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Emei Shan one of China's four Sacred Mountains

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Southwest China, China.

Photo of Emei Shan one of China's four Sacred Mountains
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With historical records of events that occurred three thousand years ago, China has some of the oldest recorded history of any region on earth. It is from the legendary era however, long before historical records were compiled, that the first stories of sacred mountains are found. Mountains were regarded as holy places because of the belief that they were earthly pillars supporting heaven. Other myths speak of mountains as the abodes of powerful nature spirits who created weather and storms, bolts of lightening and life-giving rain. Another reason for the sanctification of particular mountains were the legends of shamanism and early Taoism. These legends speak of sages and mystics, sometimes called 'immortals', who lived deep in the forested mountains, existed on diets of rare herbs and exotic elixirs, and lived to be 500 years old. The mountain areas where the sages had lived came to be regarded as sacred places, as portals to the heavenly realm.

The Shu-ching, a 5th century BC classic of traditional history, tells that the 2nd millennium BC ruler Shun went every five years on a pilgrimage to the four mountains which marked the limits of his realm. These peaks then became some of the holy mountains of early Taoism. Other sources indicate that the following five mountains were highly venerated by the Taoists in ancient times: Tai Shan, Heng Shan Bei, Hua Shan, Heng Shan Nan, and Song Shan. It is important to note that the Chinese phrase for pilgrimage - ch' ao-shan chin-hsiang - means 'paying one's respect to a mountain'.

In the 1st century AD traders returning from India via the Silk Route began the introduction of Buddhism into China. Over the next few centuries adventurous Chinese pilgrims traveled to India to visit the sacred places of the Buddha’s life. Some of these pilgrims returned with an affinity for the Buddhist tradition of monastic life. Like Taoist hermits, Buddhists monks favored quiet mountains for their meditative practices. Hermitages and monasteries were established at certain peaks, some previously held sacred by the Taoists, and over the centuries the Chinese Buddhists began to regard four peaks as having primary sanctity:

Pu Tuo Shan, in the east. Sacred to the Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin

Wu Tai Shan, in the north. Sacred to the Bodhisattva Manjushri

Emei Shan, in the west. Sacred to the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra

Jiu Hua Shan, in the south. Sacred to the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha

Each of the Buddhist sacred mountains were considered to be the homes of particular Bodhisattvas, these being mythological spiritual beings dedicated to the service of helping sentient creatures transcend suffering and attain enlightenment. These Buddhist sacred mountains, along with the Taoist peaks, became the primary pilgrimage destinations of both China's masses and the ruling elite.

More about the Sacred Mountains from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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Mount Emei Scenic Area

Verdant country of rocky orange coloured cliffs and bright green forests, the area around Mount Emei is both one of Buddhism’s most sacred areas and one of China’s most famous sight seeing spots. China’s first Buddhist temple was built here in the first century AD and since then more sites and temples have sprung up over the mountain. Across the river is the impressively immense, at 71 metres high, Leshan Giant Buddha.

Mount Emei’s main peak is 3079 metres high, covered in a great range of plant life - some of the trees are more than a thousand years old. This highest point is called Golden Summit, the other scenic viewing areas are Baoguo Temple, Quingyin Pavilion and Wannian Temple, which has many beautiful carvings in the exposed rocks of the cliff as they have been moulded into stairs up to the temple.

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