The Patriarchs' Hall

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on July 11, 2016.)

Inside the Patriarchs' Hall at Linji Temple, Zhengding, Hebei

Many temples will have a "Patriarch's Hall," recognizing the temple's forebears.

In many cases, the "Patriarchs" represented are a mishmash: perhaps the temple's modern founder, a recently deceased Great Master, and maybe one or more founders of the sect the temple represents.

But sometimes, the selection is more ordered. Chan (Zen) temples might display the first six Patriarchs of Chan. These were six individuals whom legend says passed on the transmission from one to the next, "A special transmission outside the scriptures," said the First Patriarch, Bodhidharma, "not relying on words and letters." He was said to have come from India, where he was in a direct line from the first Chan Patriarch in India, Venerable Kashyapa.

He passed on the teaching to Huike, who cut off his arm to show he would be a sincere student. Huike led to Sengcan, who wrote the important scripture Faith in Mind. Sengcan taught Daoxin, who established the East Mountain School, and passed it on to Hongren, who made a "secret transmission" in the dead of night to the great Sixth Patriarch, Guangdong's own Huineng.

This is the accepted lineage of the first six Chan Patriarchs today, although there is some dispute. As the sect began to splinter, there is no clear candidate for the Seventh Patriarch.

Some Chan temples may add to this selection, depending on their history. Linji Temple in Zhengding, Hebei, of course features Linji Yixuan, an eleventh-generation descendant of Bodhidharma, and founder of the Linji School, whose burial pagoda is there.

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