Tian Tan Buddha Protector of China

Tian Tan Buddha Facts and History

The base of the Big Buddha in Hong Kong is modeled on the famous Altar of Heaven (Tian Tan) in Beijing, China. Similar to the three platform base of the Altar of Heaven, the Tian Tan Buddha platform was also given three levels. As such, the Big Buddha is appropriately named after the Tian Tan. Additionally, surrounding the Tian Tan Buddha are bronze statues of 6 Devas who represent the “6 Perfections” (see below).

Indeed, the Tian Tan Buddha is much younger than the Temple of Heaven in Beijing which was constructed in the 15th century. Construction of the Big Buddha in Hong Kong began in 1990 and was completed 3 years later in 1993. Furthermore, the Tian Tan Buddha is constructed entirely of bronze with a height of 34 meters and weight of 250 metric tons.

The big Buddha is enthroned on a lotus flower situated on top of the 3 platform altar. It is believed that some of Gautama Buddha’s cremated remains are contained within the altar. The 3 floors beneath the big Buddha are known as the halls of the Universe, Benevolent Merit and Remembrance.

Tian Tan Buddha Lotus Throne
Tian Tan Buddha is depicted sitting on a lotus throne.

Tian Tan Buddha is Known Worldwide

The completion of the statue was celebrated by dignitaries who came from around the world. The big Buddha is also the center of Buddhism in Hong Kong and it is a major attraction for Chinese Buddhists as well as international visitors.

The Tian Tan Buddha is majestically situated on top of a mountain in the Ngong Ping highlands on Lantau Island. As such, the locals claim that the statue can be seen all the way from Macau on a clear day. From his perch on Lantau Island, the Tian Tan Buddha offers protection and gifts to the mainland.

Tian Tan Big Buddha Access Cable Car
The Tian Tan Buddha sits amidst the highlands of Ngong Ping on Lantau Island.

How to get to Tian Tan Buddha

As with some of the other iconic Buddha statues in Asia, getting there is almost as much fun as viewing it! The big Buddha in Hong Kong is surrounded by hiking trails and magnificent view points. 

The most practical way to get to Tian Tan Buddha from Hong Kong is to take the MTR. As such, from Hong Kong Station take the Tung Chung Line to Tung Chung Station. Next, simply exit the Tung Chung terminal and walk about 800 meters to the Tian Tan Buddha cable car station (Ngong Ping 360) and from there – enjoy the scenic ride.

Ngong Ping 360 Tian Tan Buddha
The Ngong Ping 360 cable car passes over Tung Chung Bay on the way to the Big Buddha.

It is also possible to hike in. However, the hike is nearly 10 kilometers uphill, as such it is only for the stout hearted. Fortunately, the cable car takes visitors straight to the top of the mountain. However, there is still a short hike to the final path of 268 steps to reach the base of the big Buddha statue.

The Meaning of Tian Tan Buddha

The meaning and identity of Buddha statues is best revealed by studying their poses and postures. As such, the Tian Tan Buddha statue is depicting one of the most important Buddhist gestures called the Abhaya mudra. Although this mudra is associated with Shakyamuni Buddha (a.k.a. Gautama Buddha), it is not exclusive to him.

The Abhaya mudra is most commonly depicted with the flat right hand held at shoulder height with bent elbow. Additionally, the fingers are closed and the palm is facing outwards. It is a gesture of fearlessness or protection. It is also possible to display the Abhaya mudra with the left hand, but it is less common.

Tian Tan Buddha - World's Best Buddha Statues
The Tian Tan Buddha depicts the Abhaya and also the Dhyana Mudra.

The Abhaya mudra is associated with Shakyamuni Buddha because at one time he was attacked by a large elephant. Instead of fleeing in fear, he raised his right hand in this same manner and the attack was abated. This incident is documented in several Buddhist texts and it is also depicted in many frescoes on the walls of monasteries.

It is important to note that the Big Buddha is depicting a second mudra. Indeed, the left hand of the Tian Tan Buddha is displaying the Varada mudra, also known as the gift giving or boon granting mudra. This mudra is a depiction of generosity that is expressed with a flat open palm facing away from the body of the statue.

The 6 Devas Surrounding Tian Tan Buddha

The big Buddha is surrounded by 6 smaller bronze Deva statues on all sides that are offering gifts to the Buddha. Each Deva is poised and holds out flowers, incense, lamp, fruit, ointment and music to the Buddha. Symbolically, the 6 gifts represent the 6 perfections of Buddhism that are necessary to reach enlightenment – morality, patience, generosity, zeal, meditation and wisdom.

Devas at Tian Tan Buddha
The Devas surround the Tian Tan Buddha statue presenting offerings that represent the Buddhist perfections, also known as “pāramīs”.

The World’s Greatest Buddha Statues

Tian Tan Buddha is the crown jewel of Hong Kong and the protector of mainland China. However, this landmark statue is also a depiction of the founder of Buddhism – Shakyamuni Buddha. Another compelling aspect of the statue is the mountaintop location. Indeed, traveling to the Tian Tan Buddha statue is a very scenic journey which makes it a full day adventure. Plus, the panaramic view from the Buddha’s altar is a breathtaking experience.

There are many great Buddha statues in the world and the Tian Tan Buddha is certainly one of the best. However, it is still a fairly young statue and it will certainly have many centuries to become the world’s greatest. Therefore, I gave it a second place rating on my list of the world’s greatest Buddha statues. Click here to see the greatest Buddha sculptures in the world including the world’s #1 Buddha statue.