Yuantong Temple 圆通寺 Kunming

A couple years ago a friend and I were in Kunming for an academic conference and decided to visit the famous Yuantong Temple. It was originally built in the late eighth century, but like all old structures in China, it has been rebuilt many times. It is a working temple with quite a few resident monks. It is the most important Buddhist temple in Yunnan Province. Pilgrims come from all over the area to pay their respects.

At the temple there are classes on Buddhist scriptures as well as many oridinary citizens praying. We observed several gatherings of people in the various pavilions singing, chanting, and praying together.

I really enjoy visiting Buddhist temples in China. Usually they are are very peaceful and a welcome break from the frenetic pace of large Chinese cities. I like talking to Buddhist monks about their background, why they decided to become a monk, their daily activities, and so on. I’ve had some very interesting conversations over the years. I remember at a monastery in Xi’an once chatting with a middle-aged monk. We were strolling through a quiet back courtyard with no one else around. Out of the blue he pulled out a handful of kettle corn from somewhere inside his saffron robes and offered it to me. My first thought was, “where did that come from?” I graciously accepted his simple gesture.

Another time at the Lingyin Temple and monastery in Hangzhou I struck up a conversation with another monk. After chatting for awhile he offered to show me around. After a brief tour of the main hall, he ushered me into his office. I was surprised to find a computer, fax machine, and other modern electronics. He offered me a cup of tea and we sat on burnished wood chairs as he explained why Buddhism is important to him.

Below are a few pictures from the Yuantong Temple in Kunming.

I’m not sure why the water is so green, but that is how it really looked. And it was full of fish and turtles.

Tending the incense and wax fire

One of the many resident monks

Detail of stone lion carving


A sleepy little lady

Monk shoes

9 thoughts on “Yuantong Temple 圆通寺 Kunming

  1. When peple mention temples or monks in China, we will think of a Chinese Character. But no one can explain the character exactly. The character is 禅. Because of Chinese culture and history, the nature of Chinese people is repressed, which meets the core thoughts of Buddhism. It is you have to suffer, and the more you suffer the better you will be in your next life.

  2. The character she mentions above is pronounced chán and is derived from a Sanskrit word Dhyana. It is a little tricky to translate and can mean meditation, but is more known as a sect of Buddhism. In Japan it is pronounced Zen. Basically Chán or Zen Buddhism has a focus in meditation as a means of enlightenment and does not favor theoretical study and learning. There are Chán Buddhist temples in China but it is probably more popular in Japan.

  3. I liked how short and simple this article was. Also, that this article was more personable and more enjoyable to read than some of the previous articles. It is like an unfinished book, I want to read more and find out why the monk you talked to became a monk. I love these personal stories, I find them much more informative than the actual informative postings. Nice work!

  4. Great post, Matt. I would love to hear more about the monks you’ve met, their views/stories, and your general thoughts and observations on Buddhism.

  5. I’ve always wanted to travel to Kunming. It’s modern history (WWII to present) is very fascinating. Also, getting to learn a little about the monks is interesting. The temple itself is stunning, great photos!

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