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  • Inventing Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch: Hagiography and Biography in Early Ch’an
  • John R. McRae (bio)
John Jorgensen. Inventing Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch: Hagiography and Biography in Early Ch’an. Sinica Leidensia, vol. 68. Leiden: Brill, 2005. xxiii, 862 pp. Hardcover $250.00, ISBN 90–04–14508–7.

John Jorgensen’s Inventing Hui-neng is an extraordinary contribution to the study of early Chán Buddhism. First of all, it is massive—that is not a typo in the information summary above, the book really is almost nine hundred pages in total length. Of course, such a sizeable tome comes with a truly Brill-like price—at $250, it is certainly worth its weight in dollar bills, if not quite in gold.

Second, these are well-packed pages, too. There is a certain amount of repetition, primarily the restatement of previously made arguments, but certainly no more than is reasonable; the author presents his analyses and interpretations in economical language, without wasting words on airy nuance. There are only a few inadvertant word processing duplications, not nearly as many as might be expected for a book of this length. (Repetitions not otherwise mentioned below include information concerning Shénhuì’s [684–758] exile [pp. 66, 140 n. 387] and two basically identical references at the beginning and end of a four-line note [p. 288 n. 57]). Coverage is also comprehensive, in that having selected the hagiography of Huìnéng as his focus Jorgensen attempts to treat every possible aspect of the subject. He follows whatever direction this inquiry [End Page 132] takes him, occasionally leading to excessive speculation and the investigation of subjects best left for other occasions. (His discussion of the famed poet-monk Jiǎorán [ca. 734–ca. 791] is an example of the former tendency, with eight occurrences of “may,” “might,” or “probably,” and so on, in just over two hundred words [p. 404]. The attempt to characterize Buddhism in different regions of China, which he undertakes in order to understand the specific relevance of the location of Huìnéng’s teaching activity, Xīnzhōu in the far south, is too demanding a topic even for this massive volume [pp. 473–529].) However, Jorgensen’s self-discipline is such that he never strays into entirely different matters, such as the doctrines attributed to this legendary figure but not relevant to the hagiography. The hagiography of Huìnéng is not precisely virgin territory for scholarly research—Jorgensen himself reports how important for his work was the Komazawa University volume containing annotated sources for the Sixth Patriarch’s life and teachings (Komazawa Daigaku Zenshūshi kenkyūkai 1978)—but he has certainly carried this inquiry into previously uncharted territory.

Third, an incredible amount of research has gone into the composition of this important volume. Although the author’s interests in using previous scholarship wax and wane—curiously, almost in inverse proximity to his subject matter, as we will see below—he has provided a truly amazing number of references to both primary and secondary sources, a veritable gold mine of assistance for future researchers. For example, Jorgensen has explored the mummification of Huìnéng through a variety of English, Chinese, and Japanese resources to an extent that is thoroughly unprecedented (pp. 237–273). He also explores the potential relationship between mid-Táng intellectual and political developments and the emergence of new forms of Chán in a manner both exhaustive and inspired, making excellent use of ideas drawn from the writings of Peter Bol, Mark Lewis, John Makeham, and David McMullen (primarily Bol 1992, Lewis 1999, Makeham 2003, and McMullen 1988). Jorgensen also makes some very insightful remarks concerning the role of Buddhism in sinification and as a catalyst for change in Chinese culture (pp. 194–195, 202, 209, 374, 384). In all these cases Jorgensen’s treatment provides the foundation on which any further analysis will inevitably be based.

Fourth, this immense research project has been carried out with a very high degree of accuracy. There are only a very few errors of fact, for example, not recognizing a Japanese transliteration *Zabiel as referring to Francis...