Chan Buddhism from the Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries: China and Beyond

Thurs., Aug. 21st, 09:30-12:30

Reading Practices in Northern Song Chan

Ahn, Juhn (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA)

This paper will attempt to analyze some of the more popular forms of reading practices in Chan Buddhism during the Northern Song (960-1127). Although many associate Chan Buddhism with the popular slogan of not setting up words and letters and the notion of a “sudden” experience of awakening, this paper will show that Chan learning during the Northern Song did not always consist of a direct unmediated insight. Instead, it consisted of various reading practices that made use of verbal formulas, esoteric diagrams, typologies of Chan teachings, verse commentaries, and the verbatim reproduction of stock phrases and stereotyped Chan sayings. This paper will show how monks who belonged to or who were associated with the Yunmen and Huanglong lineages began to challenge these earlier reading practices and tried to develop a style of Chan learning that emphasized reading for comprehension and knowing what one has read for oneself rather than relying on the writings and understanding of others. There are, this paper argues, two important catalysts behind this change: this new style of Chan learning emerged (1) in a new sociopolitical climate where learned Chan monks competed for the abbacies of public monasteries where they had to address monks on pilgrimage who had exposure to many different kinds of Chan teachings and (2) in an environment where more Chan texts, manuscripts and printed texts, were available for perusal. The availability of more texts made it necessary to develop a reading practice that could make sense of the diversity of Chan teachings.


The Koan Teachings of Chan Master Xuedou

Huang, Yi-hsun (Fo Guang University, Yilan, TWN)

Master Xuedou (980–1052) is an important Chan master in the Yunmen branch. My paper will analyze Xuedou’s Verses on Old Cases with a special focus on its literary originality and the role of religious practice in it. Xuedou’s Verses on Old Cases consists of one hundred old cases selected by Xuedou as well as his comments in verse form. To compile this genre of Chan literature, the Chan master must first be familiar with the contents of the old cases, and then be able to express, in verse form, his own religious insights into those old cases. These two requirements are the very reason why Xuedou’s Verses on Old Cases is a perfect source for investigating its religious practice and literary aspects. My paper will first discuss the compilation and structure of Xuedou’s Verses on Old Cases and then analyze two verses on old cases.


Finding One’s Place in a Story of Decline: Chan Buddhists Gauging the State of the Dharma in the Song and Later

Morrison, Elizabeth (Middlebury College, Cornwall VT, USA)

The theory of the decline of the dharma is crucial to the rise of Pure Land Buddhism in East Asia, but what is its relationship to the Chan tradition? Early Chan texts that assert that the dharma has been transmitted to China by a line of specially authorized teachers implicitly refute widespread contemporary certainty that the decline of the dharma was already well underway. Indeed, a well-known line in the eighth-century Dunhuang text of the Platform Sutra goes so far as to call Huineng not just the Sixth Patriarch but a buddha.

The notion of a special transmission of the dharma began as a claim about particular teachers, usually the teacher of the current master in a given community, but it soon crossed into the present, and the idea of “dharma heirs” no longer applied only to past figures. Disciples began aspiring to be recognized as dharma heirs, and, as Morten Schlütter has demonstrated, the Song state took a keen interest, eventually limiting the leadership of important “public” monasteries to properly qualified dharma heirs who could then, as abbots, continue the line.

I will argue that almost as soon as transmission was a matter of the present, with significant real world consequences, members of the Chan community began talking about a decline of their own, a decline of the lineage. Often they criticized lines of the Chan tradition other than their own, but sometimes they even expressed doubts about their own particular lineage. In time, more general ideas of decline – the classic idea of the overall decline of the dharma – begin appearing in Chan writings, with other Buddhist schools, rulers, and social changes variously held up as proof of the decline.

Jan Nattier has argued that the origins of the decline theory lie primarily not in external persecution of the Buddhist tradition but in fears about the internal problem of complacence. This observation is accurate also for the Chan tradition. Perceived decline, inside and outside of the Chan tradition, prompted reflection on how Chan Buddhists could stave off the decline with their own teachings and behavior. The crisis, in other words, served as a catalyst to articulate what in the Chan tradition – and the Buddhist tradition as a whole – is effective in holding off the inevitable. I will discuss a variety of Chan reactions to decline (including a continuing rejection of the idea by some) against the backdrop of other Chinese Buddhist responses. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate that while the influence of this theory on early and medieval Chinese Buddhism is well-known, its later importance and dynamic nature has yet to be fully explored.


Chan Buddhism in the Tangut State, 11th-13th Centuries

Solonin, Kirill (China Renmin University, Beijing, CHN)

Chan Buddhism was one of the mainstreams of Sinitic Buddhism in the Tangut State. A number of Chan texts had been translated into Tangut, while some circulated in their Chinese originals. The Tangut version of Chan Buddhism appears to be a multifaceted phenomenon, but the present research basically concentrates on the texts which have been translated into Tangut. In this presentation I will summarize the results of the previous research into the Tangut Chan texts, in an attempt to trace the possible origins of peculiar Tangut Chan tradition and will offer a hypothesis for the timeline for Tangut Chan Buddhism and Sinitic Buddhism in the Northern Chinese borderland in particular. Basic tenet of the paper is that the specific version of Chan in Xixia developed out of an imaginary scheme of the “perfect teaching,” i.e. a specific version of Buddhism which existed in the Wutaishan area since the end of the Tang and was specifically advocated by the Kitan Liao.


Yulu Formation in Chinese Chan: The Records of Nanyue Huairang and Mazu Daoyi, Qingyuan Xingsi and Shitou Xiqian

Welter, Albert (University of Arizona, Tucson, USA)

Chan yulu (Dialogue Records) went through editorial alterations before being issued in standardized forms in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A glimpse into this editorial process is evident in the earliest records or fragments of Chan teachings in the Zutang ji (Patriarch’s Hall Anthology, compiled 958 with later additions), the Zongjing lu (Records of the Source-Mirror, compiled 961), the Jingde Chuandeng lu (Record of the Transmission of the Lamp compiled in the Jingde era, compiled 1004), and the Tiansheng Guangdeng lu (Expanded Lamp Record compiled in the Tiansheng era, compiled 1029). In this presentation, I review the dialogue records of four Tang dynasty masters deemed essential to the preservation of Chan lineages beyond the Tang––Nanyue Huairang and Mazu Daoyi, Qingyuan Xingsi and Shitou Xiqian––through whom the so-called Five Houses of Classical Chan allegedly descended. My presentation focuses on a comparative analysis of each master’s teachings across the sources referred to above, with an aim toward determining how textual nuances reflect the perspectives of individual sources and the context in which each was compiled.


IABS 2014 | Universitätsring 1  | 1010 Wien