views updated


LINJI (d. 867 ce), known also by his initiatory name Yi-xuan; Chinese Buddhist monk of the Chan school. Linji (Jpn., Rinzai) is considered the eponymous "ancestor" (founder) of the Linji sect, one of five major Chan schools. In Japan, Linji's Chan was transmitted though the Rinzai lineage, one of the principal Zen schools there.

Like most Chan monks, Linji studied the canonical teachings of Buddhism while still in his youth and eventually progressed from doctrinal to practical studies. An early source of Chan history, the Zu tang ji, suggests that he took particular interest in the doctrines of the Weishi (Skt., Vijñāptimātratā, or Representation Only) school. Some of the emphases in his own teaching, his concern to expose the mental nature of the actualities underlying Buddhist doctrines and the artificiality of their formulations, are reminiscent of Weishi Buddhism. In Linji's teaching, the notion of nonattachment as a means of freedom is extended to include intellectual and spiritual matters as well as emotional and material concerns. In common with many Chan teachers, he pointed out that striving for higher attainments may be no more than a disguised form of greed, a kind of agitation that in fact inhibits realization of enlightenment. Linji recommended nonseeking, in the sense of noncontrivance, contending that the spiritual noble is the one who is free from obsessions, not the theoretician or the devotee of transic exercises. In Linji's terms, the task of Chan is to be free, to be immune to psychological coercion by practices or ideas, people or circumstances; the fundamental experience he called for is what he referred to as "the true human being without status," the original, "ordinary" human being, of which all states, mundane or spiritual, are merely, in Linji's terms, "clothing." To this end he repeatedly called attention to what he called the formless light of the mind, the giver of names and definitions, which itself cannot be defined or grasped but only experienced through itself.

Linji's recorded sayings include descriptions of the teacher-student interaction, an important part of Chan activity, which outline the perceptive capacity needed in a genuine teacher, various didactic strategies, and typical barriers to understanding. This aspect of Linji's work provides valuable material for understanding processes of Chan Buddhist teaching as relational or situational rather than dogmatic.

In his own teaching, Linji was famed for his shout, which he described as a technique that might be used in a number of ways, such as to interrupt a train of thought, dislodge fixed attention, test a student by observing the reaction, draw a student into an interchange, or express the nonconceptuality of being in itself. Such was the impact of this method that it was extensively imitated, to the point that certain of Linji's heirs expressly denounced such mimetic behavior as void of true understanding. Nonetheless, "Linji's shout" became a stock expression in Chan lore, and continued to be employed ever after.

Linji's sayings contain elaborations of themes and structures used by his predecessors; several of these became standard items of later Chan teaching material. Among the most famous of Linji's formulations is his "four views," in which he sums up basic processes of Chan in terms of (1) effacing the environment while leaving the person, (2) effacing the person while leaving the environment, (3) effacing both person and environment, and (4) effacing neither person nor environment. Like other Chan devices, these views allude to actual experiences to be undergone by the practitioner in accordance with need.

Although most of Linji's twenty-odd spiritual successors are obscure and his lineage did not flourish until more than half a century after his death, he became one of the outstanding figures of tradition. The record of his sayings, Linji lu (T.D. no. 1958), is one of the great classics of Chan Buddhism. Excerpts from this collection appear in numerous Chan books of later times, used as illustrative stories or points for meditation. Less-well-known materials of a somewhat different tradition also appear in the tenth-century Zu tang ji and Zong jing lu.

See Also



Linji's recorded sayings, the Linji lu, have been edited by Takahashi Shinkichi as the Rinzairoku (Tokyo, 1970). Paul Demiéville's translation of Linji's sayings, Entretiens de Lin-tsi (Paris, 1972), is informed by the translator's own superb Sinological and Buddhological skills and contains much valuable commentarial material. Readers of English will want to consult Ruth Fuller Sasaki's The Recorded Sayings of Ch'an Master Lin-chi Hui-chao of Chen Prefecture (Kyoto, 1975).

Thomas Cleary (1987)