Feilai Feng

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on March 14, 2016.)

Huili's Pagoda stands at the end of Hangzhou's Feilai Feng

Nearly 17 centuries ago, the legend says, an Indian monk came wandering into the vicinity of what is now Hangzhou. The name given to him in Chinese is Huili, meaning something like "wise essence." His Indian name is not known for certain, but may have been Matiyukti.

As he walked in the hills, he spotted an unusual limestone hill and exclaimed, "Here is the Vulture Peak of central India; when did it fly to this place?" ("Vulture Peak" was not just any peak: it was one of the Buddha's favorite places for retreat, and he gave many talks there. Huili was connecting the site not just to India, but to the spread of Buddhism all the way to China.)

The local people marveled at what he had said, but wisely asked for proof. Huili said he had some friends living on the peak and, calling out in a strange language, was greeted by hordes of monkeys! The people built a place for him to stay across a small stream from the hill. That place developed into Lingyin Monastery, and the hill is called Feilai Feng, "The Peak that Flew from Afar."

The first thing a visitor notices--after passing the pagoda said to hold Huili's ashes--is the numerous carvings all over the ridge. Another legend accounts for these: apparently when the flying peak "landed," it wiped out a number of villages. To prevent any more damage, statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas were carved on it to tie it down.

In 1924 the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore visited the area and said of Huili in a speech, "The man from India who lived and died here… came… through an exuberance of love which made him leave his own land."

A statue of Maitreya on Feilai Feng

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