Mount Lu is in the centre of China, just south of the Yangtse River, nowadays close to the city of Jiujiang. The area is a national park with spectacular scenery. Throughout history there have been many hundreds of temples - Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian - in the area. It is nowadays a popular tourist destination.
Hui Yuan was well versed in Taoism and Confucianism, which he studied in his youth and was from an early age noted as a remarkable scholar. He was always enthusiastic for learning and when he was 21 he set off to study with the Confucian Fan Xuan. However, he was prevented from getting there by warfare that was going on in the area and stopped at Mount Heng where he found the thriving Buddhist monastery of Dao An (道安, 314–385). Hui Yuan’s brother Hui Chi joined him there and the two brothers became enthusiastic disciples of Dao An, accompanying him on many journeys through the war ravaged land. During this period, Hui Yuan studied and wrote about the relationship between the Buddhist principle of Prajna Paramita and indigenous Chinese philosophy and religion.
Arriving at Lu Shan
By the year 386, Hui Yuan was already an important monk. However, the progression of the war forced him eventually to part company with Dao An and the two brothers travelled south to safer country. They stopped to visit a friend at West Forest on Mount Lu and were greatly impressed with the area which was “pure, serene and suitable for calming the mind”. They decided to stay and Hui Yuan resided there for the rest of his life.
A Gift from Buddha
He resolved to establish a temple, but was not sure if it was proper to build one in the middle of a forest. He prayed to the Buddha for guidance. That night there was a great storm. Many trees were torn down, thus creating a clearing for the temple and also providing the wood for its construction. He took this for a sign and engaged the local magistrate who organised the building. The main hall of the temple is, in consequence, called the Shen Yun Hall, which means that it was donated by the Buddha. As the temple was to the east of where his friend lived it was called Dong Lin Temple (East Forest Temple).