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This small temple, located in the Tibetan province of Qinghai, was founded during the Ming Dynasty as an offshoot of the Kumbum temple, one of the most important Gelukpa monasteries in Tibet.

For information on the Kumbum monastery click here:

http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/entrance_gate_kumbum_monas...

Although used primarily by Tibetan Buddhists, this temple contains certain distinctly Chinese- Buddhist aspects.  Most prominent of these Chinese aspects is the pagoda-style incense burner located in the center of the courtyard. This combination of both Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism elements is a result of the hybrid form of Buddhist art and architecture that evolved out of Sino-Tibetan relations.An interesting aspect to keep in mind when analyzing this site is the way in which Buddhism has evolved and transformed over the ages. As Buddhism disseminated throughout East Asia from India, it transformed into a wide range of distinct regional styles. Nevertheless, there are clear overlaps in the religious tradition, art, and rituals of each region.

The image of deer is a common occurrence in Tibetan Buddhist art. As shy and peaceful creatures, the deer represents essential Buddhist characteristics such as peace, harmony and compassion.  The arrangement of two deer, usually a male and female, on either side of a dharmachakra or “wheel of dharma” is a common feature over the roof or gateway of Buddhist monasteries and temples in Tibet. This arrangement is derived from Buddha’s first teachings at the Deer Park at Sarnath. It is here where he first revealed the most important Buddhist teachings including the “Four Noble truths” and the “Noble Eightfold Path”. Adopted from Indian traditions, the figure of the wheel came to symbolize the Buddhist doctrine itself, as well as became the emblem of the chakravartin or ‘wheel turner’ as the act of preaching is called “turning the Wheel of the Law”.

This arrangement of deer and wheel can also be seen crowning the roof of the Dzomokhar Monastery also located in Qinghai province. The gilded finishing and three dimensional representations are indicative of a more traditional architectural style.

http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/assembly_hall_exterior_dzo...

It is interesting to note that in Chinese culture the deer is believed to be a symbol of longevity. It is said to be the only animal that can find the sacred fungus of immortality. This reference becomes pertinent when viewed in the context of the Chinese symbol of longevity to the left and right of the center deer image.  The result is an overlapping of symbols and meaning that would appeal to both Chinese and Tibetan traditions.

This intricate black, bold symbol is an artistic representation of the Chinese character “shou” or “longevity”.

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This character and the subsequent design is representative of the Chinese god of Longevity, Shou-lao. There are said to be over a hundred variations of this icon which appears on everything from Chinese porcelain and seals to implements and furniture. It is also commonly found on the designs of Chinese silk brocade which are used by Tibetans to create silk banner and hangings, costumes, and to frame brocaded thangkas. Although this symbol originated in China, it is a common feature on Tibetan objects and artwork. This character does not have the same meaning in Tibet but is nevertheless, admired for its aesthetic qualities, as well as general auspicious qualities.

Although lions are not native to China, with the introduction of Buddhism lions were gradually absorbed into Chinese art and iconography. The Buddhist Lion, sometimes called “Fu Dog” is a reoccurring symbol throughout Chinese Buddhist art and architecture. These guardian lions appeared as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and remained a prominent feature of Chinese Buddhist architecture throughout the Qing. These sculptured three-dimensional Chinese stone images are generally placed at the entrance of a temple or prominent hall as symbolic protectors. Within Chinese Buddhist tradition the lion is sacred to Buddha and symbolize valor and energy. The male is usually portrayed with a paw over a sphere while the woman has a cub under her paw.   

Here is a two dimensional representation of the lion-dog figure adorning a Tibetan monastery.

http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/maitreya_hall_jakhyung_mon...

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It is interesting to note that the Guardian Lion or Snow Lion also plays a dominant role in Tibetan Buddhist ideology as one of the prime symbols of Buddhism itself. The Snow lion is the national animal symbol of Tibet; seen on the Tibetan flag, coins, banknotes, stamps, as well as the Dalai Lama’s insignia. Like in the Chinese artistic tradition, snow lions often appear in male-female pairing and are often illustrated playing with a ball. Although these specific lion statues at this site are decidedly in Chinese style, the concept would not be foreign to Tibetan worshippers and is yet another example of how images and symbols overlap and diverge within separate Buddhist traditions.

Although it is difficult to get a clear image, here is an example of Tibetan snow lions adorning the bottom of this tapestry. The pure white lion with turquoise mane is a common portrayal of the Tibetan Snow Lion.

http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/stupa_tapestry

Here is a stone representation on the entrance gate of the Kumbum monastery.

http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/entrance_gate_kumbum_monas...

These white scarves, known as Kha-btags in Tibetan, are a common ritual object within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They are normally lightweight, white or cream in color, and made out of silk or a mixture of silk and other materials. Although the usage of these scarves varies widely, it is established that the offering of a kha-btags is a sign to the recipient that ones intentions are pure, noble and self-less.  These scarves could be offered to a monk in return for a blessing, used as wrapping for a gift, or even placed over the head of a guest of honor. It is also common for these scarves to be wrapped around statues or paintings of Buddhist deities. What makes the use of the kha-btag at this site particularly interesting is the context in which they are being used.  Instead of wrapped around the head of a Tibetan Buddhist deity, these scarves are being used to wrap the heads of Chinese “fu” dog statues. This could be interpreted in several ways. It could be seen as an integration of both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist cultures into a single “pure offering” to the Buddha, or perhaps it is an attempt to cover up the Chinese guardian dog with a Tibetan object. It could also very likely have no other ulterior meaning then to simply bless the entrance of the monastery. Nevertheless, it is an interesting juxtaposition of both Chinese and Tibetan religious cultures.

From this other example of a kha-btags scarve adorning the entrance to another Tibetan Monastary it is clear that this is a common custom in Tibet. http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/side_hall_tsenpo_monastery

Another interesting aspect to point out in terms of the mixture of Chinese and Tibetan influence at this site is the current discrepancy in the origins of this ceremonial object. The PRC official state line is that kha-btags were first introduced into Tibet by the Yuan dynasty and therefore have a “Chinese” origin. On the other hand, Tibetans claim that the scarves derived from either Hindu tradition or indigenous Tibetan folk customs origination from pre-Buddhist times. The combination of the Chinese fu dogs and the kha-btag scarves at this site can be interpreted on a multitude of levels depending on the viewer.

Engraved into the stone of the building are three identical symbols of the double crossed vajra or “vishvavajra” line on either side of the temple. As a variation of the traditional single vajra, the double or “universal” vajra represents absolute stability, characterized by the solidity of the element earth. The vajra itself is an emblem that first appeared in Indian Buddhism as the symbol of Vajrapani, the protector deity of Shakyamuni.  Although the term vajra originally meant a “thunderbolt”, Tibetan Buddhist understand it to mean “diamond”. Incorporated into Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the symbol of the vajra has come to represent the “diamond vehicle” or Vajrayana Buddhist path. The indestructibility and brilliance of the diamond, symbolized in the vajra, is a metaphor for the indestructible state of enlightenment.  The vajra is both a ritual object and a symbolic icon that shows up in the hands of wrathful deities. When combined with the bell, or ghanta the union of the two objects represents the perfect union of method and wisdom, male and female qualities. As this symbol is carved into the temple itself, it could perhaps be assumed that it was originally appealing to Tibetan worshippers who follow the esoteric teachings of the Vajra way.

The stupa originated within the traditions of early Indian Buddhism as a sacred monument designed to enshrine the relics of great spiritual leaders. As Buddhism disseminated throughout East Asia, the architectural form of the stupa varied widely per region. In China, the stupa evolved into the form of a pagoda. Although the aesthetics of the pagoda differ widely from those of the traditional Indian and Tibetan stupas, they serve similar purposes as a receptacle for relics and a focus of spiritual practice.

You can compare this type of Chinese style pagodas to the Tibetan stupa in this image.

http://digitaltibet.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/image/stupa_drotsang_monastery

Within Chinese architectural tradition, there  also evolved several different styles of pagodas. This particular small sized pagoda is characterized by its multi-storied tower-like structure. The stacked, upward slopping roofs are characteristic of Chinese architecture and the small golden dragons are also Chinese in style. The bells adorning the top of this pagoda are another common feature of Chinese pagodas.  

The combination of a pagoda style inscence burner is a common tradition in China. Now days, this small pagoda is most likely used primarily as an incense burner during ceremonial rituals. Worshippers place sticks of incense into the burner to measure the length of each period of meditation. When each stick burned to the last two inches it is pulled out of the burner and a new stick was glued on to its end.

These Chinese characters 金塔寺 or “Gold Stupa Temple” are carved into the base of the pagoda giving this temple its Chinese name. It’s very likely however, that this pagoda-style, incense burner was built in the place of a Tibetan style stupa during the Cultural Revolution.

Beér, Robert. Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. 1st ed. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala, 1999.

Cook, Elizabeth, and Yeshe De Project. The Stupa : Sacred Symbol of Enlightenment. Crystal Mirror Series V. 12. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Press, 1997.

Fang, Jing Pei. Symbols and Rebuses in Chinese Art : Figures, Bugs, Beasts, and Flowers. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2004.

Harris, C. (2007). Mediators in the Transnational Marketplace: Wholesalers of Tibetan Ceremonial Scarves and the Marketing of Meaning. 8, 163-180.

Welch, Holmes. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism. Harvard East Asian Studies, 26. Cambridge,: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Williams, C. A. S. Encyclopedia of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives; an Alphabetical Compendium of Legends and Beliefs as Reflected in the Manners and Customs of the Chinese Throughout History. New York,: Julian Press, 1960.

Stupa, Jinta Temple

Object Details

Material: 
Bronze | Cotton | Silk | Stone | Wood
Object Use: 
Religious
Notes: 
This combined stupa and incense burner are in a Chinese style and give the name Gold Stupa Temple (Jinta si) to this Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Chinese provincial capital of Xining. Although the combined stupa and incense burner appear to be made of bronze or some other non-precious metal, it was probably once covered in gold-leaf. Note the mix of Chinese and Tibetan material culture, such as the Chinese "fu" dogs with their heads tied in Tibetan kata scarves, the Tibetan Lantsa script and deer and wheel emblems alongside the Chinese symbol for longevity.
Cultural Region: 
Amdo
Location: 
Jinta Temple (Ch. Jinta si) , Xi ling (Ch. Xining), QInghai province
Date Range: 
16th
Size: 
16' tall?