The monastery was founded in 328 AD during the Eastern Jin Dynasty by monk Hui Li, who came from India. From its inception, Lingyin was a famous monastery in the Jiangnan region. At its peak under the Kingdom of Wuyue (907-978), the temple boasted nine multi-storey buildings, 18 pavilions, 72 halls, more than 1300 dormitory rooms, inhabited by more than 3000 monks. Many of the rich Buddhist carvings in the Feilai Feng grottos and surrounding mountains also date from this era.
During the later Southern Song Dynasty, the monastery was regarded as one of the ten most important temples of the Chan sect in the Jiangnan region. However, its prominence has not saved the temple from marauders. It has been rebuilt no less than sixteen times since then. The current buildings are modern restorations of late Qing buildings. During the Cultural Revolution, the temple and grounds suffered some damage at the hands of Red Guards. However, they escaped large scale destruction partly because of the protection of Premier Zhou Enlai.
Today the temple is thriving as a destination for both pilgrims and tourists. It is regarded as one of the wealthiest monasteries in China, and regular pilgrims have included former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
It was built in 328 AD by the Indian Monk Huili. It prospered and flourished during the Five Dynasties Period (907-960) when there were 9 buildings, 18 towers, 72 halls with 1,300 rooms and more than 3,000 monks. Over history, the temple has been damaged and undergone renovation several times. It has recently been rebuilt in its original style.
The temple consists of the Hall of the Heavenly King, Hall of the Great Hero, Hall of the Buddha of Medicine, East and West Winding Corridors and several other buildings. In the center of the Hall of the Heavenly King, sits a statue of Maitreya, the fat, bare-bellied Buddha with a smiling face – the laughing Buddha. In the hall of the Great Hero, the main hall in the temple, the central spot contains a magnificent statue of Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. The 19-meter tall statue is seated on a 10.5-meter-high lotus flower amidst great red pillars and murals. Behind Sakyamuni is a colorful sculpture of 150 Buddhas. One other recently added hall holds the 500 Arhats: bronze statues resembling 500 of the earliest high-ranking Buddhist disciples in China.
As an important Buddhist temple in the region, Lingyin Temple also houses a large collection of Buddhist treasures and relics which are significant in the development of Buddhism in the region. The temple is now very popular among tourists and pilgrims, seeing thousands of worshipers per day during peak season.