White Horse Temple was the first Buddhist temple in China, established under the patronage of Emperor Ming in the Eastern Han capital Luoyang in the year 68.
According to the Book of Later Han history, Emperor Ming was said to have dreamed one night in the year 64 of a golden person standing 20 metres tall and with a radiating white aureola flying from the West. The next day he told his ministers, and the minister Zhong Hu explained to him that he had probably dreamed of the Buddha from India. The emperor then sent a delegation of 18 headed by Cai Yin, Qin Jing and Wang Zun to seek out Buddhism. They returned from Afghanistan with an image of Gautama Buddha, the Sutra of Forty-two Chapters and two eminent monks.
The monks names have been variously romanized as Kasyapamatanga and Dharmavanya, Moton and Chufarlan.
The next year, the emperor ordered the construction of the White Horse Temple three li east of the capital Luoyang, to remember the horse that carried back the sutras. It was China's first Buddhist temple.
Notably, the emperor ordered the suffix (pinyin si) to be used in the temple's name, as a display of respect. Previously, this character had been used to denote ministries of government. In later periods, all temples came to use this character in their name and it was dropped from the names of government ministries. As a result, the temple's name is sometimes translated as White Horse Ministry, a translation true to the time. However, White Horse Temple is the correct, literal reading to modern Chinese people.
The first version of the Chinese Sutra of Forty-two Sections was produced within the temple. The temple then increased in importance as Buddhism grew within China, and spread to Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The introduction of Buddhism in China was also a significant influence on Chinese morals, thought and ethics.
The temple is located within Han and Wei Dynasty Luoyang, which lies approximately 12km east of modern Luoyang, in Henan province.
In 258. a royal Kuchean monk, Po-Yen, translated six Buddhist text in to Chinese at the temple, including the important Infinite Life Sutra.
In 1175, an inscription on a stone tablet next to Qilun Pagoda—a 35 m (115 ft) tall, multi-eaved square-based tower located to the southeast of the White Horse Temple—stated that a previous fire occurred five decades previously and destroyed the temple and the Sakya Tathagata sarira stupa, a predecessor to the pagoda. The same inscription of 1175 stated that a Jin Dynasty official had the stone Qilun Pagoda erected soon after. The pagoda is built with the design style imitating the square-based pagodas of the Tang Dynasty.
In 1992, with the assistance of Thai and Chinese donors, the Hall of the Thai Buddha was constructed slightly west of the old temple.
The temple compound covers an area of 200 mu (13 hectares), and faces south. A stone paifang (archway) has been recently built 150 metres in front of the original gate. Between the archway and gate lies a pool with fountains, spanned by three stone bridges.
Entering the temple today, one sees the Hall of Heavenly Kings, Hall of the Great Buddha, Hall of Mahavira, Hall of Greeting, the Cool and Clear Terrace and the pavilion. On each side of the pavilion are the Sutra House and the Magic Weapon House.