Definition of a Ch’an Monastic Community Leader

Fang Zhang
Fang Zhang

Original Chinese Language Article: Zhongguo Wikipedia

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)

Translator’s Note: The four most common terms used to describe the head monk or nun of a Ch’an temple or monastery in China are as follows:


1) Zhu Chi (住持): Lit. ‘Residence Manager’

2) Wei Na (維那): Lit. ‘Maintainer of Affairs’

3) Si Zhu (寺主): Lit. ‘Temple Master’

4) Fang Zhang (方丈): Lit. ‘Ten Square Feet’


It has become common place to refer to these titles in English translation by the Judeo-Christian term of ‘Abbot’, which derives from the Aramaic term ‘abba’, meaning ‘father’. An abbot is a man in charge of an abbey of Christian monks, and its female equivalent is ‘Abbess’. As is obvious from the above translations of the Chinese terms used to describe the Sangha community leader of a Ch’an community, none match this transliteration. Indeed, the most common term used today to refer to a Sangha leader is ‘Fang Zhang’ which actually derives from a measurement of length and width found within the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra.  The post of ‘Wei Na’ today generally refers to the monk who assists the designated community leader – which is in practical terms a very powerful position to hold.  ACW 17/02/15

Zhu Chi (住持) [Residence Manager’]:

Zhu Chi is a short name for a monastic or temple Sangha leader. Over-time other words were used to describe the same post in Buddhist temples and monasteries. Zhu Chi is also used to refer to the head of a Chinese Daoist temple.


In China a ‘Zhu Chi’ refers to the man or woman who presides over a Buddhist temple. In ancient India, however, the same post was referred to as the ‘Wei Na’ (維那) [i.e. ‘Maintainer of Affairs’], whilst during the Sui and Tang Dynasties, this role was referred to as the ‘Si Zhu’ (寺主) [i.e. ‘Temple Master’].

Another name for the Sangha leader in China is ‘Fang Zhang’ (方丈). This designation derives from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra which teaches that the layman Bodhisattva Vimalakirti had a bedroom that measured only ten square feet in the material world of delusion – but that in the realm of enlightened reality, its capacity was limitless. This analogy is used to describe the community leader’s room, and explains why the post of ‘Zhu Chi’ is also known as ‘Fang Zhang’ (or ‘ten square feet’). These Buddhist terms are used differently to similar terms found in the Immortal Island stories of ancient China.

During the Song Dynasty, the preferred term for a community leader in a Ch’an temple or monastery was ‘Si Zhu’ [Temple Master]. The man or woman who held this post was commonly referred to as the ‘head monastic’, according to the ‘Ordination Rules of the Temple’, which stated the leader always stands at the front of the congregation and leads it into the Dharma Hall.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2015.

Original Chinese Language Article:







小作品圖示  這是一篇關於佛教的小作品,你可以透過編輯或修訂擴充其內容。


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