The Chan Hall

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on June 20, 2016.)

The Chan Hall at Guangxiao Temple, Guangzhou

Many temples have a chan tang (Japanese zendo) or Meditation Hall. Those temples that do not have a separate hall usually have benches around the sides of the main hall for sitting.

Just as churches are Catholic, Lutheran, etc., Westerners think of Buddhist temples being dedicated to a particular sect, such as Chan (Zen) or Pure Land. While this is true of Japanese temples, Chinese temples are often set up for "mixed use." There are, in fact, temples designated Such-and-Such Chan Temple, but even in those you may find monks or nuns with various practices.

And so, in some temples, the evening service, say, will include chanting in the Pure Land manner, followed by a session of sitting Chan.

A dedicated Chan Hall, however, will have a limited amount of chanting. There may be a statue of the Buddha against a back wall, or a central pedestal may bear four Buddhas, one facing in each direction. Sitting is usually punctuated by periods of walking (to relieve the legs); in Halls with a centralized altar, the walking is "circumambulation," a fancy word for "walking around the altar," with the right shoulder--the one usually bared in traditional monks' robes--toward the altar.

Many words have been written about the practice of Chan (ironic, since it is supposed to be a "special transmission outside of scriptures" and "beyond words"). Yet, at its core, it is quite simple: sitting in an upright-but-relaxed posture, breathing regularly, and--doing nothing.

As the teachers say, "When you sit, just sit."

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