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  • Enlightenment in Dispute: The Reinvention of Chan Buddhism in Seventeenth-Century China by Jiang Wu
  • Charles B. Jones (bio)
Jiang Wu. Enlightenment in Dispute: The Reinvention of Chan Buddhism in Seventeenth-Century China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. xxii, 457 pp. Hardcover $74.00, isbn 978-0-19-533357-2. Paperback $24.95, isbn 978-0-199-89556-4.

Jiang Wu’s groundbreaking work Enlightenment in Dispute goes a long way toward augmenting our understanding of Buddhism in the Qing dynasty, and will quickly become an indispensable classic in Buddhist studies. The book is divided into four parts. Wu first gives an account of the rise of Chan Buddhism in the seventeenth century, and then in parts 2 and 3 narrates two controversies that drew in monks and literati throughout the empire and even provoked the intervention of the emperor. Finally, in part 4, Wu draws out the larger implications of the Chan revival and the polemics that arose from it.

Part 1, consisting of the first three chapters, sets the scene by describing Chan’s rise and vicissitudes through several centuries, ending with the interactions of Chan and Neo-Confucianism that made the late Ming revival possible. After noting a distinct lack of monastic activity and publication, Wu describes the social and political conditions beginning during the Wanli reign that paved the way for the revival.

Part 2, “The Principle of Chan,” narrates the history of the first controversy. In the 1620s, Hanyue Fazang 漢月法藏 (1573–1635) wrote his Wuzong yuan 五宗源 to argue that the Chan transmission required more than symbolic acts such as beating, shouting, and stylized performances of Chan encounters. They needed to demonstrate a grasp of the “principle of Chan” or, more particularly, the principle of transmitting the master’s lineage, whether Linji or Caodong. Many readers took this as a direct criticism of Miyun Yuanwu 密雲圓悟 (1566–1642), Hanyue’s master, and the ill will generated by this transgression of normal master-disciple relations endured for three generations.

In chapter 5, Wu argues that the ensuing polemical exchanges matter because they exposed a deeper question: How does one publicly verify the private experience of enlightenment? What criteria does one apply? In appealing to the principle of the Chan lineages, Hanyue thus attempted a solution to this problem. One could, indeed, grasp the mind of Chan subjectively; the principle, on the other hand, could be tested, and could be symbolized by the passing on of insignia, the “robe and bowl” (pp. 137–139). While Hanyue wanted to posit an understanding of a Chan principle as an objective standard, Miyun and his partisans rejected any such theorizing about Chan enlightenment, believing it to be transcendental and beyond objectification (p. 161). In the end, the Yongzheng emperor, regarding himself a qualified Chan teacher, ended the debate (chap. 6).

Part 3, “Lineage Matters,” presents the second controversy over whether there was only one Chan monk named Daowu 道悟 in the Tang dynasty or two. [End Page 545] Traditional Chan genealogies listed only one, Tianhuang Daowu 天皇道悟 (chart on p. 189), while the new theory said there was another, Tianwang Daowu 天王道悟. This move transferred all known Fayan and Yunmen monks into the Linji lineage (chart on p. 189). This entailed a radical recasting of Chan genealogy that affected the affiliation of many living monks in the late Ming. It became a controversy in 1620, but intensified with the publication of Feiyin Tongrong’s 費隱通容 (1593–1662) Wudeng yantong 五燈嚴統. This work promoted the two-Daowu theory and put forth a strict definition of dharma transmission that accepted only face-to-face transmission and rejected transmission by proxy (dàifù 代付) and transmission by remote succession (yáosì 遙嗣), both tactics that monks used to obtain transmission from better known but inaccessible masters.

Chapter 8 describes a lawsuit brought against Feiyin in 1654 by some Caodong monks before local magistrates, and here Wu utilizes newly discovered materials, including Feiyin’s arrest warrant and petitions from literati. Chapter 9 offers the lawsuit’s aftermath, summarizing polemical writings and research pieces that appeared until the end of the seventeenth century. As Wu notes, the controversy played in three contexts invoking three kinds of authority: Chan lineage records, secular...