Famen Monastery and Weekend Zen Retreat

The Famen monastery is situated at Famen Town, Fufeng County, 120 kilometers west of Xi'an. It is renowned for storing the Finger Bone of the Sakyamuni Buddha. Famen Temple was established in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25--220), for carrying forward Buddhism. The most representative structures in the temple are the Famen Temple Pagoda and Famen Temple Museum.The monastery rose to fame as an imperial religious establishment. At the time, as many as 5 thousand monks lived in the monastery's twenty-four compounds. The sariars (the finger bones) were taken out for public display once in every 30 years. During the Tang Dynasty, the underground palace beneath the stupa was open and closed on seven occasions, and Sakyamuni's sariars were escorted to and from the imperial court seven times in unprecedented throng and pomp. In 1985, the Ming-dynasty brick pagoda in the Famen Monastery collapsed. From the debris archaeologists uncovered the Tang-dynasty underground palace which lay one metre below the ground, and they made archaeology history by bringing to light the four sariars which had been repeatedly escorted to the Tang imperial court along with large amounts of treasures offered as sacrificial objects, including gold and silver vessels, porcelains, glassware, pearls and precious stones and silks. The sariars enriched in the Famen monastery's underground palace are contained in a box made of multiple layers of gold, silver, crystal, jade, pearls and sandal-wood. After they were un-earthed, they had been placed back into the newly refurbished underground palace. When these sariars were first spotted, they were lying in the midst of a thick pile of cultural relics--one hundred twenty-one gold and silver vessels, eight bronz vessels, twenty pieces of glassware, nineteen porcelains, eleven stone carvings, four hundred-odd pearls and pieces of jade, and hundreds of silk fabrics. The gold and silver vessels include daily utencils, sacrificial vessels, and musical instruments used in religious ceremonies; the designs and shapes of some of them were seen for the first time among Tang dynasty artifects. All these gold and silver vessels had been used in the imperial court or were made specially for enshrining Sakyamuni's sariars; marked by exquisite craftsmanship, each and everyone of them is a priceless treasure. The porcelains were also used for imperial use, glazed with what is called "smoky colors," and experts regard them as standards for the study of "smoky-colored" porcelians. The glassware bears a distinctive cultural style of central and west Asia. Unfortunately, many of the seven hundred pieces of silk fabrics had decayed and become mere ashes. After the excavation of the Famen monastery was finished, the provincial authorities rebuilt the Ming-dynasty brick stupa and underground palace below it, and established the Famensi Museum. All the national treasures uncovered from the underground palace are now kept in the Museum's chamber of treasures in an effort to restore the monastery to its Tang-dynasty glory and turn it into a major Buddhist establishment and tourist attraction. (The photo of Famen Monastery above was taken this summer by Professor Ishwar Harris of the Religious Studies Department at the College of Wooster.)

“A special transmission outside the scriptures, not founded upon words and letters. But pointing directly to one’s mind-to see one’s true nature and thus become a Buddha…” --Bodhidharma, 1st Zen Patriarch in China


“Zen” is a household word. But not many people know this school of Buddhism was born in China over 1500 years ago! As part of the Wooster-Xi’an summer program students will spend one weekend absorbed into the lifestyle of Zen monks and nuns. Program students will stay two days and one night at Famen Temple. There they will eat meals in the “Zhai” Hall with resident monks and nuns in their tradition way. They will join the residents in their morning and evening chanting service. The head monk at Famen is excited to engage students in a question/answer session and to lead the students in a tradition Zen meditation session, as well as a session of Pureland Buddhist practice. Each student will be given an English/Chinese copy of a Buddhist Sutra (scripture). A tour of the monastery’s many Buddha halls and ceremony halls will begin the weekend, as well as a tour of the Famen Temple Museum adjacent to the monastery. A Wooster alumni who has been studying Zen and Pureland Buddhism in China for over 6 years will act as translator and guide for the weekend. Interaction with the community and engaged learning is encouraged, as this is a rare opportunity to experience one of China’s most vital and influential wisdom traditions. A lecture with a leading Buddhist scholar will precede the trip by all enrolled in 2007 Wooster in Xi'an Summer Program.