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Tag: Buddhism

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.

New Year

by tendo zenji


On New Years we ring the Kansho Bell 108 times to dispel the 108 defilements

108 Defilements

ignorance greed
being a know-all
greed for money
sexual addiction
lust for domination
lust for power
violent temper
desire for fame
lack of comprehension

some sand

by layman k

Unfortunately, my dwelling has become known by the world.
I will move my hut again deeper into seclusion

from Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice
by Victor Sōgen Hori
University of Hawaii Press; Bilingual edition (July 30, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0824835077 | ISBN-13: 978-0824835071

this breath

by layman k

“Ten thousand things, all in this breath…” why are people in this world so busy? just for this one breath. They say, “busy, busy, mine mine…”, busy a whole lifetime for “Me”. When this breath is cut off you let go of the whole universe. Why not let go from the start?

from Amongst White Clouds
(which you can get on DVDor stream on YouTube)

Early Ch’an – The Lankavatara Sutra

by layman k

When one looks back the earliest roots of Ch’an the primary question is “what is it?”  What was it that distinguished Ch’an from other forms of Buddhism that had already taken hold in China and just what was it’s nature and practices. There doesn’t really seem to be a definitive answer on just what Ch’an was at the very beginning as the documentary record is particularly sparse and the founding is shrouded in myth and legend.  The founding of Ch’an of course is attributed to Bodhidharma and there are a number of references to him using the Lankavatara Sutra as his primary or only text.  There was enough of these references along with others in the early historical record that I felt I needed to devote some time to this sutra. Happily Bill Porter (Red Pine) has just published a new translation of The Lankavatara Sutra based explicitly on the Chinese translation often referenced in these early sources.

The first two translations of the Lankavatara Sutra into Chinese occurred prior to Bodhidharma’s arrival in China the earliest surviving text by Gunabadhra. This is the text supposedly handed down by Bodhidharma and is the primary source for the translation by Red Pine. The only other complete english translation is by D. T. Suzuki and can be found online though as Red Pine notes in his entry it was made from rather dubious sources.  There has not been a version of the sutra found that is earlier than the Chinese translations and Suzuki used a Sanskrit translation that had been made from these older Chinese sources and are apparently rather error prone.  For the english speaker Red Pine’s translation is certainly quite welcome especially as it has extensive commentary as well as notes on how each translation handled certain sections. Additionally he also took advantage of both ancient and modern Chinese commentary on the sutra as aids to understanding (for much more on the translations of this sutra see Red Pines introduction).

“The meaning of the Lankavatara is so subtle and illusive and its language so unadorned and antiquated that the reader is often unable to read it, much less get past the words to the meaning or get past the meaning to its heart.”
— Su Tung-p’o quoted in Red Pine’s introduction (1, p. 12, pp. 3).

It is far beyond the scope of this post and the authors abilities to fully delve into the Lankavatara Sutra. It is a long, dense, convoluted and deep work, one that is said to require a teacher to fully engage with. While I found this sutra to be very powerful and challenging I alas only had Red Pines invaluable commentary and was not working with a teacher on this material.  However since my purpose here is to consider this sutra in light of early Ch’an this should not present too much difficulties. Of course one should excuse my glosses, incomplete explanations and outright ignoring of vast amounts of the sutra’s contents due to this focus. I should note that this is certainly a sutra that I’ll return to again and would hope to work with a teacher on some day.

Just as the Diamond Sutra teaches detachment from dharmas, and the Heart Sutra teach the emptiness of dharmas, the Lankavatara teaches the non-projection of dharmas, that there would be no dharmas to be empty or to be detached from if we did no project them as existing or not existing in the first place.” — Red Pine (1, p. 4, pp. 3)

The Lankavatara has two main teachings “nothing but mind” which is the basis of Yogacara but then moves beyond that to emphasize “self-realization” which is the most explicit connection to Ch’an. Much of the content of this long sutra is increasingly refined applications of these principles to various facets of Buddhist philosophy with considerable time devoted to pointing out the shortcomings of various other schools and paths toward understanding this. There is much in this sutra that you can find in the sayings and metaphors of the Ch’an teachers and a few sections that as Red Pine puts it “If there ever was a sutra that presented the underlying teaching of Zen, this is it.”  The following  quotations from Section LVI (p. 161-3) are an example of this. The sutra, as is typically the case, is presented as a dialog between the historical Buddha and in this case a bodhisattva named Mahamati.

The teaching known and passed down by the sages of the past is that projections are nonexistent and that bodhisattvas should dwell alone in a quiet place and examine their own awareness. By relying on nothing else and avoiding views and projections, they steadily advance to the tathagata stage. This is what characterizes the personal realization of Buddha knowledge. ” (1, p. 163, pp. 3)
“Mahamati, what characterizes the one path? When I speak of the one path, I mean the one path of realization. And what does the one path to realization mean? Projections, such as projections of what grasps or what is grasped, do not arise in suchness. This is what the one path to realization means.” (1, p. 163, pp. 4)

The cultivation of “personal realization” is of course the practice of Ch’an and here too we see some hints for how this was practiced at this time. As this is the primary theme to this series we shall return to that at greater detail in subsequent entries.  That the nature of reality is illusion is a core tenant throughout Buddhism but the Lankavatara goes beyond this with this notion that all objects are  projections of our minds and our attachments to these objects form “habit-energy” from which all reality springs.  This “mind-only” teaching is also at the core of Ch’an though the emphasis is placed more on attaining this realization as opposed to considering all of the ramifications of this teaching on the conceptual categories of Mahayana thought.

“Thus, Mahamati, you should focus your efforts on true meaning. The true meaning is subtle and silent. It is the cause of nirvana. Words are linked to projections, and projections are tied to birth and death. Mahamati, the true meaning is learned from the learned. Mahamati, those who are learned esteem meaning and not words. Those who esteem meaning don’t accept the scriptures and doctrines of other schools. They don’t accept them for themselves, nor do they cause others to accept them. Thus they are called ‘learned and virtuous’. Hence, those who seek meaning should approach those who are learned, those who esteem meaning. And they should distance themselves from those who do the opposite and who attach themselves to words.” (1, Section LXXVI, p. 221 pp. 1)

The above quote also gets at another of the canonical features of Ch’an which is the notion that it is “beyond words” and the emphasis is on direct transmission from a teacher. Thus in the Lankavatara we find the “mind only” teachings, the notions of direct experience, the primacy of realization and the importance of working with a realized master. Thus much of core teachings of Ch’an that have existed from the earliest days but continue to this day can be found in this sutra. Certainly it seems believable that monks bringing this sutra from India could spark that which would become Ch’an. It is certainly understandable why this text is still valued in Zen circles today.  Red Pine makes the argument that this sutra probably represented the teachings of a particular region in India was then brought to China. This bolsters the argument that Ch’an or something like it began in India and was developed in China. Furthermore he proposes that as Ch’an became more mainstream that the influence of the Lankavatara waned, supplanted by the Diamond Sutra. In the next entry in this series we shall examine what the historical record has to say of the Lankavatara and of it’s the influence in early Ch’an writings.

1) The Lankavatara Sutra: Translation and Commentary
Translated and commentary by Red Pine (Bill Porter)
Published by Counterpoint, February 12, 2013
ISBN-10: 1619020998 | ISBN-13: 978-1619020993

2)  The Lankavatara Sutra, A Mahayana Text
Translated by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Original Edition Published in London in 1932.
Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo (1923).
Published in Internet by © do1@yandex.ru,  May 2004, 2005. (Rev. 2)
For free distribution only.

3) Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra
by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Published by Munshirm Manoharlal Pub Pvt Ltd (January 1, 1998)
ISBN-10: 8121508339 | ISBN-13: 978-8121508339

Early Ch’an – foundations of investigation

by layman k

Almost the entire basis of the current understanding of the development of Ch’an comes from an early twentieth century find of documents in northwest China. This has been bolstered via more recent scholarship into early Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts in which early Ch’an was apparently a contender for how Buddhism was to develop in Tibet.  These early texts were hand copied documents that varying degrees of fidelity (documents copied for “merit” have particularly egregious amounts of errors). Modern scholarship with it’s analysis of such factors as the type of paper it is written on, the period use of language, references and the like as well as tracing quotations and references from one document to the has created a picture of the validity and importance of these texts. Some of these early figures, ideas, concepts and practices rose and then declined in emphasis until Ch’an became what we know it today.

Some of the more recent scholarship has been on considering the earliest texts that have been found in that cache of documents in northwest China (and corroborating it with what has been found in the Tibetan archives as well). Thus it is worth noting the providence of this find.

The discovery in the early part of this century of a small, walled-up cave within the Mo-Kao Grottoes located outside the oasis town of Tun-huang in Northwest China has led to the retrieval of a lost early Ch’an literature of T’ang Dynasty times (618-907). This hidden sub cave, usually known as cave no. 17, was found to be stuffed to the ceiling with Buddhist manuscripts and art. It had been sealed up around 1000 C.E., but no one knows for certain why. Some have suggested that pious Buddhists wished to save the contents from the destructive fury of invaders

The most likely reason, however, is connected to technological advance. In China proper the new technology of printing was quickly embraced by the Buddhists to spread their message and reached the backwater Tun-huang about the year 1000. Once printed canons  replaced the old manuscript copies in the libraries of the Tun-huang monasteries, something had to be done with the manuscripts. They could not simply be discarded, since, paper being at a premium, that might lead to the profane use of sacred materials. The answer was to protect them by placing them in small, subsidiary cave and walling it up. (1, p. 96-7 pp. 2 & 3)

Once this cave was found with it’s treasure trove of of twenty to thirty thousand documents around 1900 international scholars immediately displayed interest, but not so much within Chinese circles. So these documents became distributed primarily among Japanese, French and British libraries.  This material was studied separately and various bits and pieces of it were translated and published. The more recent scholarship has attempted to examine the related documents between the various collections and establish context. This process has continued to the present day and there have continued to be new finds of documents that has added to these studies. The bulk of the documents found are not Ch’an documents but there is a good amount of them, including those that had fallen out of the canon.

About three hundred Chinese manuscripts relating to Ch’an have so far been discovered in the Tun-huang collections. Many are fragments of scrolls, and we have a number of scrolls bearing the same works. The total number of separate works included in these manuscripts is roughly one hundred, and it is from these one hundred titles that a list of the earliest works must be extracted.  (1, p. 97 pp.2)

Tun-huang was occupied by the Tibetans from 780 to ~860 and there was much translation of Chinese Buddhist texts into Tibetan during this period which accounts for a certain amount of Tibetan documents to have been found in the cache. There have been around “forty fragmentary [Tibetan] manuscripts”  (1, p. 98 pp.2 but also 2 ch. IIa) relating to Ch’an as well as in central Tibetan documents relating to Rdzog-chen. These Tibetan documents serve to corroborate the Chinese texts and to allow for attempts to work out the source text from fragmentary texts as well as various copying and/or translation errors.

The analysis of these documents has both an academic component focused on chronology, authorship and cultural, historical and political context and development as well as a religious one focusing on practice and beliefs. The focus of this series of posts is on the latter utilizing the former as a tool. That is the scholarship allows one to trace the development of practices and to see which ideas and beliefs held sway during different periods. Why practices, ideas and beliefs shifted is of primary interest and hints of that can be found particularly in the culture, historical and political contexts. While only a certain amount of time will be devoted to these areas of analysis, based on utility, a summary of some of these investigations is worth while.

Chronology has been established by considering the paper, the source, and the context.  Many of the documents came from known Tun-huang monasteries and the historical records of these establishments allow one to determine when the document would have been copied. Some of the documents were written on the reverse side of government documentations which were dated and thus allows for some of the material to be at least roughly dated. Additionally the phases of Tun-huang from the pre-Tibetan occupation (750 to 780), during the occupation (780 to ~860) and post-occupation (900s) all have distinct hallmarks to them that allow them to be placed within these rough time periods. The paper and binding styles shifted during these three periods and especially during the earliest period they are the most distinct. Thus the earliest documents are able to be determined with the highest degree of confidence (1, p. 98- 100).

With some confidence we can say that these are among the oldest Ch’an books available to us. Some of these texts continued to be copied at Tun-Huang in the subsequent two periods, but others did not. This means that the copying of certain very early texts went on at Tun-huan long after it had ceased in China proper, so here lies part of the secret of the value of Tun-huang manuscripts for early Ch’an studies.  (1, p. 100-101)

The above quote quite well gets at the value of examining the chronological and dissemination of these texts.  It should be understood that Tun-Huang was not the forefront of Ch’an development. Texts that reached Tun-Huang and then were copied can thus be granted to be of value. The more a text was copied the more likely it was a more major text. However of course Ch’an could take on a “local flavor” as it were and texts that had fallen out of the more central Ch’an development could be in use here. However after the period of Tibetan occupation ended and Chinese influence reasserted itself the latest developments would displace these.  This historical accident has allowed for the Tun-huang archive to be a preserve of the earliest state of Ch’an frozen in time until it’s rediscovery.

1) The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen, by Jeffrey L. Broughton

2) Early Ch’an in China and Tibet (Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series 5) , Edited by Lewis R. Lancaster and Whalen Lai

For complete bibliographical information see Early Ch’an Sources.

Practice of Early Ch’an – Sources

by layman k

This year I have began a study of the early practice of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism in China. My interest in this is not in revealing any sort of lost “true” practice or any notions of “purity” but in understanding the core of Ch’an. In the cases where there is a historical record it seems that religions often arise around a fairly simple core set of notions and practices and over the years accrue additional ritual and practices. This is probably essential for any belief system to thrive as it generalizes it’s practice to appeal to a wider audience.  In some cases these additional practices can become the primary focus and the core of the system is sidelined. This has not been the case with Ch’an – as Zen is practiced today meditation remains at the center as it did from the beginning – but it has indeed accreted a wide variety of practices from other traditions. Just what was the set of practices that were used in the beginning and what were the important ideas and texts in early Ch’an is what I wish to explore in these posts.

Most of the sources that really explore early Ch’an are more on the scholarly end of the spectrum.  There is a lot of fascinating information in this material but it definitely is different from a practitioners perspective. My goal here is to try to tease out of these more scholarly examinations actual practice and thought.  Since I am unable to go to the original sources and am not a scholar myself this can be thought of as a meta-study of these scholarly sources. But my eye is always that of one engaged in practice within the Rinzai Zen tradition. This post is my bibliography of the material that  I am currently engaged with. This post will be updated with further sources as the study continues.

Note: The titles are affiliate links to the books on Amazon excerpt where noted.

1) Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings
by Andrew Ferguson
Published by Wisdom Publications; Expanded edition (March 9, 2011)
ISBN-10:0861716175 | ISBN-13: 978-086171617

2) The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen (Philip E. Lilienthal Book)
by Jeffrey L. Broughton
Published by University of California Press, September 21, 1999
ISBN-10: 0520219724 | ISBN-13: 978-0520219724

3) The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chan Buddhism (Studies in East Asian Buddhism)
by John McRae
Published by University of Hawaii Press, February 28, 1987
ISBN-10: 0824810562 | ISBN-13: 978-0824810566

4) Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism (Philip E. Lilienthal Book in Asian Studies)
by John McRae
Published by University of California Press, January 19, 2004
ISBN-10: 0520237986 | ISBN-13: 978-0520237988

5) Early Ch’an in China and Tibet (Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series 5)
Edited by Lewis R. Lancaster and Whalen Lai
Published by  U C Regents March 1, 1983
ISBN-10: 0895811529 | ISBN-13: 978-0895811523

6) Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism (Studies in East Asian Buddhism, No 4)
Edited by Peter N. Gregory
Published University of Hawaii Press, May 1, 1987
ISBN-10: 0824810880 | ISBN-13: 978-0824810887

7) The Lankavatara Sutra: Translation and Commentary
Translated and commentary by Red Pine (Bill Porter)
Published by Counterpoint, February 12, 2013
ISBN-10: 1619020998 | ISBN-13: 978-1619020993

 8)  The Lankavatara Sutra, A Mahayana Text
Translated by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Original Edition Published in London in 1932.
Based upon the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo (1923).
Published in Internet by © do1@yandex.ru,  May 2004, 2005. (Rev. 2)
For free distribution only.

 9) Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra
by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Published by Munshirm Manoharlal Pub Pvt Ltd (January 1, 1998)
ISBN-10: 8121508339 | ISBN-13: 978-8121508339