White Horse Temple ( the First Buddhist Temple in China)
White Horse Temple has a history of 1,900 years and features antique architecture and precious Buddhist statues. It is definitely a nice place to go sightseeing in Luoyang. Here, we introduce White Horse Temple in detail so that you will know why it is so glorious.
- Chinese: 白马寺 Báimǎ Sì /bye-maa srr/ ‘White Horse Temple’
- Time needed: 1–2 hours
- Age: built in 64 AD during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220)
- Popular activities: Buddhist worship, sightseeing
- Must-see features: the Hall of Heavenly Kings, Hall of the Great Buddha, Hall of Mahavira
- Suitable for: Buddhists, history lovers
- It was the first Buddhist temple to be built in ancient China. It is considered to be the cradle of Chinese Buddhism. Many precious statues and unique sculptures can only be seen there.
- An interesting collection of different temple styles. As well as this Chinese temple, you can also see many international temples there.
- Tranquil surroundings: White Horse Temple is serene and its setting in nature also adds to the calmness. This temple is a good place for contemplation.
- In 64 AD, Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty sent two ambassadors to the western regions to collect Buddhist sutras.
- In 68 AD, the two ambassadors returned to Luoyang with two eminent monks and many Buddhist sutras and Buddha statues.
- Emperor Ming was so glad that he ordered his subordinates to build the temple to house the monks and to safeguard the sutras and statues.
- In recognition of the white horse that carried the sutras, the temple was named White Horse Temple.
- Many precious statues dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) were preserved in the temple.
- The temple was refurbished in the 1950s and again in 1973, so its appearance is not as ancient as you would imagine it to be, although it has retained its ancient style
White Horse Temple Overview
White Horse Temple can mainly be divided into three sections.
- The main temple is the highlight of the White Horse Temple complex. It includes five halls.
- To the west of the main temple is a new area where you can appreciate temples from different countries.
- To the east of the main temple is a quieter area where you can explore Qiyun Pagoda.
The Main Temple
White Horse Temple faces south. It's a rectangular courtyard. The front gate, Hall of Heavenly Kings, Hall of the Great Buddha, Hall of Mahavira, Hall of Guidance, the Cool and Clear Terrace, and Pilu Pavilion sit on the south–north central axis. The halls are named in the inscriptions on the plaques.
Hall of Heavenly Kings
A statue of the Maitreya, known in China as the Laughing Buddha, is worshipped in this hall. He is always smiling or laughing. His figure appears throughout Chinese culture as a representation of both contentment and abundance. Four ‘Heavenly Kings’ statues guard the Laughing Buddha on the eastern and western sides.
Above the Buddha statue is a large gilded wooden shrine from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912), which has more than 50 dragons carved in it.
Hall of the Great Buddha
The Hall of the Great Buddha is the main hall in White Horse Temple. It was built in the Ming Dynasty and has retained its splendid architectural style from that era.
The Buddhist patriarch, Sakyamuni, is worshipped in the middle of the hall. His two disciples, Kasyapa and Ananda, stand on either side of him. Manjushri – the Bodhisattva of Wisdom – and Samantabhadra – the Bodhisattva of Universal Benevolence – are worshipped in the hall as well.
Hall of Mahavira
It is the largest and the grandest hall in White Horse Temple. The ceiling is painted with bright lotus patterns. The upper shrine has exquisite carvings of a giant bird and dragons.
Three saints – Sakyamuni, Amitabha, and the Buddha of Medicine – are worshipped by people with the statues of the Eighteen Arhats.
The statues of the Eighteen Arhats are invaluable treasures in White Horse Temple and also in China. These statues are made of paint, hemp, silk, and mud. Look closely at the clothes of the Eighteen Arhats and you can see the soft silky texture of the cloth.
Hall of Guidance
It is the smallest hall in White Horse Temple.
The Hall of Guidance has deified statues of three Western Paradise saints. Amitabha is at the center and is flanked by the Goddess of Mercy on the left and the Bodhisattva of Moonlight on the right. According to Buddhism, when a Buddhist reaches a certain level with certain achievements, Amitabha Buddha guides them to the Western Paradise.
Clear Cool Terrace
‘Clear Cool Terrace’ (清凉台 Qingliang Tai) was used by the two Indian monks when they translated the Buddhist sutras. The original sutras were translated there. Pilu Pavilion is on Clear Cool Terrace.
Foreign Temple Complex
If you want to see more types of temples, you can visit the grounds of the foreign temple complex. It is located to the west of the main temple and has three temples from Thailand, Myanmar, and India.
It is a peaceful place for those tourists who prefer a quiet environment. It is located to the southeast of the front gate. The further you go, the more peaceful you will be.
Qiyun means ‘approaching clouds’, which indicates the pagoda is quite high. It is the earliest existing ancient building in the Luoyang area.
When to Go
April to June is the best time for visiting. White Horse Temple has many gardens around it. During this period, all the flowers bloom brightly. When you go there, you can smell the fresh fragrance of the flowers. It is also a good time to see the Luoyang Peony Festival.
September to November is also a good time. The weather in Luoyang is cool and mild. It is comfortable for traveling. White Horse Temple appears magnificent against the clear sky.
See more on Luoyang Weather.
- Admission ticket: 35 yuan
- Open: 7:30am–7pm
- Location: about 11 kilometers (7 miles) east of Luoyang
- Traveling tips: Flash photography and smoking are forbidden inside the temple. See How to Visit a Chinese Temple.
How to Get to White Horse Temple
It is about 25 kilometers from Luoyang Longmen Railway Station to White Horse Temple, and about 20 kilometers from Luoyang Railway Station to White Horse Temple. We advise you to book a private car and guide for more convenient travel.
- The Longmen Grottoes: This cave complex is one of the three most important grottoes in China because of its Buddhist sculptures and carvings.
- Guanlin Temple: It is a good place to appreciate valuable stone tablets with elegant calligraphies.
A China Tour with Just What You’re Interested In
If you are interested in White Horse Temple, you can contact us to tailor-make a tour according to your requirements. We will help you arrange the tickets, transportation, accommodation, a top guide, and other features you want to include.