The Golden Age of Ch’an – Qingyuan Xingsi and Shitou Xiquan

by tendo zenji


Dajian Huineng (Sixth Patriarch)
Qingyuan Xingsi
Shitou Xiquan

From Shitou the Caodong, Fayen and Yunmen schools descended (Yunmen also has connections to Mazu Daoyi).

Qingyuan Xingsi

I. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 56):

QINGYUAN XINGSI (660–740) was an eminent student of the Sixth Ancestor, Huineng. Three of the five traditionally recognized schools of Chinese Zen trace their origins through Qingyuan and his student Shitou Xiqian. Little is known with certainty about Xingsi’s life. He lived in relative obscurity at Quiet Abode Temple on Mt. Qingyuan, near the old city

I. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 57):

One day, Qingyuan asked his disciple Shitou, “Where have you come from?” Shitou said, “From Cao Xi.” Qingyuan then held up his whisk and said, “But does Cao Xi have this?” Shitou said, “Not just Cao Xi, but even India doesn’t have it.” Qingyuan said, “You haven’t been to India, have you?” Shitou said, “If I’d been there, then it would have it.” Qingyuan said, “No good! Try again.” Shitou said, “Master, you must say half. Don’t rely on your disciple for all of it.” Qingyuan said, “Me speaking to you isn’t what matters. What I fear is that there will be no one to carry on my Dharma.”

I. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 58):

After the master had passed Dharma transmission to Shitou, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth lunar month in [the year 740], he went into the hall and said goodbye to the congregation. Then, sitting in a cross-legged posture, he passed away. The emperor Xi Zong gave the master the posthumous name “Zen Master Vast Benefit.” His burial stupa was named “Return to Truth.”

Shitou Xiquan

I. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 79-80 ):

SHITOU XIQIAN (700–90) was a disciple of Qingyuan Xingsi. He is a key figure of early Zen development. Three of the five traditional schools of Chinese Zen traced their origins through Shitou and his heirs. Shitou’s Zen lineage is sometimes remembered as the “Hunan school.” Along with Mazu’s Hongzhou school (in an area corresponding to modern Jiangxi Province), these two comprise the root of all subsequent Zen schools and lineages down to the present day. Many facets of Shitou’s life are obscure or lost. Historical records made little or no mention of a formal “Hunan school” during the years following Shitou’s death. He is connected to other great masters of the era mainly through believable anecdotes and claimed succession. Shitou taught that “what meets the eye is the Way.”

I. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 80):

In the first year of the Tian Bao era [742–55] of the Tang dynasty, the master took up residence at South Temple on Heng Mountain. East of the temple there was a stone outcropping. The master built a thatched hut on top of this spot and was thereafter referred to as “Monk Shitou” (Shitou translates as stone or rock).\

I. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 80-81):

Shitou is recorded to have had a great revelation while reading the Zhao Lun.54 In that text he came upon a passage that said, “The one who realizes that the myriad things are one’s own self is no different from the sages.” Shitou thereafter dreamed that he, along with the Sixth Ancestor, was riding on the back of a great tortoise that was swimming in the sea. Waking up, he surmised that the tortoise symbolized wisdom and that the sea was the sea of existence. Shitou took the dream to mean that he, together with the Sixth Ancestor, sat upon wisdom’s back, swimming in the sea of existence. This realization inspired Shitou to write a verse entitled Realizing Unity (in Chinese, Cantongqi, Japanese, Sandokai), an ode that is widely known and chanted in Zen temples down to the present day.  The Wudeng Huiyuan offers examples of Shitou’s teachings., J

II. The Infinite Mirror: Commentaries on Two Ch’an Classics

During the course of this program we read extensively from Chan Master Shen Yang’s commentary on Inquiry into Matching Halves (II) (in Chinese, Cantongqi, Japanese, Sandokai).

About Sheng-yen from his Wikipedia page

Sheng Yen (聖嚴; Pinyin: Shèngyán, birth name Zhang Baokang, 張保康) (January 22, 1931 – February 3, 2009) was a Chinese Buddhist monk, a religious scholar, and one of the mainstream teachers of Chan Buddhism. He was a 57th generational dharma heir of Linji Yixuan in the Linji school(Japanese: Rinzai) and a third-generation dharma heir of Hsu Yun. In the Caodong (Japanese: Sōtō) lineage, Sheng Yen was a 52nd-generation Dharma heir of Dongshan Liangjie (807-869), and a direct Dharma heir of Dongchu (1908–1977).[1]

Sheng Yen was the founder of the Dharma Drum Mountain, a Buddhist organization based in Taiwan. During his time in Taiwan, Sheng Yen was well known as a progressive Buddhist teacher who sought to teach Buddhism in a modern and Western-influenced world. In Taiwan, he was one of four prominent modern Buddhist masters, along with Hsing Yun, Cheng Yen and Wei Chueh, popularly referred to as the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Taiwanese Buddhism. In 2000 he was one of the keynote speakers in the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held in the United Nations.


Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings
Andy Ferguson.
Wisdom Publications. Expanded edition (February 22, 2011)
ISBN-10: 9780861716173

The Infinite Mirror: Commentaries on Two Ch’an Classics
Master Sheng Yen
Shambhala (October 10, 2006)
ISBN-10: 1590303989

Web Resources

 Wikipedia page.

Inquiry into Matching Halves (Sandokai) Web page with text and references.