Sikunshen Longshan Temple was the first temple in Taiwan dedicated to the worship of Master Qingshui, a Song Dynasty Buddhist monk.
The village of Sikunshen is located on what was once a long, narrow, sandy peninsula separated from Tainan by a large bay known as the Inland Sea. During the early 1600s, the Dutch occupied Tainan, using the sheltered bay as a base for trade with China and Japan. In 1661, during the waning days of the Ming Dynasty, Chinese warlord Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) invaded. After quickly taking control of Tainan, he established his headquarters at Sikunshen and set siege to nearby Anping Fort (then known as Fort Zeelandia), the last stronghold of the Dutch.
When the Dutch surrendered nearly a year later, it was also here that the formal documents ceding control of Taiwan to Koxinga were signed. Koxinga later rewarded the men under his command with land grants. It was these early Chinese settlers who first constructed Sikunshen Longshan Temple in 1665 to enshrine Master Qingshui, whose effigy they had carried over from their hometown.
The Temple and its Artifacts
The building has been renovated and enlarged several times since, most recently in 1987, when it was almost entirely rebuilt. The god effigies and the temple’s ancient artifacts have all been carefully preserved. Traditionally, temples in Taiwan were constructed as three separate halls divided by courtyards to let in the light. Here, however, the front hall, prayer area, and main shrine are combined into a single large, ‘palace-style’ space. This more modern design protects the temple and its treasures from the effects of weather.
The area just inside the entry gate serves as the entry hall. The prayer hall, with its beautiful octagonal caisson ceiling, is the area where worshippers offer sacrifices. The main hall is where the effigies of the deities are enshrined. The primary deities, in the central shrine, are Master Qingshui, Master Xianying, and Master Sanping. Mazu and the Goddess of Childbirth are enshrined on the right, while Fude Zhengshen (the god of land and wealth), the Marshal of the Central Altar, and General Tiger are enshrined on the left.
The walls on either side of the entrance are adorned with azure dragon and white tiger carvings. Worshippers enter through the Dragon Door and exit through the Tiger Door. The central entryway is reserved for the use of the deities. As in most Buddhist temples, the central doors are painted with images of the Buddhist deities General Heng and General Ha. The doors on the left and right, however, are quite unique, as they sport fantastic depictions of demons. These are the demons that once challenged Master Qingshui to a fight for supremacy. After a seven-day battle in a cave full of fire and smoke, the Buddhist master endured and finally subdued them; ever since, they have remained his most faithful guardians.
The door gods are the work of celebrated temple painter Pan Yue-hsiung. An earlier set of temple doors are now housed in the second-floor gallery on the left. Painted by Pan’s father, Pan Li-shui, they, too, depict the two generals and the demons. At Sikunshen Longshan Temple, visitors can simultaneously enjoy the works of two generations of the illustrious Pan family.
Three antique palanquins dating from the reign of Qing Emperor Tongzhi (1872) are stored to the left of the main hall. They are still in perfect condition.
Three Buddhist Masters
Three Buddhist masters are enshrined and worshipped in the main hall: Master Qingshui, Master Xianying, and Master Sanping. All three were Buddhist monks who lived during the Tang and Song dynasties and who were deified after their deaths.
The deity in the center is Master Qingshui. He was born in Yongchun County, Fujian in 1037. Master Qingshui left home at an early age to become a monk, and quickly became renowned for his intelligence and mastery of the sutras. He had extensive medical knowledge, and traveled to even the most remote villages to treat the sick at a time when pestilence was ravaging the south. He also helped to construct bridges, an act which put into practice the Buddhist teachings of “doing good for others” and “creating domains for practices leading to enlightenment.” Master Qingshui was extremely adept at praying for rain, and helped to save Anxi (the area in Fujian Province where he practiced) from a severe drought, thereby benefiting local farmers. Revered even during life, Master Qingshui was officially deified by the emperor after his death, and his rank in the hierarchy of the gods was later raised on three successive occasions.
To the right of Master Qingshui is Master Xianying (lay name: Huang Huisheng). In 1124, Master Xianying journeyed to Anxi County, where he constructed a small hermitage on the peak of Xiaojian Mountain. Master Xianying was proficient in Chinese Buddhist principles, was knowledgeable and multi-talented, and gave selflessly and joyfully. Like Master Qingshui, he became known far and wide for his ability to produce rain. He was revered by the people. Master Xianying died in 1134. The local people deified him in recognition of his achievements, and in 1162, his status as a Buddhist deity was officially recognized by the emperor.
To the left of Master Qingshui is Master Sanping (lay name: Yang Yizhong). Born in 781, during the Tang Dynasty, he was an intelligent and studious youth. At the age of 14, he left home to become a monk. He spent many years wandering and studying under the great religious teachers of his time before settling in Fujian. When, in 845, the emperor Tang Wuzong abolished Buddhism and closed the monasteries, Master Yizhong led the local monks and nuns to seek refuge in a remote mountainous area. There, he established Sanping Temple, where he served as abbot and taught Buddhist scriptures. He also practiced medicine and taught farming techniques to help the people turn the uncultivated land into productive farms. Through these acts, he ensured their survival and helped preserve the lifeblood of Buddhism in China.
Finally, in 849, emperor Tang Xuanzong reinstated the Buddhist religion, and Master Yizhong was invited to teach Buddhist scripture at Kaiyuan Temple, where his great merit was recognized by the emperor. Master Yizhong passed away in 872 at the age of 92 at Sanping Temple, which was then still a thatched shrine. To honor his memory, his disciples transformed the thatched shrine into a pagoda-style hall. His remains were interred inside the pagoda crypt, and an effigy of him was placed above the crypt. He has since been venerated as “Master Sanping.”
At Sikunshen Longshan Temple, there are three different ways in which temple-goers may seek advice from the gods—fortune sticks, moon blocks, and sessions with a spirit medium.
The temple has four sets of fortune sticks. Three of these sets (one each for ophthalmology, pediatrics, and general medicine) were traditionally used by the sick to request prescriptions from Master Qingshui (who was known for his medical skills) to cure their ailments. Since the passage of the pharmacy act in the 1970s, temples in Taiwan no longer offer prescription services, but visitors still turn to fortune sticks to seek aid in other matters.
To ask a question with fortune sticks, first select a red-tipped fortune stick from the container and place it on the altar. Then use the moon blocks to ask the deities if you have selected the correct stick. If the answer is “yes,” go to the right side of the hall and choose the slip of paper corresponding to the number on the stick. You may ask temple personnel to interpret the poem on the paper for you.
The moon blocks are used to ask questions for which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer will suffice. To use the moon blocks, pick up a pair from the altar and pass it over the incense three times in a circular motion. Then, cupping the moon blocks in your hands, make a quick bow to the gods and identify yourself, stating your name and date of birth. Ask your question and gently toss the moon blocks onto the floor. If they both fall flat-side down, the answer is a definite ‘no’. If they both land on the rounded side, it means your question is unclear, and you should ask once more. If they land with one flat-side up and one down, the answer to your question is yes.
Spirit Medium Sessions
For matters related to wedding dates, peace in the home, exorcism, travel, and blessings, querents can seek instructions from Master Qingshui by going to Longshan Temple and arranging a spirit medium session. Longshan Temple offers this service at 8 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays in the prayer hall area. Querents can take a number from the dispenser on the table inside the hall in advance, and then consult with the deity when their number is called. During a spirit medium session, an effigy of the deity is placed on a bamboo sedan chair carried by four bearers. The leader of the bearers is called the “touzhen,” and the interpreters next to the spirit medium table are called “zhuotou.”
When a querent’s number is called, the querent should stand next to the spirit medium table and ask the deity his or her question. The sedan chair will shake and sway, and then the touzhen will use the bamboo pole attached to the chair to write the answer to the querent’s question on the surface of the table. An interpreter will explain the answer. If the querent does not understand the explanation, he or she can ask additional questions until a full understanding is achieved. The bamboo pole writes the deity’s answer on the table much like a planchette does on a Ouija board. Temple personnel then interpret this answer for the querent.
No. 81, Ln. 102, Kunshen Rd., South Dist., Tainan City 702, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
06 262 0592