Chan Hall

 Chan Session annually held in Chan Hall


In the era of Sakyamuni Buddha, Buddhists always selected retreat sites like fields under trees, artificial caves or forest shelters to do meditative cultivations.

During the initial periods of Buddhism introduced to China, a lot grottos carved out of hillsides in the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties (around 220-589 A.D.) became the Buddhists’ sites of meditative cultivations, which were mostly similar to the conditions of the Buddha era. The Patriarch Bodhidharma, his successors Huike and Sengcan as well as their disciples just followed the conventional secluded practices and went out into hillside caves and grottos for meditative cultivations.
Chan Buddhism was one of the most sinicized Buddhist schools. Because of its secluded way of religious practices, Chan Buddhism was of little influence in the early stage from the Patriarch Bodhidharma to the Third Patriarch Sengcan. At that time, Buddhist masters regarded an uninhabited area and retreat from urban life as the fundamental of seeking for enlightenment. Similar stories have been described in Chinese historical records of earlier Chan masters.
It was until the Fourth Patriarch Daoxin that the community cultivating activities appeared. For thirty years, while living in the mountains, he taught and imparted Chan Buddhism and its precepts to followers from outside.
Master Daoxin’s successor Hongren continued the community religious way. Chan Buddhism diverged from the Fifth Patriarch into two branches, Northern branch and Southern branch, while the Southern branch established by Master Huineng has the most apparent influence on the later generations. Master Huineng also maintained the community religious life. He advocated the way of engaging Chan cultivations in the routines of daily life, which manifested the characteristics of Chinese Chan Buddhism.
Thereafter, since Master Mazu founded the forest monastic community and Master Baizhang formulated the monastic rules, Buddhists have lived in community and constituted a whole sangha structure. In the monastic rules compiled by Master Baizhang, the establishment and function of Chan Hall were explained as a Buddhist cultivation center where the monastic community could meditate, live and sleep.
Chan Hall has been the main architecture of the Chan Buddhist forest and the center of forest monastic activities. It is also called monastic hall or hall of attaining Buddhahood. In the Chan Buddhist forest, after the busy farming season, winter Chan sessions have been conventional activities in Chan Hall each year. It usually continues seven days as a term of Chan meditations and lasts for forty-nine days. During the period, Buddhists devote full-time efforts to intensive meditative cultivations, so that advanced level of meditation could be achieved in short term.
The history of Chan Hall in Shaolin Temple could date back to 1,500 years ago. In the courtyard of Scripture Hall, there used to be five Chan Halls on both sides, which were burnt to ground in 1928. Initiated by Abbot Shi Yongxin who has made vows to revive the conventional Buddhist activities, Chan Hall was rebuilt in the secluded site, northeast to the temple courtyard in October, 2005.
Chan Hall faces north with a double-door in the middle and a portiere hung over it. While monks are meditating inside, over the portiere will hang a sign board inscribed with two Chinese characters (Zhi Jing, meaning no entry and keeping quiet). Inside the hall there are wooden stools for sitting-meditation, attached labels of monks’ names, and beds behind the stools. During the Chan session, it could hold over 300 monks and is a good place for monks devoting to meditation cultivations with central air conditioner, 24-hour supply of hot water and other modern facilitates available.