Around the Main Courtyard

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on May 23, 2016.)

Gong and wooden fish outside the dining hall, Caotang Temple, Xi'an

The Dharma Hall we visited last time is located at the back of the walled compound in smaller temples. (In larger ones, there may be more halls behind that one.) Around the sides of the compound there may be various rooms used for practical purposes.

One of these is the Guest Hall (Ke Tang), where temple visitors and devotees may go to register; receive various services (including lodging); or obtain supplies, such as pamphlets, incense ash, and so on. It usually has comfortable seats, and may offer tea.

Another room is the Abbot's Room (Fang Zhang). This is usually set up for formal receiving, and may be one of the most sumptuous rooms in the temple. Fine art pieces are placed around the room, and it often has an exquisite tea service.

A third room around the compound is the refectory, sometimes called the "Five Views Hall" (Wu Guan Tang) in reference to the five proper attitudes one should have toward taking food. These include

  1. appreciating the effort that brought the food to you
  2. contemplating your worthiness to receive it
  3. guarding against gluttony
  4. considering the food as medicine for the body, rather than an item of pleasure
  5. using the nutrition the food provides to better oneself

Temple dining halls, of course, serve vegetarian food only. They can usually be located by the wooden fish and the flat metal gong hanging outside of them; these are used to call the monks and staff to meals. In many temples someone also walks around the grounds striking a plain wooden board, for those not within earshot of the dining hall.

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