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The Chan Master as Illusionist: Zhongfeng Mingben’s Huanzhu Jiaxun


To examine the metaphor of illusion in Chinese Buddhism, Natasha Heller focuses on “Huanzhu jiaxun” 幻住家訓 (The family instructions of “Illusory Abiding”) by the Chan monk Zhongfeng Mengben 中峰明本 (1263–1323). Considering Mingben’s usage of the term “illusory” (huan) in relation to its history in non-Buddhist and Buddhist sources, she examines how he addressed the use of language, with special reference to the Chan concept of “observing the key phrase” (kanhua). Mingben remained within the established philosophical discourse on illusion but, Heller argues, shifted away from metaphors related to the concept; instead he emphasized the character huan to suggest an alternative to intellectual analysis of words. He thereby advanced the discussion of kanhua Chan while affirming the ultimate illusoriness of such practice.