The king of Wuyue
Wuyue Kingdom, one of the kingdoms in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-960) in China, was founded by King Qian Liu of Linan, Zhejiang Province. Its capital was in Hangzhou.
The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period was a time of unending political upheavals, but the rulers of Wuyue Kingdom adopted highly successful strategies that kept the economy prosperous and saved its people from wars. The strategies involved establishing a friendly diplomatic relationship with the Northern Imperial regime, defending its internal borders, and refraining from making military expeditions. These policies allowed this southeastern kingdom to remain an oasis of peace in a country ravaged by political turmoil.
Wuyue Kingdom was known as the “Buddha Nation of the Southeast.” All its rulers were devoted Buddhist followers and patrons, with the last ruler, King Qian Chu, being the most devoted of all. During his reign, King Qian Chu built and repaired grotto temples, created pagodas, built temples, printed sutras, supported the sangha, dispatched envoys overseas to recover displaced sutras, and promoted Buddhist rituals and ceremonies. As a result of his enthusiastic advocacy and patronage, the region of Wuyue was able to escape the persecution of Buddhists initiated by Emperor Shizong of the Later Zhou Dynasty (951-960), making this region an important center for the preservation and continuation of Buddhism in China.
The Buddhist Patronage of the Kings of Wuyue Kingdom
All the Kings of Wuyue Kingdom were strong Buddhist supporters and patrons. Their personal devotion to Buddhism spurred the climate of Buddhist practice in the Wuyue region. For example, the last ruler of Wuyue Kingdom Qian Chu, knew from an early age that one was to respect the Buddha. He became a devout Buddhist, claiming: “whenever there is a free moment in the hustling and bustling of life, my mouth never ceases to recite the words of the Buddha; my hand never quits turning the pages of the sutra.” During his reign (948–978), he extensively and actively encouraged the practice of Buddhism all over the land under his jurisdiction: he restored Lingyin Temple in the Capital Hangzhou; founded Yongming Temple; built the Six Harmonies Pagoda, Baochu Pagoda, and Leifeng Pagoda; built and restored caves in the south－a rarity as most cave temples were located in the north－including Rosy Cloud Cave, Ciyun Peak, Tianlong Temple and Feilai Peak; mass produced and disseminated printed copies of the sutras; sent envoys to Korea and Japan to recover Buddhist texts belonging to the various schools of Buddhism, leaving deep impressions of his supportive efforts to Buddhism throughout the land.
Buddhism flourished and spread in Wuyue Kingdom under the tireless leadership of Qian Chu that spanned 30 years. Many temples and monasteries were established in the Capital Hangzhou and many more Great Buddhist Masters appeared on the scene, making Wuyue truly the “Buddha Nation of the Southeast.”
Events in the life of Wuyue King Qian Chu
929 Born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China.
948 Succeeded the throne of Wuyue Kingdom.
971 Began planning the construction of Leifeng Pagoda.
971-972 Gathered up Leifeng Pagoda building bricks.
972 The start of the construction of Leifeng Pagoda.
977 The completion of Leifeng Pagoda.
978 Qian Chu surrendered his territories to the Northern Song Emperor,
bringing Wuyue Kingdom to an end.
988 Qian Chu died at the age of 60.
Qian Chu Created Eighty-Four Thousand Ashoka Pagodas
Among all his devoted contributions to Buddhism, King Qian Chu was most famous for following in the footsteps of King Ashoka of India in creating eighty-four thousand pieces of precious pagodas all over the land to as far as Japan. He also printed eighty-four thousand copies of the sutra, The Precious Chest Seal Dharani Sutra of the Whole Body Relics Concealed in All Buddhas’ Minds, in numerous occasions to give to the whole world. “Eighty-four Thousand” is not a denotation of the actual number, but a Buddhist term for describing the state of “innumerable quantity.”
King Ashoka (304-232 BCE), the third king in the Mauryan Dynasty (321-185 BCE) of India, was a famous patron of Buddhism. But in his early years, he was infamous for threatening his neighbors with aggressive wars and terrorizing his own people with brutal tyranny. The turning point of his life came when he met a great Indian Buddhist monk who introduced him to the Buddha’s teachings. From then on he was transformed from a destructive tyrant to a kind and gentle giver. All over the land he built stupas to enshrine the Buddha’s relics. These stupas later became known as “Ashoka Pagodas.”
Much like the young King Ashoka, the young Qian Chu (929-988) in his early years also embarked on military expeditions that killed many thousands lives. Aware of the serious consequence of his destructive actions, his mind could no longer experience any peace and tranquility, and he became physically sick. He decided to repent for his past conduct in hope that it would recover his health and peace of mind. Inspired by King Ashoka’s devotion to the Buddha, he also pledged to create countless pagodas all over the land. They were miniature pagodas made of metal, which also came to be known as “Ashoka Pagodas.” They were built specifically to store scrolls of Buddhist sutras or bury relics. Ashoka Pagodas are known by two other names: one is “Precious Chest Seal (Sutra) Pagodas,” named for two reasons: (1) they are shaped like a precious chest, and they house sutra; (2) they are enshrined with the sutra The Precious Chest Seal Dharani Sutra of the Whole Body Relics Concealed in All Buddhas’ Minds. The other name is “Gilt Pagodas” because most of them are gilded on the surface.
According to the inscriptions on the unearthed pagodas, King Qian Chu had made two separate large-scale productions of these pagodas in a span of 10 years. The first one was eighty-four thousand bronze Ashoka Pagodas created during the year Yimao (the 2nd year of the Xiande era (955) in Later Zhou Dynasty), the year Emperor Shizong persecuted Buddhists. The second major effort was when eighty-four thousand iron Ashoka Pagodas were created in the year Yichou ( the 3rd year of the Qiande era (965) during the reign of Emperor Taizu of Song Dynasty). King Qian Chu commissioned two silver Ashoka Pagodas especially for Leifeng Pagoda in the year 972 and 976. One was enshrined at the top level of the pagoda, a space called the Heaven Palace, and was unearthed at the ruins of the pagoda. The other one was unearthed at the Underground Palace, the cellar beneath the ruins of Leifeng Pagoda.