Qíyúntǎ Shìjiāshělìtǎ

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Next to the Baimasi stands the 齊雲塔 Qíyúntǎ, Cloud Scraping Pagoda, also known as the 釋伽舍利塔 Shijiashelita, Sakyamuni (Shijia) Sarira (Sheli) Pagoda (Ta). This interesting ancient structure was first built in the Han Dynasty in 69AD.

It is surrounded by a cicular path of lotus blossoms carved in square stepping stones. They are too widely spaced to step from one to the next, but if one runs around the pagoda it is possible to step from one to the other, as a number of pilgims do.

An interesting feature is the croaking frog sounds that echo from the pagoda when one claps hands before it. We tried it and indeed it works!

According to the stories of the Baimasi, in this year the Han emperor Ming Di (Liu Zhuang) met two Indian monks, Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaratana. They asked the emperor what was the use of a large mound southeast of what is now the Baimasi. The emperor replied that long ago, since the Zhou Dynasty in 1046 BC, there appeared a mound there about 3 meters in height. Whenever it was leveled it immediatly grew up again! And what is more, it glowed at night. Therefore it had been a site for prayers and sacrifices for centuries. However no one was able to explain why this phenomenon occurred.

Kasyapa Matanga, being the smart monk that he was, explained that Emperor Ashoka distributed 84,000 Buddha sarira all over the world which were placed under pagodas. This site, he assured the Emperor Ming, was one of those locations, and a new pagoda should be built there. And so, Kasyapa smoothly appropriated ancient Chinese beliefs into Buddhism. (In the same way Chairman Hu Jintao's slogan does today over the entrance to Damo's Cave above the Shaolinsi on Songshan....see 08-25-007 嵩山 Songshan).

There is, of course, another more accepted story, about how the emperor had a dream, sent a mission to India to collect sutras, and brought the two monks back to China where they translated sutras at the site of the Baimasi. But it seems plausible that the monks or perhaps the Emperor Ming selected this site because of its historical numinous qualities.

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