Winter "Chan Session" Starts in Shaolin Chan Hall

Release Date:2010-11-11



 Ven. Abbot and Chan Masters attending the Chan Session


On the fifth day of lunar tenth month (November 10th), 2010, when the Birthday of Bodhidharma was celebrated, Shaolin Temple hosted its annual winter “Chan Session” in the Chan Hall. Over 90 Chan masters throughout the country began their 49-day prolonged meditative cultivations in the Chan Hall, which was also called Hall of Attaining Buddhahood.


On the Origin of Chan Session:


Holding a Chan Retreat Session has been a forest monastic convention. It is derived from the meditative practice of the Sakyamuni Buddha under a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. He vowed never to arise until he had found the truth and finally attained enlightenment after 49 days of meditation.
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 meditation 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 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 practices, so that advanced level of meditation could be achieved in short term. Considering its apparent effects for Buddhists and practitioners, other cultivation sessions like Buddhist chanting session have also been held.
As the origin of Chinese Chan Buddhism, Shaolin Temple has been consistently committed to genuine cultivations and practical approaches. Chan session of Shaolin Temple was broken off in 1928, when the temple was mostly destroyed in the fire set by Warlord Shi Yousan. The convention was restored after Shaolin Temple completed the rebuilding of Chan Hall in 2005. The first Chan session event began in November at the same year and annual activities have been held since then.


(Tran. by Xu Huifang)