POINTS OF INTEREST
One of the most important functioning Buddhist temples in Beijing, this much-visited Tibetan Buddhist masterpiece has five main halls and numerous galleries hung with finely detailed thangkhas (Tibetan religious scroll paintings). The entire temple is decorated with Buddha images—all guarded by somber lamas dressed in brown robes. Originally a palace for Prince Yongzheng, it was transformed into a temple once he became the Qing's third emperor in 1723. The temple flourished under Emperor Qianlong, housing some 500 resident monks. This was once the official "embassy" of Tibetan Buddhism in Beijing, but today only about two dozen monks live in this complex.
Don't miss the The Hall of Heavenly Kings, with statues of Maitreya, the future Buddha, and Weitou, China's guardian of Buddhism. This hall is worth a slow stroll. In the courtyard beyond, a pond with a bronze mandala represents paradise. The Statues of Buddhas of the Past, Present, and Future hold court in The Hall of Harmony. Look on the west wall where an exquisite silk thangkha of White Tara—the embodiment of compassion—hangs. Images of the Medicine and Longevity Buddhas line The Hall of Eternal Blessing. In The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Fortunes you see the breathtaking 26-meter (85-foot) Maitreya Buddha carved from a single block of sandalwood. Combine a visit to the Lama Temple with the Confucius Temple and the Imperial Academy, which are a five-minute walk away, within the hutong neighborhood opposite the main entrance.