Qing Yun Temple – Taishan City Library
Original Chinese Language Article By: Taishan City Library (台山市图书馆)
(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Translator’s Note: This is an English translation of the original Chinese language source text entitled ‘青云寺 - 台山市图书馆’ rendered above as ‘Qing Yun Temple – Taishan City Library’. This is a digitalised ‘library’ text that is encyclopaedic in nature, and considered an official statement of historical fact concerning the known history of the Qing Yun Temple situated on Taishan, or the ‘Tai Mountain Range’, which is located in the southwestern area of Guangdong province. In the southern Guangdong (i.e. ‘Cantonese’) dialect, the (official) Putonghua pronunciation of ‘Taishan’ is generally expressed as ‘Toisan’, and it is this expression that many Western students of Southern Chinese martial arts know this area (as their respective martial lineages were transmitted by Chinese masters who originally spoke this dialect). An investigation of the Chinese internet search engines, has not revealed any photographs of the ruins of the Qing Yun Temple, but I am advised that photographs do exist on hard files retained at the Taishan City Library, that have yet to be digitised. The name ‘Qing Yun Temple’ (青云寺) requires clarification. The Chinese ideogram ‘青’ (qing1) literally translates as ‘green, ‘blue’, ‘black’, ‘green grass’, ‘young’, or ‘youth’ (and should not be mistaken in this instance for the similar ideogram ‘清’ [qing1] which means ‘clear’ or ‘clean’). The Chinese ideogram ‘云’ (yun2) is either the simplified character demoting ‘cloud’, or the ancient character referring to ‘speech’. When presented together however, the combined ideograms of ‘青云’ (Qing Yun) can refer to a ‘Clear Sky’, or to a ‘person of nobility’, or one that ‘holds a high official rank’ (and gives rise to clear thinking and speech). The Chinese language text does not specify which meaning is intended, and it may have a deliberate ‘double meaning’ relating to the fact that the scholar A He (mentioned in the main text) attained the standing of a highly ranking official in his old age, after designing and building the pass through the mountains, despite failing the imperial examination in his youth. Or, it could refer to A He’s profound thinking being ‘clear’ and ‘expansive’ like the sky over the mountains. Therefore, the Buddhist monastery in question could be referred to as ‘Clear Sky Temple’, or indeed, ‘Noble Temple’ depending upon preference, with both names referring to the scenic beauty of the area, and the virtuous out-pourings of A He. From a strictly technical perspective, the transliterated name should read ‘Green Cloud Temple’, but the reader might be on firmer ground to assume the correct title to be ‘Clear Sky Temple’, providing the link between the material ‘clear sky’ and ethereal ‘noble thought’ is retained. This temple was of course, for some time the home of the famous martial artist and Buddhist monk – the Venerable Bai Mei (known in the Cantonese dialect as ‘Bak Mei’) – and the following text includes some very interesting biographical information about this man.
‘Placing my left foot forward, I traverse the vast and dense emerald-coloured forest, which seems to cast an eternal shadow. A clear mist envelops the Qing Yun Temple, as the bright sun illuminates the mountain peak across it endless slopes. On the old road there is a pavilion that still sells wine. Buddhist monks still sit in meditation under the shade of tall trees, and the temple-bell remains unstruck. The sunlight flashes off the occasional raven’s back, but those who took the Vinaya Discipline long ago, pay no heed.’
(Poem about the Buddhist monks of the Qing Yun Temple composed during the 10th year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu , by an unnamed scholar from the Guanghai area)
Shalan Town is situated near Guanghai Town, which is in the vicinity of a mountain-range named ‘Draw Bow Ridge’ (上弓岭 – Shang Gong Ling), which extends to the sea and separates the two places. Along the entire mountain range, there are only two places where travellers may pass through, with only one of those gaps in the mountain being a direct route. The first is the ‘Young Snake Pass’ (蛇仔迳 – She Zi Jing), which is today known as the Guanghai Highway (running at sea level). The other is the ‘Draw Bow Ridge Pass’ (上弓岭迳 – Shang Gong Ling Jing), which is high, broad and difficult to traverse.
During the Ming Dynasty, however, the sea covered the Young Snake Pass area, and there was no way through. At that time, there lived an elderly (and impoverished) scholar named ‘A He’ (阿河). He was aware that there was no easy way for travellers to pass through the mountain range, and was determined to open up a pathway. On his own initiative, and with no assistance, A He surveyed the mountain range, and walked all over the area, making detailed topographical notes of all the high, low, rough and easy ground he encountered. He then expertly converted these notes into a detailed map of the area, which was then published. He visited the local villages, and showed his research to the people, who supported his idea of opening-up a pass through the area. As the intended road through the area would be a major engineering feat, passing through not only populated areas, but also (in part) through the sea, its planning was brought to the attention of the imperial authorities, that granted official permission and allocated the relevant resources. At the beginning of the pass, a vertical stone stele was raised, which carried the inscription ‘To the left the expansive sea – to the right the seashore’ (左往海宴，右往沙栏 – Zuo Wang Hai Yan – You Wang Sha Lan). From this position, looking-up at the top of the mountain range, the peaks looked like a bow (and arrow) held in the drawn position, hence the area was named ‘Draw Bow Ridge Pass’. Later generations, in commemoration of the Elderly Scholar A He’s hard-work in opening-up the area, established a Buddhist temple situated northeast of the pass, (approximately halfway up the mountainside). Although the Elderly Scholar A He did not pass the imperial examination, nevertheless, he proved through his enlightened actions, that he possessed a fertile, vigorous and strong mind, and was able to manifest justice and virtue in the world (through his perfected character). This is why this special building was named ‘Clear Cloud Temple’ (青云寺 – Qing Yun Si) in memory of the esteemed Elderly Scholar A He (see Translator’s Note above or explanation).
Qing Yun Temple is situated halfway up the mountain, with its front facing southwest (and its back facing northeast). Above the main-door there was a large carved wooden plaque, containing the embossed words ‘Qing Yun Ancient Temple’ (青云古寺 – Qing Yun Gu Si). An engraved stone by the main-door which read ‘The green hills are embraced within the state of samadhi, whilst the clouds traverse the long road that passes through the gate of immeasurable blessings’ (青山环绕三摩地，云路长通万福门 – Qing Shan Huan Rao San Mo De, Yun Lu Chang Tong Wan Fu Men). This information has been recorded in the ‘Chen Shan Jing Shu’ (陈善敬书), or ‘Chen Shan’s Veneration Book’. Chen Shan passed the imperial examination, and came from the Lou Gang Village, situated near Shalan Town. Chen Shan lived during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (光绪) of the Qing Dynasty. The temple was built to have a single entrance or main-gate. Once inside the main-gate, the temple courtyard spread-out on both sides. Each side of the inner courtyard possessed a Monk Accommodation Hall, and through the middle of the courtyard, there was the Main Hall within which was situated a large statue of the Venerable Scholar A He, sat in the cross-legged meditation posture, wearing a purple robe and a lotus hat. This was where people came to the temple to worship A He (by lighting incense and bowing to floor), and asking him for help for whatever problem they had. The pass ran by the left-side of the temple, and along the side of the road, here and there were cracks in the stone that allowed clear water to flow freely in a constant stream. This meant that both the monks and the local people had ample water to drink all the time. In front of the temple the mountain was very steep, but eighteen stone steps were built into the mountainside to aid travellers to move through the area. These ‘eighteen steps’ became famous because they prevented people from falling-off the hazardous mountainside. It is said that these eighteen steps were built single-handedly by a Buddhist monk named ‘White Eyebrows’ (白眉 – Bai Mei). His job at the temple was Master of Incense, and he possessed such strength (through his martial arts training), that he was able to clear the mountain side and move all eighteen stones into position. These stone steps lasted for centuries, and this is viewed as proving the powerful virtue of the Venerable Monk Bai Mei. It is recorded that the monk Bai Mei was from the Xiao Village (not far from the pass). His surname was ‘Xiao’ (萧) and his first names were ‘Ping Di’ (平地). He ordained when middle-aged at the Qing Yun Temple, where he was given the job of lighting incense. Later, he travelled to the Spirit Lake Temple (灵湖寺 – Ling Hu Si) near Guanghai, where he was put in charge of the everyday running of the temple (i.e. ‘housekeeping’). He then moved on to the ‘Cauldron Lake Temple’ (鼎湖寺 – Ding Hu Si) near Zhaoqing, and so on.
However, as times changed, the number of monks training at the Qing Yun Temple began to decline so that in the end, only one monk remained lighting incense on a daily basis. Things were so bad that this monk had to go out looking for food to survive. During the 32nd year of the Republic (around 1944), a severe famine hit the area. This marked the end of the occupation of the Qing Yun Temple by the Buddhist monks. The main-beams of the temple fell-in, and rats and birds started to live in the grounds. Paint fell off the walls, statues fell-over, and signs and plaques fell to the ground, holes appeared in the roof and walls started to collapse. This is why today, the temple has been reduced to ruins.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.
Original Chinese Language Source Text: http://www.taishanlib.com/Disp.Aspx?ID=1717&ClassID=49
青云寺 - 台山市图书馆