In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Authentic”:Rehabilitating Two Chan Buddhist Masters Neglected in Zen Studies
  • T. Griffith Foulk
Illusory Abiding: The Cultural Construction of the Chan Monk Zhongfeng Mingben by Natasha Heller. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014. Pp. xii + 471. $49.95.
Leaving for the Rising Sun: Chinese Zen Master Yinyuan and the Authenticity Crisis in Early Modern East Asia by Jiang Wu. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 355. $105.00 cloth, $36.95 paper, $35.95 e-book.

The two publications under discussion here are different in many ways, but they have enough in common to justify their treatment together in a single review. To begin with what is most obvious, both are biographies of Chinese Buddhist monks recognized in their day (and to posterity) as eminent Chan (禪; J. Zen) masters: heirs to the Chan lineage who enjoyed elite patronage and had many monastic and lay disciples. Natasha Heller introduces the subject of her biography in the following way:

This is a study of a Chan monk in his institutional, social, and cultural contexts. Zhongfeng Mingben 中峰明本 (1263–1323) was among the most prominent monks of the Yuan dynasty and an influential figure in Buddhist history. But he was also a significant figure in the cultural life of the empire and a local saint who, during his lifetime, earned the epithet “Old Buddha of the South” (Jiangnan gufo 江南古佛).

(p. 1) [End Page 465]

The subject of Jiang Wu’s biography is Yinyuan Longqi 隱元隆琦 (1592–1673), a Chinese monk who is known in Japan as Zen Master Ingen (Ingen zenji 隱元禪師), “founder” of the so-called Ōbaku school (Ōbakushū 黄檗宗) of Japanese Zen. Yinyuan achieved some prominence in China as a dharma heir in the recently revived Chan lineage, and as the third Chan abbot of Huangbo 黄檗 monastery in Fuzhou Prefecture, Fujian Province. The big mark he made on the history of East Asian Buddhism, however, came after he moved to Japan in 1654, received the patronage of the Tokugawa shogunate, and built a large Chinese-style monastery, known as Manpukuji 萬福寺, in Uji 宇 治 (a town just south of Kyoto). The success of that venture also led to the creation of an extensive network of Ōbaku school temples around Japan.

In choosing to write biographies of eminent Chan masters, Heller and Wu enter (albeit as complete outsiders) into a literary terrain that, far from being uncharted, is the original and heavily settled homeland of the Chan/Zen tradition. Although neither author mentions the fact, the so-called Chan lineage (Chanzong 禪宗) first took shape in China during the eighth through tenth centuries as an imaginary construct, couched in the form of hagiographies of individual “ancestral teachers” (zushi 祖師), who were linked together in the manner of a family tree to create an elite spiritual genealogy reaching all the way back to the Buddha Śākyamuni in India. During the early centuries there was much wrangling over what the “main” or “legitimate” (zheng 正) line of descent was, and various competing versions of the genealogy were floated, but they all took the same basic literary form: a collection of biographies organized to form a lineage of masters and disciples. Eventually, with the imperially sponsored publication of the Jingde Era Record of the Transmission of the Flame (Jingde chuandeng lu 景德傳燈錄) in 1009, the shape of the early Chan lineage was settled for good, with a family tree that envisions twenty-eight Indian ancestors (the last being Bodhidharma), six Chinese ancestors extending from Bodhi dharma to Huineng 慧能 (the famous “sixth patriarch”), and five main branches—all equally legitimate—that stem from two of Huineng’s dharma heirs. The Jingde Era Record is made up of 951 separate biographies of Indian “honored ones” (zunzhe 尊者) and Chinese Chan masters (chanshi 禪 師), spanning fifty-two generations. A number of key ancestral teachers who flourished during the Tang and Five Dynasties also came to [End Page 466] be represented in much longer, individual biographies that belong to a genre known as “sayings records” (yulu 語錄) or “comprehensive records” (guanglu 廣錄). Throughout the Song and Yuan dynasties, to be recognized as a Chan master a monk had to receive “dharma transmission” (chuan fa 傳法) from another monk who had already received it from yet another who had received it, and so...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 465-486
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.