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Yonghegong Lama Temple

Yonghegong – Beijing’s most exciting temple

The Lama Temple, known as Yonghegong or Yonghe Gong Temple, is Beijing’s biggest and most exciting temple. Enormous carvings, Buddhas, Arhats, roofs, bells and echoing Buddhist mantras compete for your attention.

The temple may seem a little crowded and noisy for meditation and contemplation, but nevertheless this is a place where you can see genuine believers practising their faith – prostrating themselves before the images of Buddha, burning incense, and muttering a silent prayer. You can also have trinkets blessed by the lamas – in exchange for a small donation.

The Lama Temple is at its most charming in the afternoon when the crowds thin and the sun illuminates plumes of fragrant incense smoke.

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It is a temple of the Geluk or Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism, and home to about 60 lamas.

It was originally built as a residence for court eunuchs before becoming the residence of Yongzheng (later Emperor Yongzheng) in 1694, and hence took the name Yonghegong. After his death, Yongzheng’s coffin was interred here, and the building was subsequently turned over entirely to religious use. The style and architecture of the place reflect this mixed heritage, blending Han Chinese and Tibetan styles.

The Lama temple is the centre for national Buddhist administration – the place where the CCP announces its officially sanctioned leaders of the faith. Those appointed by the exiled Dalai Lama tend to flee the country or disappear.

Yonghegong Lama Temple layout

The Lama Temple complex consists of five main halls arranged along a North-South axis. You enter from the South, coming first to the Hall of Heavenly Kings with a statue of the Maitreya Buddha and statues of the four Heavenly Kings.

The second building is the Hall of Harmony and Peace, with statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages (Past, Present and Future) and statues of 18 Arhats.

The Lama Temple’s third building is Hall of Everlasting Protection, which contains a statue of the healing Buddha, and is the place where Yongzheng’s coffin was interred.

Next is The Hall of The Wheel of Law, which contains a statue of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Geluk school of Buddhism, and the magnificent Five Hundred Arhat Hill, made of dark red sandalwood. This hall also functions as a place for lamas to read scripture and carry out religious ceremonies.

Finally you arrive at Wanfu Pavilion (10,000 Happinesses Pavilion), which contains one of the Lama Temple’s most famous residents – an 18m Buddha statue carved out of the trunk of a single sandalwood tree.

Next to the Temple are a few interesting hutongs where you can pick up paintings and calligraphy, sample some down to earth Beijing grub, or just wander around and watch the world go by.

Yonghegong Lama Temple Practical Information

Geographically, the Lama Temple is North of Tiananmen, just inside the Second Ring Road. It’s very easy to get to on the underground, just get off at Yonghe Gong stop (on line No.2) and head South following the signs.

If you prefer to go by taxi, it’s close enough to the city centre that it shouldn’t cost more than 40RMB wherever you are.

Buses 13,18 407 and 807 stop here too.

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