountain in the east of Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, and is one of the Five Mountains of Buddhism’s Chan Sect (Zen) in China. It is famous home and abroad because of the pagoda of the body relic of Sakyamuni Buddha in the temple. The temple is also the only extant ancient temple of one thousand years old named after King Asoka of India in China. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.

Historical records of Buddhist sources show that in the third century BC, King Asoka, who unified India, became a Buddhist and began to carry forward Buddhist doctrines. After Sakyamuni passed away, King Asoka ordered to build pagodas with the body relic (bone ash) of Sakyamuni. He ordered his people to build pagodas in any alleged Auspicious Places all over the world to place the real body relic of Sakyamuni. Totally 84,000 pagodas were built. According to the records of Buddhist scriptures, the number of such pagodas in China is nineteen. Because such temples were built by the order of King Asoka, they were named King Asoka Pagoda.

King Asoka Temple was built in 282 the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). Since then, the temple has experienced several rises and declines. The existing buildings are those rebuilt after the Qing Dynasty (1644-1840). In 1980, it underwent a complete renovation. Now, King Asoka Temple has a magnificent scale with a simple and unsophisticated structure, owns more than 600 halls, rooms, and pavilions, and covers an area of 14,000 square meters. Buildings, sculptures, gardens, and paintings of the temple are all very unique and of high value as cultural relics.

King Asoka Temple takes an important position in China’s history of Buddhism as well as Sino-India cultural exchanges. Especially, the Real Body Relic of Sakyamuni, treasure of the Buddha Kingdom, enshrined in the temple, enjoys a very high reputation in the Buddhist circle home and overseas. The dagoba is placed in a seven-storeyed stone pagoda in the Buddha’s Relics Hall. A lying Statue of Sakyamuni stands behind the pagoda.

There are many scenic spots and historical sites near King Asoka Temple. A stone pavilion named Fodao (Buddha has come) Pavilion on a big stone on which it is said that Kassapa Buddha stepped with his left foot. Under the pavilion, there stands a big stone named Suiyan, on which more than ten people can sit together. Another scenic spot is the legendary Seven Buddha Pool, where seven Buddhas were said to have once bathed. Water in the pool is very deep, and the ambience here is quiet and secluded. It is really a good cool place for people to spend the summer.

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