Chan School

views updated


The doctrinal assumptions of the Chan school are that all beings possess a potential to become a buddha, and that potential can be realized through meditation or through the removal of obstructing preconceptions and attachments. Dissatisfied with existing meditation practices and complex philosophies, Chan proposed a direct "seeing" of one's inherent buddhahood, accomplished through such means as challenging repartee, intensive meditation, and puzzling gong'an (Japanese kŌan; Korean, kongan). Such techniques made the role of the teacher paramount. To symbolize that the Chan teacher was the true, legitimate heir to the Buddha, Chan claimed for its teachers an unbroken lineal succession to the enlightened mind of the Buddha via the Indian monk Bodhidharma (ca. early fifth century c.e.).

Meditators and ascetics from the late sixth century, hoping to replicate the enlightenment of Śākyamuni Buddha, sought a distinctive MahĀyĀna meditation practice and list of precepts appropriate for bodhisattvas. They coalesced into several lineages of monks united in attempts to create genealogies from Bodhidharma. The pupils of Hongren (601–674) obtained a following among the metropolitan elite of Tang China, which resulted in contests for lineage legitimacy. These were ignited around 730 by Shenhui (684–758), who accused his rivals of teaching gradual enlightenment, not suitable for Mahāyāna adherents. His propaganda prompted a redefinition of Chan. Shenhui's own lineage, which he claimed derived from Hongren via Huineng (638–713), whom he titled the Sixth Patriarch, became known as the Southern Lineage (nanzong). Shenhui combined Buddhist genealogies with a Chinese imperial mourning lineage (zong) to forge a link between himself, Huineng, and the Buddha via Bodhidharma. This linkage was refined later into a unilinear genealogy of twenty-eight Indian and six Chinese patriarchs (zu). The term Chanzong, in the sense of a Chan lineage, was first used in the 780s and soon became the main identifier for the traditions called Chan (Korean, Sŏn; Japanese, Zen; Vietnamese, Thiền).

The word chan was originally part of the term channa, a Chinese transcription of the Sanskrit term dhyĀna (trance state), but even the earliest Chan texts devalued the four dhyānas, samādhi, and other meditative states as mere elimination of sensation, a tranquility easily disturbed after withdrawing from those states. Shenhui redefined chan as prajñāpāramita (the perfection of wisdom). The Platform SŪtra of the Sixth Patriarch (Liuzu tan jing), a text from the 780s attributed to Huineng, defined chan as the buddha-nature or the ability to "internally see the fundamental nature and not be confused." Eventually chan was equated with the essence of Buddhism. Huineng, who had his own sūtra, was seen as a buddha-incarnate, implying thereby that only the Chan lineage transmitted the true, verifiable understanding of the Buddha himself.

Doctrinal and behavioral bases

The doctrinal foundation of Chan was a mixture of tathĀgatagarbha (buddha-nature) ideas and prajñaparamita analysis. The earliest texts mention a pure, original buddha-nature (foxing) inherent in everyone, which becomes obscured by mental pollutants or ignorance. As a result of ambiguities in Chinese translations concerning the tathāgatagarbha, disputes arose over whether meditation was needed to "see the (buddha-) nature" (jianxing) by removing the pollution, or whether detachment from habitual conceptualization allowed this buddha-identity to emerge naturally. This issue was related to whether the realization was a gradual buildup to a breakthrough of "becoming buddha" (chengfo) or an instantaneous all-at-once enlightenment (wu) or "being buddha" (jifo). After Shenhui, Chan lineages favored the latter, although some accused Shenhui of intellectualizing the process. It was agreed, as in the Platform Sūtra, that samādhi (ting) and prajñā (hui) are indivisible, an idea reinforced by the NirvĀṆa SŪtra, which stated that "because the samadhi and prajña of the buddhas are equal, they clearly see the buddha-nature."

The search for ethical conduct or precepts suitable to Mahayana in sixth- and seventh-century China was not meant to replace the Vinaya precepts of mainstream Buddhism, but to supplement them. Some thought bodhisattva precepts to be the true spirit of Buddhism. The Nirvāṇa Sūtra attracted Chan's interest by stating that only recipients of the bodhisattva precepts could see the buddha-nature. The bodhisattva precepts advocated intention rather than formal observance, such that karuṆa (compassion) could over-ride a basic Vinaya precept like that against lying. They therefore inspired Chan. The Platform Sūtra preached the "formless precepts" and the nonexistence of transgression in the (pure) mind. One's own (buddha-) nature is thus the nature of the precepts.

Chan tradition claims that the first monastic code of conduct for Chan was issued by Huaihai (749–814) on Mount Baizhang. His reputed saying, "A day without work is a day without food," encapsulated three themes: the antiformalism derived from the bodhisattva precepts; the preexisting Chinese monastic custom of monks doing physical labor despite Vinaya prohibitions; and agrarian self-sufficiency. Although a distinctive Chan canon or "pure rules" (Chinese, qinggui) may have only appeared in the eleventh century, general procedures for the operation of the monastery on Mount Baizhang probably took form over hundreds of years, giving Chan a sense of institutional independence as an order within the san˙ gha. This development did not make Chan a separate sect or denomination, for its clergy still obeyed the Vinaya and precepts, and their practices overlapped with those of other schools. They often inhabited the same monastery with non-Chan clergy. Yet as early as the 850s, the visiting Japanese Tendai (Chinese, Tiantai) monk, Enchin, characterized them as maintaining "this mind is the buddha as their theme, the mind with no attachments as their practice, and the dharmas are empty as their meaning. They transmit the robe and bowl from the time of the Buddha, which things are passed from master to disciple" as symbols of the confirmation of enlightenment.

Developments in China

As Chan gained a larger following, it developed a specialized literature and branch lineages that tended to use differing techniques and contrasting styles. The subtlety, ambiguity, and lack of set forms in Chan teachings required an audience with a sophisticated grasp of Buddhism for it to be understood. Despite their rhetoric, Chan monks were well educated in Buddhist scriptures, as required for the state certification of monks that was commonly imposed in East Asia. They encouraged a liberal or meditative interpretation of the scriptures, despising scholastic literalism.

The earliest Chan texts were mostly treatises (lun) on topics such as expedient means and the mind, commentaries on popular sūtras, hagiographical collections, hymns, and apocryphalsūtras. These forms all merged in the Platform Sūtra of the 780s, which incorporated a pseudo-hagiography of Huineng, sermons, a genealogy, dialogues, and verses of transmission. Initially controversial, it became the principal Chan scripture during the Song dynasty (960–1279).

The figure of Huineng became a crux, for two lineages from him, via Daoyi (Mazu; 709–788) and Shitou Xiqian (700–791), led to two branches that subsumed or superseded all other lineages. Daoyi taught the immanence of "this mind is the buddha," in which enlightenment could occur amid everyday happenings, and so "the ordinary mind is the Way." Daoyi's heirs spread across China and even into Korea. The Mazu style, later dubbed patriarchal Chan (zushi Chan) to contrast with the intellectual TathĀgata Chan (rulai Chan) of Shenhui, was distinguished by shouts and blows, sharp repartee, and the use of everyday events as opportunities for enlightenment. This was epitomized by Linji Yixuan (d. 866), an heir to the style, who demanded a critical attitude, even toward Buddhism and his own teachings, and self-confidence to act upon that attitude: "If you meet the Buddha, kill him." For Yixuan, enlightenment was an urgent necessity of the current moment.

Xiqian's branch tended to eremitic austerity and poetic expression of sophisticated doctrine. This branch, including the Caodong house of Dongshan Liangjie (807–869) and Caoshan Benji (840–901), expressed stages of understanding and enlightenment in diagrams, often circles, to illustrate the dialectical progress toward complete enlightenment in a return to the source, the untrammeled mind. These evolved into the popular oxherding pictures. An intellectual codification of Chan practice was even introduced into the radical, iconoclastic Linji house, with formulations such as the four selections of the person and environment or the three phrases.


As Chan grew from a small, minority movement in the seventh century into a popular and major part of the Buddhist establishment by the twelfth century, it took on more Chinese features, and had to accommodate itself more to the state and the needs of a broad and diverse audience. Chan consequently developed a characteristically Chinese Buddhist literature and it coalesced into several distinct branches with their own techniques, styles, and literatures.

Chan teachers' words were written down as early as the seventh and eighth centuries. Shenhui's dialogues used colloquial language, which may have influenced the forerunners of the "recorded sayings" texts attributed to Daoyi, Huangbo Xiyun (d. 850), and Zhaozhou Congshen (778–987). Covertly recorded by pupils and recompiled to include verses and brief biographies, these sermons and dialogues in colloquial Chinese depict mundane happenings. They differ from Buddhist commentaries and treatises in literary Chinese, and were less structured. These discourse records (Chinese, yulu) constitute the bulk of Chan literature, especially from the Song dynasty onward.

The intellectualization of Chan dates back to Guifeng Zongmi (780–841) of the Shenhui lineage, which systematically characterized and ranked the Chan lineages, and correlated them with doctrinal formulations. Zongmi wrote many sūtra commentaries and incorporated Huayan philosophy into Chan.

In reaction to the increasing popularity and immense wealth of the Buddhist order, which included Chan, Emperor Wu (r. 841–846) launched the xeno- phobic Huichang persecution of Buddhism on economic and rationalist grounds. Clergy were laicized and monasteries confiscated. The differing reactions to the persecution, and the geographic dispersion of some Chan groups, induced self-reflection; concerns about succession within specific monasteries reinvigorated interest in genealogy. As membership had grown, the lineages (zong) subdivided into houses (jia) descended from Huineng. From the late ninth century, masters issued certificates of inheritance, occupation of a monastery by a lineage gained significance, styles of teaching diverged, and the split of China into ten states in the early tenth century promoted regional differences. Monks began to ask teachers about their "house style" (jiafeng) around this time. Fayan Wenyi (885–958) identified five houses—Caodong, Linji, Yunmen, Guiyang, and Fayan—and described them in terms of the verbal jousts or wenda (questions and answers) between masters and pupils. He attacked their sectarianism and lack of doctrine as all style and no substance.

The Fayan house, versed in Huayan philosophy, led Chan in the tenth and eleventh centuries, producing some of the most important Chan scholars. Yongming Yanshou (904–975) harmonized Chan and doctrine (jiao), and melded Chan with nianfo (recollection of a buddha's name). Daoyuan (n.d.) compiled the Jingde chuandeng lu (Records of the Transmission of the Lamplight [of enlightenment compiled during the] Jingde Reign, 1104), a genealogically arranged set of brief hagiographies primarily concerned with recording the words of enlightenment occasions (jiyu).

The Fayan house was not alone in its influence, however. The momentarily popular Yunmen house also contributed to the gong'an evolution through the sayings of its founder, Yunmen Wenyan (864–949), as it picked out earlier enlightenment exchanges (nian'gu), commented on them (zhuyu; Japanese, jakugo), and provided substitute answers to questions and dialogues (daiyu, bieyu). Eventually the Fayan, Yunmen, and Linji houses combined to create the gong'an, originally meaning legal precedents. From the enlightenment dialogues in chuandeng lu, Yunmen and Linji monks selected cases, to which they appended verses. These juxtapositions of colloquial dialogues and literary poems morphed into collections like the Biyan lu (Blue Cliff Record) by Keqin (1063–1135). He and Wuzu Fayan (1024–1104), who made famous the Zhaozhou wu (Japanese, mu; English, no) gong'an, promoted each gong'an as a singular aid to an instantaneous enlightenment. Fayan advised practitioners to concentrate on the wu word only, and not think of the entire dialogue on the buddha-nature. Zonggao (1089–1163), who took up the wu topic, supposedly burnt his master's Biyan lu anthology because students were infatuated with its literary qualities. This was a period when "lettered Chan" (wenzi Chan), and indulgence in Chan literature, was popular. Led by Hui-hong (1071–1128), a poet of the Huanglong faction of the Linji house, this type of Chan was denigrated by Zonggao as mere bookishness. He said Huihong's gong'an ignored daily life and were only random poetical cases. Zonggao, in contrast, directed attention to one word only, wu, or Wenyan's "dried shit-stick," in order to assist the many lay followers by simplifying contemplation practice.

Concentration on wu would lead to a breakthrough. This single word was called a huatou (key word or critical phrase) and "examining the key word" (kanhua) was touted as a shortcut method. It had to be experienced, like the sword of the barbarian enemy, as an immediate problem of life and death. This contemplation became mainstream Chan practice in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, for it could be used even during everyday activities.

Zonggao attacked mozhao Chan (silent illumination Chan) as the heresy of quietism, which lacks self-doubt. The barb was aimed at Hongzhi Chengjue (1091–1157) of the Caodong house, and at meeting the demands for a patriotic Buddhism after the loss of North China to the Jürchens in 1126. Asserting that the mundane law is the same as the Buddha Law, Zonggao maintained that one had to be active, not pacifist and quietist. This patriotic Chan resulted in the building of the "Five Mountain and Ten Monasteries" network, wherein the state appointed Chan abbots, whose sermons and rituals were for the salvation of the state and sentient beings.

Modern Chan

Having long been part of the Buddhist establishment, Chan became less distinguishable from Buddhism in general after the Song dynasty. While it maintained the distinctively Chan technique of kanhua, it also adopted elements of the Pure Land devotions, and fought the rising tide of syncretism.

The state Chan and gong'an practice extended into the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), which codified the qinggui (pure rules) in 1336. The qinggui and the preceding Song-dynasty codes evidence increasing monastic bureaucracy, hierarchy, and prayers for emperors. The 1336 code essentially remained the rule book for Chan thereafter, and the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) mandated it as the code for all monks, Chan or not. Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1238–1295) clarified the technique of doubt in kanhua, stating that one first needed a basis in faith, then furious determination, and finally intense doubt. His pupil Zhongfeng Mingben (1263–1323) combined kanhua and Yanshou's nianfo Chan, and Zhuhong (1532–1612) developed it. By the late Ming, disputes between the Caodong and Linji houses discredited Chan monks, so lay Chan adherents rose to prominence in the succeeding Manchu Qing dynasty (1644–1912). While many followed the ways of Zhuhong and Deqing (1546–1623), laymen like Qian Qianyi (1582–1684) claimed that Chan had been so formalized that "today's Chan is not Chan, but simply gong'an … blows and shouts …theories of expedient means."

In the twentieth century, monastic Chan was revived by Xuyun (ca. 1840–1959) and other reformers, but was largely confined to the large monasteries of Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Linji Chan membership was generally nominal, lineage outranked doctrine. Since the 1980s, there has been a resurgence of interest in Chan, mostly an intellectual curiosity about this most Chinese form of Buddhism.

Monastic routine. Descriptions of monastic routine in the first half of the twentieth century show that sitting in meditation and concentration on huatou were the norm. Although prayers for rain, funeral ceremonies, and anniversaries of Chan and monastic founders played a part, meditation was still the prime practice in major Chan monasteries. With the exception of administrators and service-providers, the other monks lived, meditated, and slept in the chantang (Japanese, zendō; meditation hall), also called sengtang (monks' hall). Contemplatives sat on meditation benches lining the walls, and exercised between meditation sessions by circumambulating in the vacant center, which contained only an image of Bodhidharma or MahĀkĀŚyapa. During intensive meditation periods, monks typically meditated nine hours per day, slept five hours, rising at 3:00 a.m. and retiring at 10:00 p.m. The monks could consult the abbot or instructor regarding their meditation practice. Summer was for pilgrimage, consultations with other teachers, or relaxation. Similar routines are maintained in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.


The use of Chinese script, the firm establishment of Buddhism for several centuries, and a desire to reform Buddhism were preconditions for the acceptance of Chan Buddhism. Consequently, importation was made with the assistance of elites. All traditions later attempted to antedate the earliest transmission to create an aura of antiquity and further national pride.

Korea (Sŏn). After scholastic and devotional Buddhism were firmly established in Korea, monks traveling to China from the Korean state of Silla began to encounter Chan in the early to mid-eighth century. Chan attracted Korean attention once the exploits of Musang (684–762), a scion of the royal house of Silla, who became a famous Chan master in Sichuan, were reported in Korea. Musang had been an early teacher of Mazu Daoyi, and a considerable number of Silla monks, including To˘ui (d. 825), came to study with Daoyi and his pupils. However, once they returned to Korea, their teachings met strong resistance from the established forms of Buddhism.

Therefore, after earlier abortive attempts to introduce Chan, when Tŏui returned in 821 with Mazu Chan, he experienced much opposition, and took Chan into the mountains and away from the court. Eight lineage founders studied under Daoyi's heirs; only one under Caodong. Most had studied teachings of the Huayan school (Korean, Hwaŏm), the dominant doctrinal tradition in Silla Korea, but were dissatisfied with its abstruse and impractical scholasticism. These lineages were collectively called kusan (the Nine Mountains school of Sŏn) from 1084.

The Five Houses were imported early in the Koryŏ dynasty (918–1392), and King Kwangjong (r. 950–975) introduced the Fayan house (Korean, Pŏban) by sending thirty-six monks to study with the Chan monk Yanshou in China. The monk Ŭich'Ōn (1055-1101) founded the Tiantai (Korean, Ch'ŏnt'ae) school to overcome the rivalry of Sŏn and Hwaŏm deeming that iconoclastic Sŏn needed doctrinal foundations. Many Pŏban monks joined Ŭich'ŏn, and this, plus corruption in the san˙gha, weakened Sŏn.

Consequently, Chinul (1158–1210) was moved to revitalize Sŏn by combining it with Hwaŏm philosophy to provide a doctrinal base, inspired by the ideas of Zongmi. Unable to make a pilgrimage to the mainland to study with Chinese masters, Chinul was successively enlightened by his own reading of the Platform Sūtra, a commentary on the Huayan jing by Li Tongxuan (635–730), and by reading the works of Zonggao on hwadu (Chinese, huatou). Hwadu was for able students; lesser lights could adopt Zongmi's sudden enlightenment followed by gradual cultivation to remove residual habits. Subsequently, hwadu practice predominated, and the Linji style prevailed among the sixteen generations of successors at Chinul's monastery on Chogyesan, something reinforced once the Mongols forcibly reopened communications with China. Koryŏ monks, particularly T'aego Pou (1301–1382) and Naong Hyegŏn (1320–1376), who wanted to improve hwadu practice, sought confirmation of their enlightenment within the lineage of Wuzu Fayan (1024–1104). They attempted to unite the kusan under the name of the Chogye order. They also tried to enforce monastic disciple through the state, but the san˙gha's corruption and the weakness of Koryŏ allowed the rise of the anti-Buddhist Choso˘n dynasty (1392–1910) and a fundamentalist neo-Confucianism.

Initially the new Chosŏn rulers did not persecute Buddhism, which had several able Sŏn monk defenders. Restrictions increased, and King Sejong (r. 1419–1450) forcibly combined the Chogye, Ch'ŏnt'ae, and another school into the Sŏnjong. Under later kings the repression was so severe that the Sŏn lineage may have been severed. All current lineages allegedly revert to Pyŏkkye Chŏngsim (late fifteenth century), who had been compulsorily laicized. His master is unknown. The result was controversy over whether later Sŏn was descended from Pou via Chŏngsim, or went back to Chinul. The main descendant of Chŏngsim, HyujŌng (1520–1604), revived Sŏn's fortunes by leading a monk army against the invading Japanese in 1592.

The revival was temporary, for soon the state herded the monks into the mountains or conscripted them into labor service. Zonggao's ideas provided the best defense against intolerant neo-Confucianism, allowing Sŏn practice to dominate elite Chosŏn dynasty Buddhism, but at the cost of infiltration by Confucian values. Sŏn practice retreated increasingly into "lettered Chan" and ritual, or Pure Land devotions. However, Chinul's ideas continued to have support, and several important teachers tried to revive Sŏn.

The Japanese annexation of Korea (1910–1945) brought clashes between a pro-Japanese Sōtō Zen clique and a traditionalist Korean Linji (Imje) faction, and between modernizers like Han Yongun (1879–1944), who advocated married clergy, and conservative celibate monks who founded the Sŏn Academy in 1921. The Chogye order, founded in 1941, included pro-Japanese married clergy, as well as nationalistic celibates, which led the non-celibates to form the breakaway T'aego order in 1970. This also invoked the old dispute over the founding patriarch of Sŏn, Chinul or Pou, a controversy raised even later by the former head of the Chogye order, T'oe'ong Sŏngch'ŏl (1912–1993), who championed Pou and rejected Chinul's emblematic soteriology of sudden enlightenment followed by gradual cultivation. For Sŏngch'ŏl, once one has seen the nature and become buddha, gradual cultivation is superfluous. In North Korea, all So˘n clerics are married and retired from the regular workforce, being subservient to the state.

Japan (Zen). The Japanese Hossō (Yogācāra) and Tendai (Tiantai) schools, without understanding the new meaning of chan, imported Chan cultivation as a subordinate component of their practice from the 660s. In the mid-twelfth century, communication was reopened with Song dynasty China, and Chan's importation was justified in terms of the powers of ascetic meditation and "natural wisdom." Myōan Eisai (1141–1215) introduced Linji (Japanese, Rinzai) as part of Tendai, while Dainichi Nōnin (ca. 1189) attempted to establish an independent Zen assembly without sanction of a Chinese master, based on "natural wisdom" or original enlightenment (hongaku). For this Nōnin was attacked by Eisai and Dogen Kigen (1200–1253). But Eisai was attacked in turn by Tendai prelates, and he retaliated by asserting that Zen was the essence of Buddhism, and his pupils founded independent Zen monasteries. The Japanese saying, "Rinzai (for) shoguns, Sōtō (for) peasants," reflects the social classes each school aimed at.

Sōtō. The Sōtō (Chinese, Caodong) school believed that as one is already buddha, anybody can allow that status to emerge by a "quietist" sitting in meditation, without striving to become buddha. Dōgen, venerated as the founder of Sōtō, introduced the Caodong Chan of Ruqing (1163–1228), but the practice soon became more complex and added kōan to its repertoire.

Dōgen emphasized independence by ascetic meditation in the mountains away from the capitals, bodhisattva-precepts ordinations apart from the Tendai monopoly, and thorough Chan monastic routines. Receiving transmission in a Caodong lineage from China, he advocated sitting in meditation only (shikantaza) as the sole way to enlightenment, and he misread the Nirvāṇa Sūtra to say "all being is enlightenment." He attacked Zonggao, despised the memorization of kōan and dialectical formulae, and even disparaged the notion of a Zen school (Zenshū). He claimed that the only transmission of the "Storehouse of the Eye of the True Dharma" (shōbōgenzō) came via Shitou Xiqian, so he, Dōgen, had brought the only true Buddhism to Japan. Yet his own magnum opus, the Shōbōgenzō, a masterpiece in Japanese and Chinese, was ignored and not rehabilitated until the 1700s. The Sōtō lineages derived from Dōgen, however, spread rapidly throughout rural Japan, the powers of meditation and the precepts converting warriors and villagers alike. Catering to their clients' needs, Sōtō created country-wide networks of over ten thousand monasteries. In doing so, much of Dōgen's "pure Zen" was shed for the joint practice of Zen and esoteric Buddhism. The arrival of the Chinese Ōbaku monks in the 1650s stimulated the revival of monastic rules and Dōgen's teachings. Scholarship on Dōgen Zen and disputes over its interpretation continue today, with a Critical Buddhism scholarship even denying that Zen and tathagatagarbha thought are Buddhist.

Rinzai. Rinzai (Chinese, Linji) used the kōan as the primary means to attain enlightenment. Being more active in the use of blows, shouts, and witty exchanges, this "opportunist" Zen targeted the warrior class. Rinzai was restricted to the capitals and mixed with Tendai and Shingon until Song-dynasty Chan was implanted by Chinese monks fleeing the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Attracted by their Chinese culture and their disciplined Zen, the warrior rulers invited them to Kamakura. These monks brought the Chan of Zonggao and the Song as a whole package: language, koan, discipline, and architecture. They also introduced neo-Confucianism and the arts, and inspired the imitation of the Five Mountains network (gozan) of Song China. The Gozan network, which was ranked in three tiers, was state-controlled and located in Kamakura and then Kyoto, with provincial branches later. The warrior elite and emperors patronized Rinzai, especially the Nanzen Monastery, making Yishan Yining (1247–1317) and Musō Sōseki (1275–1351) abbots there. The main role of the Gozan was cultural, as centers for the arts. These centers were gradually secularized, weakening Zen practice; wars in the 1460s ended their influence, although a Nanzenji monk introduced Zen to the Ryūkyū Kingdom in the 1450s.

The Gozan were superseded by the Daitokuji and Myoshinji lineages, which gained merchant supporters. These monasteries had been built with the aid of Shūhō Myōchō (Daitō kokushi, 1282–1337). Rinzai assisted the Tokugawa state control of Buddhism and the spread of neo-Confucianism, actions that weakened it. But monks like Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645), the last prominent member of the Daitokuji lineage, explained neo-Confucianism in terms of Zen and sword-fighting as the removal of ego, ideas suitable to the samurai. The Ōbaku influx stimulated a revival of the Myōshinji lineage, with Bankei Yōtaku (1622–1693) teaching that koan are too artificial. However, Mujaku Dochu (1653–1744) saw the Ōbaku as rivals, railed against them, and pioneered Rinzai scholarship. Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1768), the restorer of Rinzai, reacted against Yōtaku and championed kanna (Chinese, kanhua) Zen. Modern Rinzai largely derives from him.

Ōbaku. This Ming-dynasty form of Chan was introduced by Chinese monks fleeing Mount Huangbo in Fujian before the Manchu invasion in 1647. Although a Linji lineage, Rinzai and China's Linji had diverged over the centuries, so when the monks arrived in the 1650s, the Japanese objected to the Ōbaku (Chinese, Huangbo) use of nianfo (Japanese, nenbutsu; recollection of the Buddha's name) in Chan. Many Japanese were, however, fascinated by the new import, and Ōbaku long retained its Chinese style in food, language, architecture, ritual, and dress. Abbots of Manpukuji, Ōbaku's monastic headquarters, were always to be Chinese, but the last Chinese abbot died in 1784, and was succeeded by a Japanese abbot. Ōbaku took over some monasteries in the Myōshinji lineage, so there was intense rivalry between them. Ōbaku directed more attention to study of the sūtras and discourse records (goroku), and away from decontextualized kōan as in the Hekigan roku (Chinese, Biyan lu; Blue Cliff Record). They invented their own kōan, thinking the Japanese use of kōan courses that encouraged rote memorization a form of "lettered Zen" of set poetic replies and textbook manuals.

In 1872 the government permitted monks to marry, and so the majority of Zen priests after World War II were married, resulting in the inheritance by sons of small temples from their Zen priest fathers. To maintain the temple, they spend most of their time at funeral services or chanting sūtras.

Vietnam (Thiền). Chan probably gained a minor following among the ethnic Vietnamese elites beginning in the ninth century, although tradition asserts it arrived in 580 c.e. with Vin taruci (d. 594), an Indian monk who allegedly studied under Sengcan (d. 606). Another tradition maintains that Chan arrived in 820 with Wuyan Tong (d. 826), a supposed pupil of Huaihai. During the Lý dynasty (1009–1225), Confucianism came to dominate, so court elites, such as the monk Thông Bien (d. 1134), fabricated lineages back to China. The Mongol invasions inspired the Trần-dynasty (1225–1407) emperor Nhân-Tông (r. 1279–1293), who defeated the invaders, to become a monk and found the short-lived Trúc Lâm lineage. The Ming conquest (1413–1428) and Lê dynasty (1414–1788) imposed a Confucian anti-Buddhist policy, and so Chinese Linji monks who fled the Manchu conquest in the 1660s, headed for the mid-coast of Vietnam, where the Nguyê˜n warlords held sway. This Linji (Vietnamese, Lâm Tê), combined Chan and Pure Land practice. The stronghold of Thiền Buddhism, as the Chan tradition became known, remained in the cities of central Vietnam, and the san˙ gha was nominally Lâm Tê. Thiền had a following only among the intellectual, urban elites, and since the unification of Buddhism in 1963, Thiền has been subsumed into a syncretic Buddhism.


Chan is the most Confucian form of Buddhism, and it has been in constant rivalry with neo-Confucianism. It is also elitist, given the strict requirements for practice and the requirements to read literary Chinese, even though some popularizers, writing in the colloquial vernacular, contributed to the development of national languages. However, there was often a gap between ideal and practice, for the tradition also had to meet the needs of clients, who wanted easier practices, funeral rites, and the transfer of merit. This was a constant tension, as was the need for the confirmation of enlightenment, which led to many genealogical disputes and inventions.

See also:China; Confucianism and Buddhism; Japan; Korea; Lineage; Poetry and Buddhism; Syncretic Sects: Three Teachings; Vietnam; Zen, Popular Conceptions of


Baroni, Helen J. Ōbaku Zen: The Emergence of the Third Sect of Zen in Tokugawa Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Bodiford, William M. Soto Zen in Medieval Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr., trans. The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983. Reprinted as Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991.

Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practices in Contemporary Korea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Chang, Chung-Yuan, trans. Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism: Selected from the Transmission of the Lamp. New York: Vintage, 1971.

Collcutt, Martin. Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: A History, Vol. 1: India and China, tr. James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism: A History, Vol. 2: Japan, tr. James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter. New York: Macmillan, 1990.

Faure, Bernard. The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Faure, Bernard. Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Faure, Bernard. The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism, tr. Phyllis Brooks. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Gimello, Robert M., and Gregory, Peter N., eds. Studies in Ch'an and Hua-yan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.

Gregory, Peter N., ed. Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

Hsu, Sung-peng. A Buddhist Leader in Ming China: The Life and Thought of Han-shan Te-ch'ing, 1546–1623. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979.

Hubbard, Jamie, and Swanson, Paul L., eds. Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm over Critical Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Keel, Hee-Sung. Chinul: The Founder of the Korean Sŏn Tradition. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series, 1984.

Korean Buddhist Research Institute, comp. Sŏn Thought in Korean Buddhism. Seoul: Dongguk University Press, 1998.

LaFleur, William R., ed. Dōgen Studies. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.

Lai, Whalen, and Lancaster, Lewis R., eds. Early Ch'an in China and Tibet. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series, 1983.

McRae, John R. The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch'an Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

Nguyen Cuong Tu. Zen in Medieval Vietnam: A Study and Translation of the Thiền Uyên Tâ°p. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Smith, Bardwell L., ed. Unsui: A Diary of Zen Monastic Life, text by Eshin Nishimura, drawings by Giei Sato. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1973.

Thich Thien-An. Buddhism and Zen in Vietnam, ed. Carol Smith. Los Angeles: College of Oriental Studies, 1975.

Welch, Holmes. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Yampolsky, Philip B., trans. and ed. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Yampolsky, Philip B., trans. The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Yu, Chun-fang. The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Late Ming Synthesis. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1981.

John Jorgensen