• Tag Archives Buddhism
  • Buddhist Monastery architecture in China. Vihara (and 3)

    Previous post (-> link <-)

    In the Great Hall the main altar is found and on it is the image of Sakyamuni Buddha and his twoforemost disciples, Mahakasyapa and Ananda, or other Buddhas of the past eras. The arrangment and choice of personages in this altar varies from temple to temple. Most of the time Sakyamuni Buddha is depicted in an attitude of comtemplation with his disciples flanking him.

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    Temples dedicated to Amitabha Buddha have his image at the centre, Sakyamuni Buddha and Bahaisajyagura, better known to the Chinese as ‘Yao-Shih-Fwo’, are each accompanied by two disciples.

    To the right and left of the main altar one usually finds the two Great Bodhisattvas, Manjusri (Wen-Shu-Shih-Li) and Samantabhadra (Pu-Hsien). The placement of personage are not really fixed

    On the east and west walls of this Great Hall are often arranged the figures of the Eighteen Arhats (Lohas) who are represented as possessing various kinds of supernatural powers.

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    Along the north wall can be found the images of Jan-teng Fwo or Dipankara, the ancient Buddha who predicted Sakyamuni’s Buddhahood, and popular Bodhisattvas such as Kun Yin, Wen-shu, Pu-Hsien and Ti-stsang (Ksi-tigarbha), or other Bodhisattvas. Very often, an image of Kuan Ti, a warrior, the Protector of Buddhism, can also be found in this hall.

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    It is here at the Ta-Hung-Pau-Tien that devout Buddhist offer their prayers and offerings of flowers, fruits and other gifts which are placed on the table in front of the main altar. Very often, behind the central images of this hall and facing northwards, is placed the images of Kuan-Yin P’usa, colloquially called the Goddess of Mercy

    Kuan Yin, also known as Avalokiteshvara, is a bodhisattva who is one of the most widely worshipped deities among the Chinese. A bodhisattva is a compassionate Buddha-like being who has elected to postpone his or her own enlightenment in order to assist others on their journey. Commonly shown in female form, she is also known colloquially as the “Goddess of Mercy,” and is often depicted pouring from a vial containing “elixir of compassion.” Other representations of this bodhisattva have numerous arms and heads, symbolizing a limitless ability to relieve the suffering of others.
    Kuan Yin, also known as Avalokiteshvara, is a bodhisattva who is one of the most widely worshipped deities among the Chinese. A bodhisattva is a compassionate Buddha-like being who has elected to postpone his or her own enlightenment in order to assist others on their journey. Commonly shown in female form, she is also known colloquially as the “Goddess of Mercy,” and is often depicted pouring from a vial containing “elixir of compassion.” Other representations of this bodhisattva have numerous arms and heads, symbolizing a limitless ability to relieve the suffering of others.

    The third, of Back Hall, is usually divided into several smaller halls (Tien) or rooms. The central hall is generally the altar of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, the right housing the funerary tablet of the temple founder, while the left may be the Teaching or Meditation Hall. On the side or behind these main buildings are the living quarters, the dining area and the kitchen.

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  • Buddhist Monastic Life and the Vinaya. Daily life -2-

    buddhist_monk4(starts in the preceeding post. Link)

    Daily life

    A typical monk’s day in a Geluk monastery, for instance, is made up of many hours of group prayers in the main meditation hall, then some hours of class, many hours of memorizing texts, then many many hours of debate in the monastery courtyard. They begin their day around 5-6am and while the evening debates officially end around 9pm when they really get into it some will continue debating late into the night.

    It is customary for monks to first complete their education (become a Geshe) that may last 25 years, and then go for a year or two in tantric college before then going into solitary meditation retreat for a certain number of years depending on the person. Some do 1year, some 2 or 3 or 5 or 10 or 20 or 30. Some spend their middle age after completing their education teaching, then go off into retreat later in their lives and many consider that the best way to die is in retreat.

    In other Tibetan traditions (Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu), the period of monastic education is shorter (anywhere between 5 and 12 years generally, but it varies and can be more), but group retreats are much more common. These generally last 3 years 3 months 3 days, and the teacher goes into retreat with a group of students for that duration and together they learn the meditation practices, receive instructions from the lama, and have a strict meditation schedule. It is not uncommon for people to do more than one of these retreats.

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    Photo credits: From the Internet, feel free to contact me if you own the copyright

    First photo is labelled: Monks in Kunlun


  • Buddhist Monastic Life and the Vinaya -1-

    monks2Buddhist Monks are called Bhikkus (“who lives from alms”). Originally, Bhikkhus were people who left everything beneath them and lived on alms, like Jesus’ disciples. Bhikkus wandered the countryside, they stopped somewhere, where they spoke the teachings of Buddha. Lay people feed them, and gave them cover. During the three months of the Monsoon, they gathered together in temporary shelters, which become monasteries later on.

    Life in a Buddhist Monastery is fixed by the Vinaya, a set of rules equivalent to St.Bernard rules. As a difference to Catholic monasteries, in which the monastery was supposed to be economically autonomous, the Buddhist Monastery lives on alms given by lay people. Catholic Monasteries (at least some of them) accumulated wealth, and its consequence, greediness while Buddhist monasteries remained poor.

    The way of life in a Buddhist monastery is, essentially, contemplative, based on personal introspection, with techniques such as repetition of Mantras or music to reinforce a states of meditation.

    The Vinaya, as laid down by the Buddha, in its many practical rules defines the status of a monk as being that of a mendicant. Having no personal means of support is a very practical means of understanding the instinct to seek security; furthermore, the need to seek alms gives a monk a source of contemplation on what things are really necessary. The four requisites, food, clothing, shelter and medicines, are what lay people can offer as a practical way of expressing generosity and appreciation of their faith in belonging to the Buddhist Community.

    Food
    A monk is allowed to collect, receive and consume food between dawn and midday (taken to be 12 noon). He is not allowed to consume food outside of this time and he is not allowed to store food overnight. Plain water can be taken at any time without having to be offered. Although a monk lives on whatever is offered, vegetarianism is encouraged.

    A monk must have all eatables and drinkables, with the exception of plain water, formally offered into his hands or placed on something in direct contact with his hands.

    In accordance with the discipline, a monk is prohibited from eating fruit or vegetables containing fertile seeds. So, when offering such things, a layperson can either remove the seeds or make the fruit allowable slightly damaging it with a knife. This is done by piercing the fruit and saying at the same time ‘Kappiyam bhante’ or ‘I am making this allowable, Venerable Sir’ (the English translation). It is instructive to note that, rather than limiting what can be offered, the Vinaya lays emphasis on the mode of offering. Offering should be done in a respectful manner, making the act of offering a mindful and reflective one, irrespective of what one is giving
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    Medicine

    A monk is allowed to use medicines if they are offered in the same way as food. Once offered, neither food nor medicine should be handled again by a layperson, as that renders it no longer allowable. Medicines can be considered as those things that are specifically for illness; those things having tonic or reviving quality (such as tea or sugar); and certain items which have a nutritional value in times of weakness, hunger or fatigue (such as cheese or non-dairy chocolate).

    Invitation

    The principles of mendicancy forbid a monk from asking for anything, unless he is ill, without having received an invitation. So when receiving food, for example, a monk makes himself available in a situation, where people wish to give food. At no time does the monk request food. This principle should be borne in mind when offering food; rather than asking a monk what he would like, it is better to ask if you can offer some food. Considering that the meal will be the only meal of the day, one can offer what seems right, recognising that the monk will take what he needs and leave the rest. A good way to offer is to bring bowls of food to the monk and let him choose what he needs from each bowl.

    Tea and coffee can be offered at any time (if after noon, without milk). Sugar or honey can be offered at the same time to go with it.

    (to be continued)

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    Photo credits: from the internet, please, leave a message if you have the copyright