A building dedicated to the worship of a buddha. In the Zen tradition, the main object of veneration (honzon 本尊) in a buddha hall is usually Buddha Shakamuni, whose image is seated on a raised platform. Shakamuni is sometimes shown "holding up a flower" (nenge 拈華, 拈花); this is a depiction of the wordless sermon he is said to have delivered prior to transmitting the formless mind dharma to his disciple Makakasho, thereby founding the Zen lineage. The image of Shakamuni is sometimes flanked by images of Makakasho and Anan, two disciples of the Buddha revered as the first and second ancestors of the lineage in India. Services in a buddha hall generally involve the chanting of sutras and dharanis to generate merit, which is then dedicated to the Buddha enshrined in support of various prayers. The offering of merit is accompanied with offerings of food, drink, and incense, which are arranged on a table in front of the altar. Services also involve prostrations and sometimes circumambulation, a procession of monks that does not actually go around the altar (as was originally the case) but forms a circle in front of it.
In medieval Japanese Zen monasteries built on the Song Chinese model, the buddha hall was a massive structure that stood on the central north-south axis of the campus, between the mountain gate (sanmon 山門) and the dharma hall (hattō 法堂). It was of post-and-beam construction with a gabled tile roof and stone floor, housing a large Sumeru altar (shumidan 須彌壇) with the buddha image on it, facing south. The arrangement mirrored that of the audience hall in the imperial court, where the emperor sat on a dais facing south, his courtiers lined up in rows on the east and west sides.
In Japanese Zen today, only a handful of Chinese-style buddha halls survive, mostly at a few Rinzai school head temples in Kyoto and Kamakura. The two Soto head temples, Eiheiji and Sōjiji, both have buddha halls, but most training monasteries (sōdō僧堂) do not. No buddha halls exist at any of the more than 14,000 ordinary temples belonging to the Soto school. In most monasteries and temples, the traditional functions of a buddha hall, including the key one of enshrining the main object of veneration, have been taken over by a building known as the main hall (hondō 本堂). Although Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School refers to a buddha hall in various contexts, as for example the "buddha hall sutra chanting" (butsuden fugin 佛殿諷經), it is understood that in most cases the observances in question will take place in a main hall. →"main hall."