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  • How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China
  • Chiew Hui Ho (bio)
Morten Schlütter. How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008. x, 289 pp. Hardcover $48.00, isbn 978-0-8248-3255-1. Paperback $27.00, isbn 978-0-8248-3508-8.

Research in Chan studies has come a long way since Philip Yampolsky's first scholarly treatment of the genesis of the Chan patriarchal tradition in his translation of the Platform Sutra. Along with the recent publication of a few excellent studies of Chan, Morten Schlütter's current title attests to the increasing level of erudition in the study of the development of Chan in China. Schlütter has devoted many years to the study of Chan Buddhism in the Song and has published several papers on it. This book is the culmination of his previous efforts. Sifting through a large body of primary sources of the Song period such as government documents, [End Page 568] literati, and Buddhist writings, Schlütter provides insightful accounts on the dominance of Song Chan Buddhism in general and the polarity between the kanhua Chan of the Linji tradition and the silent illumination Chan of the Caodong tradition in particular. Because both of these developments exerted a far-reaching impact on East Asian Buddhism as a whole, Schlütter's book is a very important contribution to the field.

At the outset of the book, Schlütter seems to have accepted that the Chan school had become prevalent when China was unified by the Song. In chapter 1, Schlütter furnishes the reader with salient background information on the Chan school in the Song while addressing several misconceptions. These myths include the relevance of the notion of the five houses of Chan and the view that Song literati constituted a group of Confucians who were anti-Buddhists. More important, Schlütter corrects the assumption of a strong sectarian awareness among different schools in the Northern Song, which is important to his project, as we will see later. In addition, Schlütter argues that what was central to Chan's uniqueness in the Song was not its institution or practice but "the concept of the special Chan transmission lineage" (p. 17).

The next two chapters are best discussed together as they elucidate the circumstance under which Chan Buddhism came to achieve its dominant position in the Song. In chapter 2, Schlütter attributes Chan's ascendancy to Song state policies toward Buddhism, especially the promotion of the institution of public monastery over hereditary monastery in order to better regulate and control Buddhism. In private hereditary monasteries, abbacies were passed down solely through the tonsure family. This practice was forbidden in public monasteries, where abbots were often appointed by secular authority and treated like government officials. In addition to the state promotion of public monastery, chapter 3 highlights the critical role played by the educated elite in the success of the procreation of the Chan school. At that time, only Chan masters who held abbacies at public monasteries could perform legitimate dharma transmissions and issue inheritance certificates to their disciples, who were then admitted into the dharma transmission families and could qualify for abbacy appointments. Because the system in place gave the elite power over abbacy appointments in public monasteries, Chan masters had to garner the support of elite laypeople by partaking in elite culture so as to secure the perpetuation of their dharma transmission families. This need for the support of elite laypeople later intensified through a combination of social and economic factors that contributed significantly to the shaping of Chan doctrine and sectarian consciousness as exemplified by the dispute between the Caodong and Linji factions, which Schlütter examines in the next few chapters.

In chapter 4, Schlütter looks at the revival of the Caodong tradition starting from the end of the eleventh century, after it had almost expired. This analysis is accomplished by tracing the careers of the principal revivers of the Caodong tradition, Furong Daokai 芙蓉道楷 (1043–1118) and...