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Introduction to Religious Building Architecture

The main difference in a building for religious worship versus a secular building is the ability of building of faith to elicit spiritually and psychologically changes for the better. Whether it is the exterior and size of the building or its spatial orientation, it elevates one’s character; therefore, the architecture of a religious building focuses on the sublimation and expansion of one’s spirituality. It is said, “Famous mountains in China house the multitudes of Sangha”. Many ancient temples are built on top of well-known mountains, far from the hustle and bustle of the world, allowing for the cleansing and freeing of one’s mind. When climbing high mountains and standing far atop its summit overlooking the world below, one’s horizon and vision expands. Suddenly one realizes the illusoriness of fame and fortune and how insignificant one is, thereby gaining relief as one detaches from the burdens of the world below. Therefore, the height and breadth of the current proposed tower bodhimandala (Buddhist temple) for the City of Dharma Realm are very important.

The ancient Chinese pagodas, “stupas”, came from India. “Stupa” is a Sanskrit word and means “square grave”. It is a place where the relics of Buddhas and patriarchs are kept so that people can make offerings to them. After the hierarch of Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha entered nirvana (the stillness), many crystal clear and inconceivable bone remnants resulted from his cremation; these relics are termed “sharira” in Buddhism. Shariras are a result of a cultivator’s long-term sincere and dedicated practices of “diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, and putting to rest greed, hatred, and delusion.” Therefore, shariras are regarded as the true body of the Buddhas by Buddhist disciples, and stupas are built to store them and allow people a place to making of offerings such relics. Some examples of ancient Chinese pagoda: Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (Xi-an, Shanxi, China) and Shakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple (Ying County, Shanxi, China).

 

When Buddhism came to China from India, the ancient Indian culture of creating stupas also came. The Chinese incorporated elements of Chinese pavilions with Indian stupas, resulting in stupas with Chinese architectural characteristics that store the Buddha’s and patriarch’s relics and are sites of worship. In China, there are many precious ancient pagodas, built in different dynasties and different regions and provinces of China. The pagodas are tall and majestic, towering over its surroundings, allowing for unobstructed views—they represent to Buddhist disciples what is sacred and noble in Buddhism.  Oftentimes pagodas also serve as symbolic representations of certain regions. Another name for a pagoda is “high profile”, meaning that it is tall and wide, and majestically adorned. As the name suggests, the building is towering and easily visible even from afar; thus further delineating the importance of the tower or the pagoda’s height and breadth. As it is said, “vertically reaching through the three periods of time, and horizontally pervading the ten directions”. “Vertical” refers to the height of these stupas; “horizontal” refers to the breadth. This is similar to the Catholic cathedrals, which also place great emphasis on their height and breadth, because the power of such towering buildings to influence and elevate people is quite important and quite astounding. Some examples of ancient Chinese pagoda: Cishou Pagoda of Jin Shan Temple (Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, China) and Great White Pagoda of Taiyuan Temple (Wutai County, Shanxi, China) 

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