Mazu Daoyi (709–788) is one of the main figures in the history of the Chan school. The appearance of Mazu and his disciples represented a key point in the historical development of Chan, as the fragmented schools of early Chan were replaced by a new orthodoxy identified with his Hongzhou school. Because of his great influence on the subsequent growth of Chan, Mazu is widely recognized as the leading Chan teacher during the tradition's putative "golden age" during the eighth and ninth centuries.
Born in the western province of Sichuan in a local gentry family, Mazu entered religious life as a teenager. His early teachers were noted Chan monks in his native province. During the mid-730s he traveled to Hunan, where he studied with Huairang (677–744), an obscure disciple of the "Sixth Patriarch" Huineng (638–713). Mazu then went on to establish monastic communities in southeast China. After his move to Hongzhou (the provincial capital of Jiangsi), during the final two decades of his life, Mazu emerged as a highly popular religious teacher who attracted a large number of eminent monastic and lay disciples.
Mazu did not leave any written records. His Mazu yulu (Mazu's Discourse Record), which was compiled during the eleventh century and contains diverse materials with varied provenances, is still widely read and recognized as a principal text of the Chan canon. Among his best-known teachings, succinctly expressed as popular Chan adages, are "Mind is Buddha" and "Ordinary mind is the Way."
Cheng-chien Bhikshu, trans. Sun-Face Buddha: The Teachings of Ma-tsu and the Hung-chou School of Ch'an. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1993.