- The Hongzhou School of Chan Buddhism in Eighth- through Tenth-Century China
In The Hongzhou School of Chan Buddhism (HSCB), Jinhua Jia takes a combined historical-philological and philosophical-hermeneutical approach to the study of the Hongzhou school of Chan Buddhism, with the aim of shedding critical light on the emergence of Hongzhou doctrine and practice, particularly the emergence and maturation of encounter dialogue as a quintessential element of Chan religious identity. Carefully weaving together a wide range of documentary materials, including stele inscriptions and the works of Tang literati that have hitherto not received the careful attention they deserve in reconstructing the consolidation of Chan practices and self-understanding during the eighth to tenth centuries, Jia concludes that the Hongzhou school "is neither a revolutionarily iconoclastic tradition representing a sharp break with early Buddhist tradition, nor a mere mythology of a 'golden age' created by the Song-dynasty Chan monks" (p. 8). The Hongzhou School of Chan Buddhism charts a middle path between traditionalist and revisionist accounts of Chan origins that, by expanding evidentiary horizons, enables a deepened and yet still critical appreciation of distinctively Hongzhou emphases on relational dynamics and spontaneously embodied responsiveness as key to Buddhist practice/realization.
Following a clearly written introduction that outlines in considerable detail the course to be taken over the subsequent six chapters, Jia offers readers a concise and yet synoptic biography of Mazu, the founding patriarch of the Hongzhou school. In this chapter, Jia places Mazu within broader patterns of Buddhist development taking place throughout Tang China over the course of the eighth century and identifies four major periods in Mazu's life—his youth (709–729), wandering and training in Hubei and Hunan (730–742), teaching at various mountain monasteries in Fujian and Jiangxi (742–772), and establishing the Hongzhou community (772–788). Although there is little critically substantiated evidence as to the exact nature of his activities during the crucial decades from 742 to 772, it is clear that this period was preparatory for Mazu's capacity over the final sixteen years of his life to preside over a vibrant community reputed to have included more than eight hundred monks.
In chapter 2, Jia undertakes a critical revision of the early genealogy of the Hongzhou school, considering in detail the biographies of several key disciples and their roles in the development of a distinctively Hongzhou approach to Chan. Although likely to be of interest primarily to specialists, this chapter and the [End Page 477] attached table with data on 145 of Mazu's major disciples serve as a reminder of the interactive nature of Chinese Buddhism during the eighth century, as students commonly worked with and under multiple teachers, and as the community at Hongzhou clearly came to serve as a nexus of religious and institutional innovations.
Chapter 3 undertakes to establish, through cross-referencing among evidentiary resources, which of the texts attributed to Mazu and his major disciples can presently be considered authentic. To the degree that Jia's intention is to develop a basic corpus of texts with strong claims to accurately depicting the tenor of life and teaching within the early Hongzhou community, this chapter is a valuable exercise in the archeology of early Chan knowledge production and recording. It supports, for example, the important contention that the practice of encounter dialogue within Mazu's community and those of his first- and second- generation dharma heirs was not an anachronistic invention of Song dynasty writers, however much these later writers may have embellished and refined the textual representation of those dialogues.
Having established a relatively sound core record of the historical emergence of Hongzhou Chan, in chapter 4 Jia considers its distinctive doctrines and practices, depicting these as an outgrowth of Mazu's apparent embrace of tathāgata-garbha thought, especially as presented in the Lankāvatāra Sūtra and the apocryphal Awakening of Mahayana Faith. Jia discusses, in turn, Mazu's teaching...