Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Wutai shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain
Karl Debreczeny, Rubin Museum of Art
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5714, pp. 1-133
Section 2 of 9 (pp. 3-6)

The Mountain

Figure 3. Miraculous Light over Pusa ding. Wutai shan. Photograph by Gray Tuttle.

Wutai shan is identified by its five flat-topped peaks, the origin of its Chinese name, “Five-Terrace Mountain” (Wutai shan, 五臺山).3 In Tibetan and Mongolian the site is known as “Five-Peak Mountain” (Riwo Tsengari bo rtse lnga) from whence the exhibition takes its name. Each peak is inhabited by a unique form of Mañjuśrī.4 Wutai shan is Mañjuśrī’s “field of activity” or “place of practice” (daochang, 道場, maṇḍa), where a Buddha or high-ranking bodhisattva exerts his or her influence [page 4] and preaches, greatly aiding the faithfuls’ ability to develop spiritually and attain enlightenment. What is important about Mañjuśrī’s field is that unlike many other buddhafields, or pure realms, such as Amitābha’s Western Paradise (sukhāvatī) into which one prays to be reborn, Mañjuśrī’s is thought to be here on earth and is associated with a particular geographic location, reachable by foot, and thus the focus of both local and international pilgrimage.

Figure 4. 1846 Wutai shan map and key with Tibetan.
More than 120 sites of interest to the pilgrims who ventured to Wutai shan are labeled with Chinese and Tibetan inscriptions on this 19th-century woodblock, including Buddhist monasteries, Taoist temples, villages, sacred objects, and locations of events, both historic and miraculous.

[page 5]

The numerous anecdotes concerning his miraculous appearances constitute an important aspect of the cult of Mañjuśrī at Wutai shan. Pilgrims who visit this sacred mountain go to see visions of Mañjuśrī. These have often taken the form of miraculous light and cloud formations, for which the mountain is famous (Fig. 3). Accounts of these encounters with the divine were first compiled in Chinese gazetteers beginning in the seventh century, which helped to spread the cult of this mountain; they were later translated and adapted into Tibetan, Mongolian, and Manchu. Visual records of these divine manifestations were also mapped onto the mountain (Cat. 1) as discussed by Chou,5 and brought to life in the exhibition through an interactive digitally decoded map (http://wutaishan.rma2.org/rma_viewer.php?image_id=1&mode=info, Fig. 4). Wutai shan, also known in Chinese as “Clear and Cool Mountain” (Qingliang shan, 清涼山, Riwo Dangsilri bo dwangs bsil), is one of the four great sacred mountains in China, and its importance is underscored by the fact that more gazetteers were produced for Wutai shan than for any other pilgrimage site.6 As the introduction to one edition of its gazetteer, Records of Clear and Cool Mountain (Qingliang chuan), put it: “Qingliang shan (Wutai shan) is foremost among all sacred mountains for those who hold mystic manifestation to be the essence of Buddhism.”7

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[3] Wutai shan as a geographic place is not actually a single mountain, but in fact a group of five mountains arranged in a rough semicircular arc, which have been identified with the five peaks of Mañjuśrī’s abode.
[4] The Mañjuśrī astrological system arranges the mountain’s five peaks into a cosmic diagram (maṇḍala, kyinkhordkyil ’khor) format, with each peak placed in a cardinal direction and assigned a corresponding primary color under one of the five Buddha realms: on South Peak (Fig. 4, no. 2) resides a white form of Mañjuśrī called Jñānasattva on a peak of semi-precious stones (turquoise?; blue), associated with the realm of the Buddha Ratnasaṁbhava; on the West Peak (Fig. 4, no. 9) resides a form of Mañjuśrī seated on a lion called Vādisiṁha on a peak made of rubies (red), associated with the realm of the Buddha Amitābha; on the Central Peak (Fig. 4, no. 11) resides a form of Mañjuśrī wielding a sword called Mañjuśrī Nātha on a peak of gold (yellow), associated with the realm of the Buddha Vairocana; on the North Peak (Fig. 4, no. 18) resides a form of Mañjuśrī called Vimala, meaning “Stainless” on a peak of sapphire (green), associated with the realm of Amoghasiddhi; on East Peak (Fig. 4, no. 28) resides a four-armed form of Mañjuśrī called Mañjughoṣa Tikṣṇa on a peak of crystal (white), associated with the realm of Akṣobhya.
[5] Wen-shing Chou, “Maps of Wutai Shan: Individuating the Sacred Landscape through Color,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5713.
[6] Wutai shan’s gazetteer had twenty editions, whereas the next largest Tai Mountain (Tai shan), Emei Mountain (Emei shan, 峨眉山), and Putuo Mountain (Putuo shan, 普陀山) only had half as many with ten each. Gray Tuttle (“Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing: The Chinese-language Register,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 [December 2011], http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5721) notes that “not only does the number of Qing gazetteers devoted to Wutai shan exceed those of almost any other site in the empire, but their production was also more closely connected to the imperial court than any other place.” The other three mountains in the set of four great Buddhist mountains of China (si da ming shan, 四大名山), each with their own bodhisattva in residence, are: Putuo Mountain (Putuo shan, 普陀山) in Zhejiang Province (Zhejiang, 浙江省), seat of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (avalokiteśvara); Emei Mountain in Sichuan, seat of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra; and Jiuhua Mountain (Jiuhua shan, 九華山) in Anhui, seat of the Bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha.
[7] Preface to the Records of Clear and Cool Mountain (Qingliang chuan), dated 1164. Translated by Robert Gimello, “Wu-t’ai shan during the Early Chin dynasty: The Testimony of Chu Pien,” Zhonghua Foxue xue bao 7 (1994): 514.

Note Citation for Page

Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5714 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 1-133, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5714 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Debreczeny, Karl. “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 1-133. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5714 (accessed ).