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Master Huili Rearing White Apes

Lingyin area has been considered a top attraction for Hangzhou since early history days of the predecessors. Crystal cold spring, exquisite deep caves, as well as various gorgeous statues can be found here. Of course, there is another vital factor that makes Lingyin world-famous--the presence of a well-known ancient temple in the south of Changjiang River--Lingyin Temple.

Lingyin Temple was founded by the Indian monk Master Huili, and the is also credited with the names of Lingyin and Flying Peak. The Lingyin area was once called Wulin Mountain. In the first year of the reign of Jincheng Emperor in Xianhe period (AD 326), Master Huili visited the place and realized that the mountain was filled with rocks, sharp edges, tall ancient trees and climbing vines. He began climbing and while he was appreciating the scenery, he could not help expressing his surprise. When he reached the top of the mountain, Master Huili marveled, “This is a small peak in Lingjiu Mountain in India, isn’t it? When did it arrive here? It looks like a resting place for fairies in the time of the Buddha.” “A resting place for fairies” mentioned by Master Huili not only linked Wulin Mountain with the Buddha, but also greatly matched the environment of Wulin Mountain with strange rocks and deep caves. Hence, the area was then called Lingyin, and the mountain which Master Huili referred to was named Flying Peak. Master Huili then built Lingyin Temple below the northern summit, besides the northern stream and faced Flying Peak.

The peak of Flying Peak facing Lingyin Temple is called Ape Calling Peak, as well as White Ape Peak. Its name also has something to do with Master Huili. It was said that when Master Huili claimed that the mountain was a small peak in Lingjiu Mountain in India, though many people were skeptical. However, Master Huili said with assurance, “There are two apes living in this mountain. One is black, and the other is white. If this is the mountain which flew here from India, those two apes must have come here with it too.” Then, he went to the mouth of a cave at the foot of the mountain, bent over and shouted to the cave. As he howled the call for the apes, a black ape and a white ape indeed emerged from the cave. Everyone then believed him and the cave was known as, “Ape Calling Cave” and the peak of the mountain “Ape Calling Peak”.

The story about the flying of Lingjiu Mountain and the two apes was of course a legend, but after Master Huili began building Lingyin Temple, he had indeed kept a white ape.

According to records, the white ape that Master Huili kept was very clever and energetic. In the daytime, it jumped and played in the stream; in the evening when the wind in the pines was humming, the moon hung high in the sky, and the stream was tinkling, the white ape would sometimes give a howl of sadness. For Ape Howling Cave and Peak, Huili then wrote the verse, “Drips of water on corridor footsteps, jumping ape negotiates the waters at its call…” to describe the pleasure of keeping a white ape. The number of apes in Lingyin was highest in the period of Liu Song in the Southern Dynasties when a monk named Zhiyi admired Master Huili so much so that he kept a large group of monkeys. Thus, people called Master Zhiyi “Father of Apes”.

Since then, the valleys in Lingyin became a habitat for the monkeys. A peak of rugged rock formations, a crystal-clear cold spring, the sound of the pines and the water, and sometimes a howl from an ape--this scene gave people infinite sentiment and reverie. Therefore, “apes howling in the cold spring” has become one of the eight scenes alongside Qiantang River recommended in the Southern Song Dynasty. At that time, visitors regarded hearing the howl of apes by the cold spring as an indispensable part in their tour, for which the scholars wrote many poems. For instance, in Southern Song Dynasty, Wu Dayou from Shengxian County, Zhejiang Province, wrote a poem named Listen to the Apes. The poem said: “The moon shines on the White Ape Peak, the night is cold and the blossoms drop in the humble cottage, but my fellow guest from Sichuan is heartbroken, because he has crossed the Three Gorges by boat all by himself.” The story was about a poet who accompanied a guest from Sichuan province to go sightseeing, and the guest came to Hangzhou by boat from the Three Gorges. The howl of apes on both sides of the Three Gorges had already caused endless sadness. Now he heard the howl again, which would inevitably evoke nostalgia and deep sorrow.

After the Song and Yuan Dynasty, the number of monkeys in Lingyin decreased gradually, and in the Qing Dynasty, monkeys were rarely seen except for some traces from scattered records. In the sixth year of Shunzhi in the Qing Dynasty (1649 AD), some monks of Lingyin Temple saw a white ape whose body was bright and snow-white, and it looked cleaner and more adorable in the moonlight. In 1651, the monks once again saw a black ape under Qinglian Pavilion. To their surprise, the black ape was wearing a bamboo hat and seemed to be in a hurry. The monks exclaimed together and frightened the black ape. The ape gave out a slight howl, rushed across the stream and ran off. People at that time found the appearance of the black ape and the white ape surprising, and some people even believed that these apes were the apes called out from Ape Calling Cave by Master Huili. This was too magical to be true since there were more than 1300 years between the year when Master Huili built the temple and the years of Shunzhi in the Qing Dynasty. The life of the apes would be incredible. However, it is a fact that there were monkeys in the valleys of Lingyin in early years and that Master Huili was indeed the first person to keep apes. He laid the foundation for the construction of the lofty Lingyin Temple and contributed a scene of “apes howl” to the valleys of Lingyin.

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