Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Situated in Da Ci'en Temple (the Temple of Thanksgiving), about four kilometers south from the urban center of Xian, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the famous Buddhist pagodas in China.

Da Ci'en Temple was built in 648 AD by the order of Emperor Li Zhi (the third emperor of the Tang Dynasty), then still a crown prince, in memory of his mother, Empress Wende. The emperor was said to pay homage to the temple twice a day (in the morning and at dusk) by looking in its direction from the Hanyuan Palace. The Tang Regime gave orders to build a chamber for the translation of Buddhist scriptures and appointed the widely renowned Master Xuan Zang (Monk Tripitaka) the head of the temple. However, it went into gradual decay after the downfall of the Tang Dynasty. The halls and rooms that have survived the ages were actually built in the Ming Dynasty.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda Sculpture Xian

In 652 AD, Xuan Zang proposed to the court that a pagoda be built inside the temple to store the scriptures and statues he had brought back from India. The Emperor readily agreed with him, and raised funds by selling the things left behind by deceased court maids Master Xuan Zang was so pleased that he designed the pagoda and even moved stones and bricks to the construction site.

The seven-story pagoda is 64 meters high, and was constructed in brick and wood structure in 652 AD. There is an interesting story about the name of the pagoda. It is said that Master Xuan Zang once stayed in a temple in India. One day, monks in the temple were just worried about the shortage of meat. It happened to be the General Alms Day of the Buddha. A monk looked up at the sky and sighed, "Our beloved Bodhisattva, the Great and Merciful, will not forget what day it is today!" At these words, a flock of wild geese flew over the temple. The head goose dropped dead to the ground. This puzzled all the monks, and they concluded that this must be the result of the Bodhisattva’s spirit at work: to provide them with the wild goose. Ever since then, the monks of the temple became vegetarians. They also set up a pagoda where the wild goose dropped dead, and called it the Wild Goose Pagoda. The pagoda that greets us today was actually modeled after its Indian prototype given the same name. After about half a century, another pagoda was built at Jianfu Temple. The two pagodas face each other over a distance, and assume different styles. Since the one in Jianfu Temple is smaller than the Wild Goose Pagoda, it is often called the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, and the Wild Goose Pagoda in Da Ci'en Temple the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda China

The first hall in the temple is the Great Hall of the Buddha inside which there are three incarnations of Sakyamuni. The one in the middle is called Fashen Buddha. The one on the west side is called Baoshen Buddha, and the one on the east side is called Yingshen Buddha. The figure on the east side beside the three incarnations of the Buddha is Jia Ye, one of the ten great disciples under Sakyamuni. The one on the other side is Ahnan, Sakyamuni's cousin, who "'erved Sakyamuni for 25 years as one of his 10 great disciples. Along both sides are the 18 arhats, who were also Sakyamuni's disciples. 

The Doctrine Chamber, the second hall we see inside the temple, is the place where the Amitabha Buddha is worshiped. He is in charge of the Western Paradise. It is believed that at the word of the Amitabha Buddha, one will be led to the Paradise upon his death. Wherefore, the Amitabha Buddha is also called the Budha of Gui-dance. On the wall at the east side of the chamber, there are three rubbings. The one in the middle is called Xuan Zang on his Way Back to Chang’an. With rolls of scriptures on his back, a pail of straw sandals on his feet and an oil lamp on top of the rolls of Buddhist scriptures, Xuan Zang is making his way back to the capital with eager expectations.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda Xian China

In the Tang Dynasty, every successful candidate who passed the imperial examination would climb up the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and write poems and inscriptions to indicate that he would have a soaring career in the future. The famous poet Bai Juyi once wrote, "Here under the Ci'en Pagoda, I inscribe my name as the youngest of the seventeen candidates." He revealed his pride and happiness when he became successful at a young age. The fashion of writing poems and leaving inscriptions on the horizontal bars over different doors and their stone frames by the successful candidates had extended well into the Ming Dynasty. These poems and inscriptions have survived till the day as a fine mirror of the city's past.

Xuan Zang stayed in Ci'en Temple for 12 years. He translated 75 sets, totally 1,335 volumes of Buddhist scriptures. Emperor Tai Zong wrote An introduction to the Sacred Teachings of Monk Xuan Zang of the Great Tang Dynasty followed by the then Crown Prince Li Zhi's Notes on the Introduction to the Sacred Teachings of Monk Xuan Zang of the Great Tang Dynasty. The two tablets bearing the two texts in the hand-writing of Chu Suiliang, the great Tang Calligraphier, are still on both sides of the south gate of the first floor of the Pagoda.


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