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Buddhist Mountains | Mountain of Five Peaks | Sacred Mountain of Emei Shan | ARC's work with sacred mountains - in Chinese | Two major eco-agreements from Chinese Buddhists

Sacred Mountain of Emei Shan

Breathtaking views await those who scale China‘s sacred mountains

150 monasteries have been built in this area over the past 2,000 years. Most have fallen into disrepair, and only 20 or so remain. Emei Shan is a classic example of a sacred mountain whose natural environment is being destroyed by development. It is the most visited of all Buddhist mountains, being just a few hours by bus from Chengdu in Szechuan province, and has become a major Chinese tourist destination. The monasteries have effectively become tourist centres, and religious life on the mountain is constrained by the demands of the tourism board and by the sheer numbers of visitors.

China is currently developing a chain of Disneyland style Buddha theme parks (‘descend through the 18 Hells by rollercoaster’) and Emei Shan risks becoming an upmarket version of these. Already it has cable cars to carry less active pilgrims to the top of the mountain.

This goes directly against the teachings about what sacred mountains should be: the reason why they have such a dominant role in the traditional religious life of China is that they are symbols of the spiritual journey. The physical effort of climbing a major mountain is a metaphor for the discipline of the spiritual journey through life. And breaking through the clouds to look down on the world below brings a wonderful sense of achievement.

ARC seeks to advise UNESCO on management issues for Emei Shan, and with the Chinese Buddhist Association to develop a joint proposal to strengthen the position of the Buddhist authorities on the mountain. But the harsh reality is that Emei Shan is big money for the province. Will the fragile environment survive?

Perhaps Emei Shan can learn from the poor management of the Taoist sacred mountain, Tai Shan, before it is too late.

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