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SOTOZEN.COM > Archivio > Glossario (Inglese) > mountain gate

Glossario (Inglese)


mountain gate (sanmon 山門)

The main gate of a Buddhist monastery. Some main gates (sanmon 山門) at Zen monasteries in Japan are two-story buildings supported by twelve massive wooden pillars, arranged in three rows of four. There are thus three spaces (ken 間) between the pillars which, at the ground level, may be hung with doors. Or, the two outer spaces may be used to enshrine guardian figures, usually a pair of benevolent kings (niō 仁王) - devas depicted as glowering, muscular martial artists stripped to the waist - or the four deva kings (shi tennō 四天王), depicted as Chinese generals in full armor. A mountain gate may be called a "triple gate" (sanmon 三門) if it has three portals, but there are many smaller mountain gates that have only one portal. Although called "gates," the function of these buildings is largely ceremonial and symbolic, for they are often located well inside a monastery's compound and are typically free standing structures that no longer have adjacent walls or corridors that would prevent anyone from simply walking around them; the practical task of keeping out unwanted visitors is handled by outer walls and gates. The second floor of large main gates at Zen monasteries are used as worship halls, often with a flower-holding Shaka (nenge Shaka 拈花釋迦) (giving his wordless sermon on Vulture Peak) as the main object of veneration (honzon 本尊), flanked by Kasho 迦葉 and Anan 阿難 (the first and second ancestral teachers of the Zen lineage). Or, the central figure may be a crowned Shaka (hōkan Shaka 寶冠釋迦), flanked by Zenzai Dōji 善財童子, famous as the youthful pilgrim whose story is told in the "Entering the Dharma Realm" section of the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon kyō 華嚴經), and Gatsugai Chōja 月蓋, who appears in Buddhist mythology as a lay believer who saved his city from pestilence by calling on Kannon. The Shaka triptychs are in turn flanked by images of the sixteen arhats (jūroku rakan 十六羅漢), eight to a side, and sometimes by the five hundred arhats (gohyaku rakan 五百羅漢) as well. The offering to arhats (rakan kuyō 羅漢供養) and arhats liturgy (rakan kōshiki 羅漢講式) mentioned in Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School are held in the second floor of a main gate. →"triple gate," "arhats hall."