Mount Emei belongs to the Qionglai Mountains in southwestern Sichuan Basin and is located in the Emei County of Sichuan Province. It consists of four major mountains -- Da'e (#1), Er'e (#2), San'e (#3) and Si'e (#4). Mount Emei mainly refers to the Da'e Mountain.
From a distance, the Da'e and Er'e mountains look like a moth's pair of brows (antennas) that extend long, slender and curved in a picturesque fashion, the so-called "broad forehead, delicate eyebrows" (a popular saying in ancient China of describing a beautiful woman) hence the name of the mountain Emei which literally means "moth's brows", or "delicate eyebrows", just as the classic "Commentary on the Waterways" puts it, "On a fine autumn day, the two mountains stand opposite each other like a moth's brows".
Mount Emei, with its soaring ridge upon soaring ridge in a topographical turmoil, are so remarkable in outline, grand in dimension, yet so ethereally enchanting, as to vindicate the popular saying, "No place under heaven is as beautiful as Mount Emei." The Wanfoding, the main peak of Mount Emei, is 3099 meters above sea level. Another peak, the Jinding Mountain (Golden Top), is 3077 meters. Mount Emei is nearly 1000 meters taller than Mount Huashan, the tallest of the Five Holy Mountains of China. That is why Mount Emei is also extolled as being "higher than the Five Holy Mountains, and most picturesque in China" Stone-paved footpaths spiral their way from the foot to the peak for more than 50 kilometers before disappearing into the sea of cloud. Monkeys and precious birds, rich tapestry of exotic flowers and plants are found everywhere in the dense forests of ancient pines and cypresses, visited by swarms of butterflies and the resonant croaking of frogs. The daytime halo over the Jinding Mountain and the spectacles of night lamps add beauty to the landscape and earn the mountain the name "Mountain of Brightness".
Buddhism found its way to Mount Emei during the 265~290 era of the Emperor Wudi in the Western Jin Dynasty. By the times of the Sui and Tang Dynasties, more and more temples were built there. It is claimed that Samantabhadra, the Universal Worthy Great Conduct Bodhisattva converted the mountain to his domain, where he spread the holy words of the Buddha. A bronze statue of Samantabhadra was erected at the Wannian Temple there during the Song Dynasty, which helped establish Mount Emei as the bodhimandala of Samantabhadra. Buddhism reached its zenith at Mount Emei during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, when more than 70 temples were built and the monks population reached several thousands. Among them, about 20 temples survived, including the Baoguo, Fuhu, Wannian, Qingyin, Xiangfeng and Huazang temples, the Feilaidian Hall, the Hongchunping Terrace and the Xixiangchi Pool. The famed "10 Major Sights of Emei" are: the Auspicious Sunlight atop the Golden Top (Jinding), the Rich Verdure of the Lingyan Mountain, the Evening Bell Tolling at Shengji, the Twin Bridges with a Rich Susurrus, the Rain on Hongchun at Dawn, the Celestial Mansions of 9 Elders, the Moonlit Night at the Xixiangchi Pool, the Autumn Wind over Baishui, the Snowfall at the Great Terrace, and the Clouds over the Luofeng Peak. The 1000-li (Chinese mile, equivalent to 40 km) stone path winds its way in the mountains very much like a glittering silver chain hanging down from the top of Mount Emei.
Samantabhadra is one of the 4 major Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Garland Sutra, meaning Flower Adornment Sutra), Samantabhadra expressed the cherished wish to disseminate the doctrines of the Buddha and was nicknamed "Samantabhadra the Tireless Traveller". He stood in attendance at Sakyamuni's (i.e. the Buddha's) right side and was in charge of benevolence, while Manjusri stood to the Buddha's left as the Bodhisattva in charge of wisdom. Since Samantabhadra was in the habit of reading and observing nature on the road, he needed a mount that could walk as smoothly as possible. That is why he was fond of riding his white elephant with 6 tusks. So in the Buddhist art, he is often shown as holding a double curved sceptre in his hand and sitting on a lotus seat fastened to the back of his elephant.
That Mount Emei had become his bodhimandala had something to do with the natural light on the top of the mountain. It was said that when Pu Gong, a hermit of the Eastern Han Dynasty spotted the spectacular rays on the mountaintop, he consulted an Indian monk who had just arrived in China, who said,"This is the auspicious symbol of Samantabhadra. This light was originally used to protect Tathagata, but now it has made it's presence felt in this place for the benefit of the multitude." Such explanation was in accordance with the description of Samantabhadra's residence in the Garland Sutra, which says, " There is a Mountain of Brightness in the Southwest, where quite a few Bodhisattvas have resided since ancient times. The current Bodhisattva living there is Samantabhadra together with 3,000 family members. He often preaches the doctrines there." As the Garland Sutra was spread into China during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, Buddhists at that time began to worship Mount Emei as Samantabhadra's residence and bodhimandala. This tradition was handed down till this day.
Mount Emei is known throughout the world for its consummate architecture and vast collection of cultural treasures. For example, the Baoguo Temple is an outstanding wood structure. Its buildings, with immense proportions and set off elegantly by kiosks and pavilions, are tucked away in what looks like a Buddhist world, where birds are singing happily amidst the mountain flowers and foliage. The Hall of Seven Buddhas stand tall and magnificent, with both its interior and exterior ornamented with elaborately wrought wood and stone carvings. The marble balustrades look conspicuous for their figurines carvings. The seven Buddhist statues in the hall are more than 5 meters tall, with the Buddhas depicted as sitting stately on lotus pedestals, eyes half closed, facial expressions solemn, images extremely lifelike. All the structures on the premises are exquisitely decorated.
The woodcarvings of figurines, flowers and birds in Tripitaka Pavilion are regarded as superb works of art. The Baoguo Temple is full of cultural artifacts. The display room in the Mahavira Hall features works of such celebrated Chinese calligraphers and painters as Zhao Mengfu, Xu Beihong, Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian.
Hanging on two walls in the Hall of Seven Buddhas are four wooden plaques inscribed with the "Hymns on Seven Buddhas" in the handwriting of Huang Tianjian, a famed figure of letter and calligrapher of the Song Dynasty. In the rear of the hall stands a 2.74-meter high porcelain statue of the Buddha, done in graceful lines and well-proportioned configuration, portraying the Buddha as a robust, sedate man wearing a thousand-Buddha lotus robe. Made in a porcelain-making kiln at Jingdezhen of Jiangxi Province in 1415, the 13th year of the Yongle reign of Ming Dynasty, it is considered as the best of kiln-made porcelain statue of the Buddha in existence. The Ming-dynasty lotus-flower bronze bell hanging in a bell pavilion atop a tiny mountain opposite the Bauguo Temple was 2.8-meter tall and weighs 12,500-kilograms, usually extolled as the "King of Bells of the Land of Abundance".
In the Tripitaka Pavilion of the temple, there are many Buddhist classics, including a huge scroll inscribed with the text of "Wang Youjun's Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Collection of Poetry" in the handwriting of Zhao Mengfu, and works of famous calligraphers of various dynasties.
The Ming Dynasty beamless brick hall of the Wannian Temple is known to have the best of all brick-and-masonry structures of Mount Emei. Enshrined in the immense space of the brick hall of the Wannian Temple is a bronze statue of Samantabhadra, riding his white elephant. This statue stands 7.35-meter high and weighs 62 tons. For its exquisite craftsmanship, the statue has been put under protection as a key cultural relic of national calibre.
The Fuhu Temple is known for its bronze pagoda which stands in a pavilion to the left of the Mahavira Hall. It is also known as Huayan Pagoda because its walls are inscribed with the 195,048-character text of the Garland Sutra. Standing 5.8 meters in height, it is in the shape of an octagonal pavilion with 13 layers, looking like an overturned urn on a 0.96-meter-high Sumeru pedestal with a door opened into one of its walls. A total of 4,700 Buddhist statues are placed on the pavilion's 13 layers. The top of the Jinding (Golden Top) Mountain is the site of a hall known as Yogming Huazang Temple. Its tiles, pillars, doors, windows and walls are all made of copper mixed with gold and the hall is also called "Gold Top" or "Bronze Hall". During a fire in 1664, the hall was burned down to a tiny fragment of the bronze wall, inscribed with sutra passages and Buddhist picture, which remains to this day, together with a two-meter-high, 0.85-meter-wide bronze tablet. The bronze tablet now housed in the Woyun Nunnery as a precious cultural relic of Mount Emei. It is inscribed with the text of the "Accounts of the Newly Constructed Bronze Hall of Yongminghuazang Temple on the Da'e Mountain", with handwritings of the Tang-dynasty calligrapher Zhu Suiliang.
If Mount Wutai is a cradle of Buddhist culture, then Mount Emei is a symbol of the ideals of Buddhism. The streams at the foot of the mountain, limpid and free from the dust and dun of the mundane world, give people a soul-cleansing effect. The craggy cliffs, deep valleys, dense woods and exuberant flowers are providing the visitors with a soothing experience. Mount Emei is a classical product of both nature and Buddhist culture and a perfect example of the harmonious relationship between nature and man seeking to return to the embrace of nature.