The Symbolism of Chinese Chan Temple Iconography and Architecture Understandin g through Metaphor Understandin g through Place
“ I have the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, the sublime mind of nirvana, whose true sign is signlessness, the sublime dharma gate, which without words or phrases, is transmitted outside of the [standard] teachings, and which I bestow upon Mahakasyapa.” 吾有正法眼藏，涅槃妙 心，實相無相，微妙法 門，不立文字，教外別 傳，付囑摩訶迦葉 The legendary origin of Zen Buddhism is ascribed to a talk given by Shakyamuni Buddha at Vulture’s Peak in Ancient India. The Buddha reportedly said…
The key phrase used by the Buddha is “signlessness.” This phrase is translated as follows into Chinese: 無相 This term is often incorrectly translated as “formless.” However, this leads to a serious misunderstanding of the Zen tradition. “Formlessness” denotes a lack of physicality and thus has metaphysical overtones. Signlessness is presented by the Buddha with a flower, something certainly not “formless.”
The idea of “signlessness” is an important foundational concept of Zen. It can be seen most graphically in Zen art. In the following slides I first show a traditional, non-Zen depiction of Buddha displaying a mudra. Then I show paintings by ancient Zen artists, where the Buddha is shown descending the mountain to teach after his enlightenment. In the Zen art the Buddha’s robe covers his hands. This is a traditional way of expressing the fact that in Zen the Buddha is not shown displaying a mudra (sign with the hands).
Buddha with a traditional “mudra,” a sign. (Not Zen)
By Old Man KeBy Gukei (Jap.)By Liang Kai “Signless” representations of the Buddha by Zen artists. Note the covered hands.
Temples still exist at the places where early Zen ancestors lived and taught. This is “Empty Appearance” Temple where Bodhidharma may have taught and was buried. 2002 年
One of the three steles reportedly composed by Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, commemorating Bodhidharma. Location-2 nd Chan Ancestor’s burial temple. 梁武帝撰的石碑
Third Ancestor’s Temple 三祖寺又称乾元禅寺、山谷寺。位于安徽天 柱山中。传为南朝宝志禅师所创建。后禅宗三祖僧璨游此. The Third Ancestor is an obscure figure whose identity and role in Zen is hotly debated by some scholars.
四祖寺位于湖北黄梅县城西北十五公里之破额山（西山）上. Fourth Ancestor’s Temple Still existing near ancient Huangmei, this temple played a pivotal role in the development and success of Bodhidharma’s Zen.
五祖山位于湖北黄梅县东北 /Fifth Ancestor’s Temple at Huangmei. At this temple, Zen split into factions that became known as the “Northern” and “Southern” schools of Zen.
南华古寺, 寺中 至今保有六祖 之肉身像 Nanhua Temple, Dharma seat of the Sixth Ancestor. His “True Body” Hall.
Non-Zen Buddhist iconography is especially varied and ornate. Here are the Yungang Grottos, created during the Northern Wei Dynasty around 480 CE, They display traditional sutra stories and the life of the Buddha. 云冈石窟 传统佛教经文主题. 南壁窟门两侧雕维摩 、文殊，东壁后下部 的佛本生故事浮雕保 存较完整.
These traditional depictions show stories from sutras, from the Jataka tales, and other old stories that came with Buddhism from South Asia.
法堂法堂 大雄宝 殿 天王殿 Tang Dynast y 唐 / 宋 “ 伽蓝七堂制 ” Monk’s Hall 僧堂 Seven Halls of the Monaster y 卫生间 Toilet 浴堂 Bath 山门殿 三门 Dinin g/ Kitch en 库房 Mountain Gates “Three Gates” In contrast, Zen temples in China were not usually adorned with stories from sutras or Jataka tales.
法堂 大雄宝殿 天王殿 Tang Dynasty 唐 / 宋 “ 伽蓝七堂制 ” Monk’s Hall 僧堂 Seven Halls of the Monastery 卫生间 Toilet 浴堂 Bath 山门殿 三门 Dining / Kitche n 库房 Mountain Gates “Three Gates” Enterin g from the front, tirst, a visitor would encoun ter the “Three Gates.”
The word “three” sounds like the word for “mountain” in Chinese. Therefore, the “three gates” were also synonymous with the term “Mountain Gate.” The three gates of traditional temples were named for key concepts of Chinese Zen. They were as follows…
Mountain (Three) Gates 三 门 Gate of Emptiness (The Nature of Things) Gate of Signlessness (the Nature of Mind) Gate of Non- Action (Attaining the Way) 空门 无相门 无作 / 无为门
The “Gate of Emptiness” is the first gate to pass. It signifies the understanding that things have no inherent nature and arise due to cause and effect. The “Gate of Signlessness” is the second gate. It signifies the signless nature of mind as taught by Buddha at Vulture Peak. The “Gate of Non- Action” is the third gate. It signifies the highest path of the home- leaver, Attaining the Way by someone who has left the polluted world. 空门 无相门 无作 / 无为门 2 1 3
The Mountain Gate at Spiritual Springs Monastery, Hunan Province
After the gates, visitors may cross the “Liberate Life Pond” where monks release fish and turtles saved from the market.
法堂 大雄宝 殿 天王殿 Visitors then enter the first “Heavenly Kings” hall.
Heavenly Kings Hall Buddha Hall 大雄宝殿 Dharma Hall 法 堂 Parikalpita 遍计所执 性 Paratantra 依他 起性 Parinispanna 圆成 实性 好象三个大殿符合解深密 经之 “ 三性 ”. 乃印度唯识学 派之重要主张，中国法相 宗之根本教义。谓一切存 在之本性与状态（性相） There is an correspondence between the three main Zen temple halls and the three aspects of the nature of mind as set forth in the Samdhinirmocana Sutra (Sutra on Unraveling the Mystery of Thought). “Three Natures,” (Sanskrit Trisvabhava) is expounded in part six of the Samdhinirmocana- sutra and in other Yogacara sutras/shastras
In the “Heavenly Kings” hall there are several deities who represent the first of the “three natures” of thought. The “Buddha Light” encyclopedia defines the Heavenly Kings Hall as follows…
Heavenly Kings Hall 天王殿 “The hall is lined by four heavenly kings which represent fundamental Buddhist practice, namely the elimination of calamity through prayer and sacrifice, as well as the practice of praying for good fortune. Benevolent deities who guard the Dharma, protect the country, and have solemnly vowed to fight against all manner of disasters.” 系以四天王为本尊之修法，乃禳除灾厄、祈求福德 之修法。又作四天王合行、释迦四天王法、四天法 。四天王为守护佛法之善神，又以其镇护国家、禳 除贼难之誓愿深重，国难之际亦多修之。
The foregoing description corresponds to the Parikalpita nature of thought. It is the ordinary belief in “self” and “other” that pervades normal consciousness. The various gods in the hall may be seen to represent “other” to the believers that come to pray to them. This relationship can be described as “I’m here and there is a god there that can grant me my wishes.” Self and other is clearly demonstrated in the religious activities of this hall. Thus it corresponds to the “Parikalpita” nature of thought. Heavenly Kings Hall Parikalpita 遍计所执 性
Maitreya (Budai) 弥勒菩萨 In the Heavenly Kings Hall we often find the smiling, corpulent figure Maitreiya, a statue modeled on the 10 th century monk Budai (Cloth Bag), who was considered Maitreiya’s incarnation. Followers of this deity believe they’ll be reborn in Tushita Heaven, and he is thus honored in a way similar to Amithaba Buddha. 中国一般寺庙 供奉之笑口常 开胖弥勒像为 五代时之契此 和尚，因传说 为弥勒化身， 故后人塑像供 奉之。而往生 兜率天之信仰 ，自古与阿弥 陀信仰同为佛 教徒所重。
Guardian of the South Responsibl e for the wind. His name means “Increaser” He increases people’s goodness. 南方天王 名 “ 毗琉璃 ” （意为增 长，能使 他人善根 增长）， 手中持剑 ，护南阎 浮提（胜 金）洲人 民
Guardian of the West Social Harmony His name means “broad eyes” which are used to look widely and protect the people. He holds a “dragon” like creature. Protects the people of the Western Continent. 西方天王名 “ 毗留博 *” （意为广目 ，能以净眼 观察护持人 民），手中 缠绕一龙， 护西瞿耶尼 （牛货）洲 人民 Heavenly Kings Hall/ 天王殿
Guardian of the East Holds pipa- stringed instrument. Pacifies evil and protects the country. 东西两旁供四 大天王像，东 方天王名 “ 提 多罗咤 ” （ “ 提 多罗咤 ” 意为 持国 —— 即能 护持国土，是 帝释天的主乐 神），手持琵 琶，护东方 “ 弗提婆 ” （胜 ）洲人民东方 天王提多罗吒 ，能护持国土 ，手持琵琶以 作标帜 Heavenly Kings Hall/ 天王殿
God of the North His name means “hears much.” Has great virture and protects people’s wealth. Honored by Emperor Xuan Zong for help in battle. He holds umbrella and is responsible for rainfall. 北方天王 名 “ 毗沙门 ” （意为多 闻，有大 福德，护 持人民财 富），右 手持伞， 护北郁单 越（胜处 ）洲人民
Wei Tuo/ 韦驮天 Each of the heavenly kings has eight generals, but Wei Tuo is said to be the overall commander of all the thirty two generals. His weapon is the Diamond Vaijra of Truth. Faces the Buddha in the Buddha Hall, receiving the command from Buddha to defend the Dharma. 韦驮天 —— 传说唐 道宣律师曾与天人 会谈，说及南方天 王部下有一位韦将 军常周行东南西三 洲（北洲无出家人 ），护助诸出家人 。宋代以后，便在 寺中塑了韦天像， 又和佛经中所说韦 托天相混，一般称 为韦驮菩萨.
Wei Tuo May have evolved from a real general, he is said to be under the command of the Guardian of the South. General Wei patrols the West, East and Southern Continents. (The North did not have home-leavers)
法堂 大雄宝殿 天王殿 Next, the Buddha Hall Corresponds to “Paratantra” Nature of Mind 大雄宝殿符合解深密经之依他起性
Buddha Hall – Ethereal Springs Monastery 灵泉寺大雄宝殿
The Paratantra nature of mind refers to the fundamental insight of Buddha upon his enlightenment, namely the “dependent co-origination” of self and other. Fundamentally, other arises with the belief in and arising of self, and visa-versa. The word “tantra” means “intertwining,” and thus Paratantra means “ultimate intertwining” between self and other. This fundamental truth was taught by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, and he takes the most honored position at the center in the Buddha Hall.
At the center of the hall is Shakyamuni Buddha. As we face him, on the left, is usually Amithaba Budda, the Buddha of the Western Paradise. On the right is the Medicine Buddha, who in ancient times was believed to be the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise.
大雄宝殿 Along the sides of the hall we find the 16 (or 18) great arhats, disciples of Buddha
大雄宝殿 At the rear of the hall we find the two great Bodhisattvas, Samantabhadra (on the elephant) and Manjushri (on the lion).
Two Paths of Bodhidharma Bodhidharma said, “The noble enter the Way by many paths, but essentially there are but two of which I speak. One is by principle and one is by practice.” 然則入道多途。要唯二種。謂理 行 … 二隨緣行者. “The noble enter the Way by many paths, but essentially there are but two of which I speak. One is by principle and one is by practice.” 然則入道多途。要唯二種。謂理 行 … 二隨緣行者. 里 Principle/Wisdom 里 Principle/Wisdom 行 Practice 行 Practice
两条入道途 Two paths to enter the Way We find that the “two paths” to enter the Way (rear Dharma Hall) pass by Bodhisattva of “practice” (Samantabhadra) and of principle (Manjushri).
两条入道途 Two paths to enter the Way These paths constitute what is called, “Going beyond Buddha” in both a literal and metaphorical sense.
Manjushri Bodhisattva Sits upon a lion. Symbolizes abrupt awakening and “Transcendent Wisdom” 文殊菩萨 表示佛智、佛慧 之别德。所乘之 狮子，象征其威 猛
大雄宝殿 Directly behind the Buddha is the bodhisattva Kwan Yin (Guan Yin). She sits back to back with Shakyamuni. Together, the form a sort of Yin/Yang symbolism at the center of the temple. This is the reason why Avalokiteśvara appears in China as a woman, a country whose most fundamental beliefs rest in the idea of the Taiji (Yin and Yang)
Kwan Yin is often shown surrounded by the other manifestations of Avalokiteśvara, which include animals, and buddhas, as well as other male and female manifestations.
Often, children are shown seeking help from the bodhisattva. Kwan Yin looks out the door, keeping watch over the field of Dharma that lies behind the Buddha Hall.
法堂 大雄宝殿 天王殿 The Dharma Hall – representing the third, or Paranispanna (“Perfected and Complete”) nature of mind.
Heavenly Kings Hall Buddha Hall 大雄宝殿 Dharma Hall 法 堂 Parikalpita 遍计所执 性 Paratantra 依他 起性 Parinispanna 圆成 实性 好象三个大殿符合解深密 经之 “ 三性 ”. 乃印度唯识学 派之重要主张，中国法相 宗之根本教义。谓一切存 在之本性与状态（性相） Again, there is an correspondence between the three main temple halls and the three aspects of the nature of mind set forth in the Samdhinirmocana Sutra (Sutra on Unraveling the Mystery of Thought). “Three Natures,” (Sanskrit Trisvabhava) is expounded in part six of the Samdhinirmocana- sutra and in other Yogacara sutras/shastras
In the “perfected and complete” nature of mind (parinispanna)
The hall symbolizes the “perfected and complete’ nature of mind is, as taught by Buddha, “the sublime mind of Nirvana, whose true sign is signlessness” Here the Zen Master only taught the pure Dharma.
Therefore, there are no special signs in the Dharma Hall. Traditionally there were no statues or other religious symbols (except one!)
The Signless Field of Benefaction 袈裟 The Buddha’s Robe 无相之象征 The single sign in this hall, the robe of the home leaver worn by the teacher, was itself “signless.” In accordance with Buddha’s instructions it simply stood for the fields where people work in the ordinary, “signless” world.
The idea that the layout of the temple halls corresponds to the nature of the mind as described in scripture is supported by specific koans recorded in the Lamp Records. The following thee koans offer interpretations of these teachings:
Deshan Yuanmi entered the hall to address the monks and said, “Sometimes people understand the affairs which are in front of the monk’s quarters. (the Buddha Hall) But what about the affairs behind the Buddha hall?” Deshan Yuanmi entered the hall to address the monks and said, “Sometimes people understand the affairs which are in front of the monk’s quarters. (the Buddha Hall) But what about the affairs behind the Buddha hall?” 德山缘密禅师 鼎州德山缘密 圆明禅师，上堂： 「僧堂前事，时人 知有。佛殿后事作 么生？」 僧堂 Monks’s Hall Metaphors of Place/ 位置与比喻
Zen Master Baofu Congzhan addressed the monks, saying, “When you see those who have gone past the Buddha Hall, they are just Tom, Dick, or Harry [ordinary people - signless]. But as for those who go into the Buddha Hall, why can’t they can’t be seen?” Zen Master Baofu Congzhan addressed the monks, saying, “When you see those who have gone past the Buddha Hall, they are just Tom, Dick, or Harry [ordinary people - signless]. But as for those who go into the Buddha Hall, why can’t they can’t be seen?” 上堂：「有人从佛 殿后过，见是张三 李四，从佛殿前过 ，为甚么不见？ 僧堂 Monks’s Hall
A monk asked Zen Master Ji Che: What is the sphere of Linxi (Ji Che). The master said, “There are mountains and rivers.” The monk then asked, “Who is the one within this sphere?” Ji Che said, “In front of the monastery. Behind the Buddha Hall.” A monk asked Zen Master Ji Che: What is the sphere of Linxi (Ji Che). The master said, “There are mountains and rivers.” The monk then asked, “Who is the one within this sphere?” Ji Che said, “In front of the monastery. Behind the Buddha Hall.” 芭蕉继彻禅师 : 僧问：「如何是林溪境？ 」师曰：「有山有水。」 曰：「如何是境中人？」 师曰：「三门前，佛殿后 。」 Metaphors of Place/ 位置与比喻