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Ch’an Buddhism in China — part 2 : Hui-Neng


Ch’an Buddhism in China

Its History and Method


part 2

  • Part 1 : Shen-Hui and the establishment of chinese Ch’an
  • Part 2 : Hui-Neng, The so-called Sixth Patriarch
  • Part 3 : The 7 schools in the eighth century
  • part 4 : the great persecution
  • part 5 : development of the Ch’an method


    What do we know of the illiterate monk Hui-neng, the established Sixth Patriarch?

    In an early fragmentary document known, as “Records of the Masters and the Law of the Lanka School” (Leng-Chia Jen Fa Chih 楞伽人法志 ) written shortly after the death of Shen-hsiu in 706 by one of the latter’s fellow students — which was quoted in another history of the Lankaa School written p. 10 a little later and preserved among the Tunhuang manuscripts — it was stated that the Lankaa Master Hung-jen (the so-called Fifth Patriarch, who died in 674) had said before his death that there were eleven disciples who could carry on his teaching. This list of eleven includes Shen-hsiu as number one, Chih-hsin 智詵 of Tzuchou 資州 in modern Szechwan as number two, Hui-neng of Shaochou as number eight, and seven other fairly well-known monks and one layman. The second man on the list, Chih-hsin (died 702), was a teacher of Ch’an in western China from whom descended two important schools which the historian Tsung-mi mentioned as two of the seven important schools of Ch’an of the eighth century. I am inclined to regard this list of eleven disciples of Hung-jen as fairly authentic, because it was probably made before Shen-hui put forth his dramatic challenges and long before the two schools descended from Chih-hsin became nationally famous.

    Therefore, we may conclude that Hui-neng was one of the eleven better-known disciples of the Lankaa Ch’an Master Hung-jen. The claim that he alone was the secret transmitter of the true teaching and the inheritor of “the robe of the Patriarchs” was in all probability a myth of Shen-hui’s invention.

    According to Wang Wei’s biographical account (written about 734 and already referring to Shen-hui’s being persecuted for his “desire to present to his prince a precious pearl”), Hui-neng was born of a lowly family in an area in Lingnan where aborigines lived in peace with Chinese people. In Shen-hui’s brief account of Hui-neng’s life, and in the T’an-ching 壇經 — the Suutra of Hui-neng — he was called a “Ke lao” 獦獠, one of the aboriginal peoples of the southwest. He was a manual laborer, moving northward and finding work at the monastery where the master Hung-jen presided. He had a good mind and absorbed what was taught and practiced there. After the alleged transmission of the Patriarchal robe, he returned to the South where for sixteen years he lived among the poor and the lowly, the farmers and the small tradesmen. Then he was discovered by a teacher of the Parinirvaa.na Suutra who ordained him and started him on his own teaching career.

    What did he teach?

    Wang Wei said that he taught forbearance, saying that “he who forbears (jen 忍 ) denies his own life and is therefore selfless.” “This formed his first vow and his principal teaching.” “He often said with a sigh: ‘To give even all the Seven Treasures as alms, or to practice [ch’an] conduct for even myriads of years, or to write with all the ink in the universe — none of these can compare with a life of non-activity (wu-wei 無為 ) and infinite love’.”

    Liu Tsung-yuan’s text

    Liu Tsung-yuan’s text, written in 816, says that “his teaching began with the goodness of human nature and ended with the goodness of human nature. There is no need of plowing or weeding: it was originally pure.”

    From these and from Shen-hui’s stressing of Sudden Enlightenment, we may infer that this Southern master of lowly and “Ke lao” origin probably was a “t’ou-t’o” 頭陀 (dhuuta) ascetic, as most of earlier members of the La^nkaa School were, whose first principle, according to Bodhidharma, was forbearance of all insult and suffering. [8]

    He probably learned from his life-experience among the simple folks that there was the real possibility of opening the hearts and minds of men through some act of sudden awakening. Shen-hui used the proverbial expression “the sword pierces directly through.” The Chinese people to this day have translated the notion of sudden enlightenment into a simple proverb: “He lays down the butcher’s cleaver, and immediately becomes a Buddha.”

    That was probably the kind of simple and direct message which Hui-neng had for the poor and the lowly who understood him and loved him. He made light of “all the ink in the universe,” and left no writing. [9]

    Thus the first Chinese School of Ch’an was established through Shen-hui’s thirty years (730-760) of bitter fighting and popular preaching, and through the official recognition of Hui-neng as the Sixth Patriarch and Shen-hui as the Seventh Patriarch of “the True School.”

    By the last quarter of the eighth century, there began a great stampede in the Ch’an schools — a stampede of almost every teacher or school of Ch’an to join the school of Hui-neng and Shen-hui. It was not easy, however, to claim a tie to Shen-hui, who had died only too recently. But Hui-neng had died early in the eighth century, and his disciples were mostly unknown ascetics who lived p. 12 and died in their hilly retreats. One could easily claim to have paid a visit to some of them. So, in the last decades of the century, some of those unknown names were remembered or discovered. Two of those names thus exhumed from obscurity were Huai-jang 懷讓 of the Heng Mountains 衡山 in Hunan, and Hsing-ssu 行思 of the Ch’ing-yuan Mountains 青原山 of Kiangsi. Neither of these names appeared in Shen-hui’s brief sketch of Hui-neng’s life-story (at the end of Suzuki’s edition of the Discourses), which contains four names of his disciples, or in the oldest text of the T’an-ching, which mentions ten names.

    Ma-tsu 馬祖

    Ma-tsu 馬祖 (Baso in Japanese), one of the greatest Ch’an masters of the age, originally came from the Ching-chung School 淨眾寺 in Chengtu, which was one of the two Ch’an schools tracing their origin to the La^nkaa monk Chih-hsin, one of the above-mentioned eleven disciples of Hung-jen. But when Ma-tsu died in 788, his biographer wrote that he had studied under Huai-jang, and learned the truth of sudden enlightenment from him. Another great master of the age, Hsi-ch’ien 希遷 (died 790), generally known as “Shih-t’ou” 石頭 (the Rock), was said to have studied under Hsing-ssu.

    There was an old school of Ch’an, long known as the School of the Ox-head Hill 牛頭山 ( near the modern city of Nanking), which was founded by the monk Fa-yung 法融 (died 657), a contemporary of the Buddhist historian Tao-hsuan (died 667). Tao-hsuan wrote Fa-yung’s biography in 2433 words without mentioning that he had any connection with the La^nkaa School of Bodhidharma. But in the eighth century, the monks of the Ox-head School were willing to acknowledge that their founder was at one time a student of Tao-hsin, “the Fourth Patriarch” after Bodhidharma. Therefore, the founder of the Ox-head School became the spiritual “uncle” of the Sixth Patriarch.

    So, the great stampede went on. In the course of a hundred years, practically all Ch’an schools came to be spiritually and genealogically descended from, or related to, Hui-neng, “the Sixth Patriarch of the True School of Ch’an.”

  • Part 1 : Shen-Hui and the establishment of chinese Ch’an
  • Part 2 : Hui-Neng, The so-called Sixth Patriarch
  • Part 3 : The 7 schools in the eighth century
  • part 4 : the great persecution
  • part 5 : development of the Ch’an method

    Hu Shih

    Philosophy East and West, Vol.. 3, No. 1 (January, 1953), pp. 3-24

    © 1953 by University of Hawaii Press, Hawaii, USA

    Source www.thezensite.com

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