The Chinese Buddhist monasteries or temples are influenced by the imperial palaces and have very little similarities with 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 south.
Entering 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. The hall is named after them, as the “Si-Tien Wang Tien”. At the entrance of this hall, one can find, the joyful future Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, known to the Chinese as the “Laughing Buddha” or “Ta-pao Mi-Lei-Fwo”, with his fat paunch. Directly behind Mi-Lei-Fwo, often separated by a wall, is the great Deva Wei-to, the Projector of Buddhist temples and 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.
Great Hall the main altar is found and on it is the image of Sakyamuni Buddha and his two foremost disciples, Mahakasyapa and Ananda, or other Buddhas of the past eras. The arrangement and choice of the figures in this altar varies from temple to temple. Most of the time Sakyamuni Buddha is depicted in an attitude of contemplation with his disciples beside 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 placements of figures are not really fixed so that one may often find Sakyamuni Buddha having beside him 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). In temples, which are dedicated to Kuan Shih Yin P’usa, beside her one can find Wen-shu-Shih-Li and P’u-Hsien.
On the east and west walls of this Great Hall, often, one can find the figures of the Eighteen Arhats (Lohas) which are represented, as possessing various kinds of supernatural powers. Along the north wall 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, can be found. 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 Buddhists 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, images of Kuan-Yin P’usa are placed.
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.