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  • The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism
  • Joseph McKeon (bio)
Bernard Fauré. The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism. Translated by Phyllis Brooks. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. xii, 289 pp. Hardcover $49.50, ISBN 0-8047-2865-8. Paperback $19.95, ISBN 0-8047-2866-6.

The Will to Orthodoxy is a reworking of Fauré's doctoral dissertation, defended in Paris in December 1984. In many ways it is complementary to John McRae's book published at the same time, The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch'an Buddhism. The approaches of Fauré and McRae are heavily influenced by the historical criticism of Chan undertaken by Yanagida Seizan. Fauré says that he was unable to rework his entire book to allow for all the new data contributed by McRae (pp. vii-viii). His hope is that by tossing this study into the hopper of Chan history he may provide the elements of some future synthesis (p. viii). [End Page 430]

This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is a dense, carefully reasoned study of what is usually called "Northern Chan (Zen) Buddhism," which is also known as the Dongshan or La∫ kâvatâra school. It is a serious and thoughtful study of the Northern school, placing the evolution of this school within the intellectual, political, social, and economic context of eighth-century Tang China. During this period, the Chan school was established as an orthodoxy, with the successive emergence of two branches, the Northern and the Southern. Traditional accounts give ascendancy to the Southern school. Fauré critiques almost every aspect of what we might call their official narrative. He rehabilitates the Northern tradition against the centuries-old prejudices that emerged within later Chan in China, Korea, and Japan that favored the Southern school of sudden enlightenment under Huineng and Shenhui over the Northern school of gradual enlightenment under Shenxiu and his disciples. This view claimed that the orthodox lineage had passed from the fifth patriarch, Hongren (601-674 C.E.), to Huineng, the sixth patriarch (638-713 C.E.).

Fauré is after the dangerous oversimplifications that have emerged because of Shenhui's powerful attack on the Northern school at the Great Dharma Assembly of Huatai. The polemics of the attack, Fauré maintains, conceal the doctrinal continuity between the two schools as well as the diversity of Chan thought in that period (p. 5). "Even when we accept certain established demarcations and lines of separation, they do not always follow the lines marked out by tradition" (p. 9). Instead of sharply drawn lines with respect to doctrine and practice, there is variety and often a concern for synthesis. Fauré's very helpful genealogy of Chan masters descended from Hongren highlights a collateral transmission of Dharma to a number of disciples, rather than one single orthodox line from Hongren to Huineng (pp. 18-19). Fauré says that the germ of the ultimate opposition between the Northern and Southern schools exists in the question of upâya (skillful means). "Does the use of expedients reveal faithfulness to or betrayal of the spirit of Bodhidharma's teaching?" (p. 154). Fauré concludes that a careful examination of the texts reveals that the Northern school's doctrine cannot be summed up simply as gradualism, any more than that of the Southern school can be regarded as completely subitist (sudden or abrupt) (pp. 177-178). In order to correct the traditional narrative, Fauré says it is important to reconstruct the point of view of the Northern school. This is possible to do by examining the epigraphic sources and the relative abundance of documents about the Northern school among the Dunhuang manuscripts. Fauré is also interested in the wider geographic setting of Chan and frequently mentions that Chan, as a pattern of thought and practice, spread throughout Central Asia, Tibet, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan during the Tang (p. 6).

With his encyclopedic knowledge of both primary and secondary sources Fauré calls into question almost every aspect of the official narrative. He provides [End Page 431] an exhaustive set of endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. Fauré also shows an excellent grasp of...


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