Tian Tan – The Temple of Heaven

Tian Tan

Tian Tan

In my readings on mudras I found other information on the Tian Tan, or Temple of Heaven, that I thought was interesting.

The Tian Tan is a Taoist temple in Beijing, China, and its construction dates back to the fifteenth century when it was originally named the Temple of Heaven and Earth. This temple has been used for Chinese worship in year-rites, prayer ceremonies, harvest ceremonies, and sacrifices for several centuries.

A description of some of the traditional ceremonial activities that took place here is interesting:

In ancient China, the Emperor of China was regarded as the Son of Heaven, who administered earthly matters on behalf of, and representing, heavenly authority. To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly comprising prayers for good harvests.

Twice a year the Emperor and all his retinue would move from the Forbidden city through Beijing to encamp within the complex, wearing special robes and abstaining from eating meat. No ordinary Chinese was allowed to view this procession or the following ceremony. In the temple complex the Emperor would personally pray to Heaven for good harvests. The highpoint of the ceremony at the winter solstice was performed by the Emperor on the Earthly Mount. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed; it was widely held that the smallest of mistakes would constitute a bad omen for the whole nation in the coming year.1

In these practices I see a belief in priesthood-like vicarious authority, temple prayer worship, cosmology, special ceremonial clothing, esotericy, worthiness requirements, perfect performance of rites, and even a practice which recalls the Word of Wisdom. Could this all be coincidence? Or did these things stem from something more ancient?

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Heaven []


  1. Handel
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I had the privilege of visiting the Temple of Heaven some years ago, and when I entered its precincts, there was this overwhelming feeling that remnants, vestiges of gospel truths could be seen all over.

    For instance, the circular enclosure upon which the Temple stands is composed of three concentric levels, as if pointing towards a triune, progressive heaven. When I entered the Temple itself, I was struck to see twelve pillars holding up the structure, while four inner pillars held up the innermost sanctum. We all know the significance of these numbers. Lifelike representations of reclining oxen on platforms were also displayed towards the altar area. I think these were placed by museum authorities to show perhaps the kind of sacrifices that were offered.

    But the other thing that really struck me was the Prayer Mound at the opposite end of the Temple of Heaven. It was like a stylized artificial mountain, with three concentric ascending circles rising up to not another temple or structure, but just that, a wide platform where we were told the Emperor would supplicate to the heavens. Remember the significance of high places in the scriptures?

  2. Posted December 1, 2008 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing all these interesting details about the Temple of Heaven. They do seem very familiar.

  3. syd
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I likewise have visited the temple of heaven. There is a little visited museum off to the side that discusses the ancient ceremony for the worship of the God of Heaven. The original worship of the God of Heaven was blood sacrifice. This included placing two jade tablets on the alter upon which were written the law as well as placing wine and rice upon the alter before the offering of the sacrifice. The emporer was ritually washed before performing the sacrifice. Also when viewed from above, the temple and platform upon which it sits forms the cosmic imagry of the a circle within a square. Which the chinese viewed as the earth being square while the heaven is a circle. The practice of the worship of the God of Heaven was ceased which Sun Yat Sen took power in the start of the 20th century.

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