The Hongzhou School: Baizhang

by tendo zenji


Dajian Huineng (Sixth Patriarch)
Nanyue Huairang
Mazu Daoyi
Baizhang Huaihai

Baizhang had numerous dharma heirs including Hunangbo, teacher of Linchi from when the dominate Linchi school formed.

Baizhang in the Record of the Transmission of the Lamp


Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 85)

A FOREMOST DISCIPLE of Mazu, Baizhang Huaihai (720–814) was originally from the city of Changle in Fuzhou. He took his vows as a monk under the Vinaya master Fachao on Mt. Heng. Brilliant and learned as a young man, he traveled to study under the great teacher Mazu Daoyi. The Wudeng Huiyuan ranks him, along with Xitang Zhizang and Nanquan Puyuan, as one of the three most illustrious disciples of Mazu.

Baizhang represents how Bodhidharma’s Zen tradition put down roots and matured in China. From the perspective of spiritual practice, Baizhang’s teachings hewed to the tradition attributed to Bodhidharma of not relying on scripture but instead on “turning the light inward.” While this approach naturally led to a de-emphasis or outright rejection of religious symbolism and to iconoclastic tendencies, Baizhang kept Zen firmly grounded with his emphasis on ethical behavior and his “pure rules” for the monastery. This also reinforced the centrality of the home-leaving tradition. Here was a Zen teacher of clarity, who recognized that understanding the nature of the mind and observing the wheel of birth and death is not the final goal of Zen practice, but its source. He demonstrated that while the nature of consciousness is that it is not in the domain of the individual, the physical body is its vehicle—and he taught that overemphasis on “mind” while degrading the role of body leads to unethical behavior and nihilism. Here, Buddhism’s emphasis on the “middle way” takes complete form in a tradition too susceptible to philosophical idealism and metaphysics.

Practice in the Present.

Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 86-7)

Baizhang’s “practice in the present” is how Zen follows Bodhidharma’s instruction about “observing” mind. It is the observation that the present is the only context for life and practice, yet not imbuing that observation with ideas of existence, nonexistence, etc. The “nature” of which Bodhidharma taught and Baizhang spoke is not a metaphysical substrata of the observable world, but an undefinable quality of consciousness that, as Shitou said, lies outside the perspectives of “temporary” or “everlasting.” To Baizhang, all such views fall short of what can be directly observed.

The idea of “overcoming spurious doctrines” again reveals the contrast between Zen and the Buddhism of Emperor Wu. It draws a clear line between Zen and the parts of Mahayana Buddhism that idealized the faith and expounded it in grand metaphysical terms. This grounding of Zen in the present and in ordinary life characterized Bodhidharma’s Zen tradition from its early times to the present.

House Wind

Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 89)

Baizhang taught and resided as abbot and taught on Daxiong (“Great Hero”) Mountain, which was also known as Mt. Bai Zhang in what is now Fengxin County in Jiangxi Province. Besides being a Zen master of the first order, Baizhang established the monastic rules of Zen monasteries, partly on the model of the Fourth Ancestor, Dayi Daoxin. Prior to Baizhang’s times, many Zen monks lived in temples constructed by other branches of Buddhism. Influenced by Baizhang’s instructions, Zen temples evolved to be more self-supporting and independent

Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 91)

In the everyday work of the monastery, Baizhang always was foremost among the assembly at undertaking the tasks of the day. The monks in charge of the work were concerned about the master. They hid his tools and asked him to rest. Baizhang said, “I’m unworthy. How can I allow others to work in my behalf?” He looked everywhere for his tools but was unable to find them. He even forgot to eat [while looking for his tools], and thus the phrase “a day without working is a day without eating” has become known everywhere.



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

Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 1: The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary
Thomas Cleary
Shambhala (April 12, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1590302184

The Hongzhou School of Chan Buddhism in Eighth Through Tenth Century China
by Jinhua Jia
SUNY Press; Annotated edition edition (June 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0791468240

Ordinary Mind as the Way: The Hongzhou School and the Growth of Chan Buddhism
by Mario Poceski
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 13, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0195319966