Chinese Buddhist monastery or temple is fashioned after
the imperial palaces and bears very little resemblance to
the temples in India or other Buddhist countries. Generally
there are three groups of buildings separated by courtyards.
The monastery, like other Chinese structures, normally faces
Phor Kark See Monastery Ordination Hall, Singapore ]
the front hall, one is confronted by four huge images, usually
made from wood, two on each side. These are the Four Heavenly
Kings or Devas, the Guardians of the Four Directions and
the hall is named after them as the 'Si-Tien Wang Tien'.
In this hall, one is greeted at the entrance, by the lovable
and kindly Buddha-to-be, Maitreya Buddha, known to the Chinese
as the 'Laughing Buddha' or 'Ta-pao Mi-Lei-Fwo, with his
fat paunch, looking joyously towards the entrance. Directly
behind Mi-Lei-Fwo, often separated by a wall, is the great
deva Wei-to, the Projector of Buddhist temples and the Faith.
He is depicted clad in full armour and holding either a
gnarled staff or a sceptre-shaped weapon resting on the
ground. Wei-To, who is a general under the Four Heavenly
Kings, is also accorded the title of 'Protector of Buddhist
Books'. He is always facing the Great Hall known as the
'Ta-Hung-Pau-Tien' which is separated from the front hall
by a wall or a courtyard.
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. 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 so that
one may often find Sakyamuni Buddha being flanked by Amitabha
(O-Mi-Two-Fwo) and Yao-Shin-Fwo (Medicine Buddha), the two
great Buddhas of past eras. At other times a single Buddha
is seen seated between his two Bodhisattvas, Sakyamuni (Shih-Jia-Mo-Ni-Fwo)
between Manjusri and Samantabhadra or Amitabha Buddha with
Avalokitesvara (Kuan Yin) and Mahasthamaprata (Ta-Shih-Chih).
Temples dedicated to Kuan Shih Yin P'usa will have her flanked
by Wen-shu-Shih-Li and P'u-Hsien.
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. 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, the Protector of Buddhism,
can also be found in this hall. 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.
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.