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Youngstown OhioThe Zen Canon: Understanding the Classic Texts
Published: 25 March, 2004
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Author: Dale S. Wright
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Customer comments on this Youngstown Ohio Book

Youngstown Ohio Zen? Nothing to it.

I lived in Europe for a number of years and one of my closest friends was a 'zen'monk. He would say..'Wolff, so many books in the west on Zen..Enlightenment..having made the leap.... They never speak about those that did not make it to the other side..went crazy. This book is no better or worse than the myriad of writings on this subject. To have a better understanding on the writing on the writings(almost all writing for the west is translation, and that is a big problem in itself.), I might recommend BUDDHIST HERMENEUTICS(Retrieval of meaning, especially from a text)Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

Youngstown Ohio A Hot Molten Ball You Can Neither Swallow Nor Spit Out

All in all, this is an interesting and useful scholarly collection of articles. Most of the texts discussed in the articles originated in China (though their reception in Japan and to a lesser degree Korea is not neglected), so a more appropriate title may have been "The Chan Canon" but okay. The claim that the volume includes "learned yet accessible studies" is either deliberately misleading or else, as I suspect, the editors and contributors have been at this biz too long. Undoubtedly learned, yes, but these articles assume a great store of prior familiarity with the Chan/Zen tradition and its history and dive straight into the dry, nitty-gritty textual details; I suspect from personal experience that even the long-time Zen student/scholar will frequently find this book challenging and/or a strain on the attention span. The work is worth it, but don't tackle this little tome lightly.

My primary gripe with the book is this...Given the specialized, academic nature of the contents, it is utterly ridiculous that this book nowhere includes the Chinese characters for all the names, titles, and terms within--put them in parentheses after the transliterated version or put them at the end in a character glossary, I don't care, but put them somewhere. There were several spots where these would have been especially helpful.

Youngstown Ohio An interesting source

Like its companion volume 'The Koan: Texts and Contexts' (eds.Heine, Wright), this book was not intended as a guide to Zen practice, but it should prove interesting to those who feel an affinity with Zen and wish to know more about its background.

It may seem a contradiction in terms that a spiritual tradition allegedly 'not depending upon words and letters' should yet lay claim to a collection of texts holding 'canonical' status. The contributors understand the irony involved. As the cover-blurb' states:

"during times of political turmoil in China and Japan,
these texts were crucial to the survival and success
of Zen, and they have for centuries been valued by
practioners as vital expressions of the truth of Zen.
This volume offers learned yet accessible studies of
some of the most important classical Zen texts,
including some that have received little scholarly
attention (and many of which are accessible only to
specialists).Each essay provides historical, literary
and philosophical commentary on a particular text or
genre. Together, they offer a critique of the 'de
facto canon' that has been created by the limited
approach of Western scholarship, and demonstrate
that literature is a diverse and essential part of
Zen Buddhism. "

Self-effacing remarks from the academic world - perhaps, but they also constitute a kind of sideways swipe at Zen Buddhists -reluctant to acknowledge the role that language and literature per has played in shaping their tradition. A list of chapter headings give an idea of the material at hand:

(Introduction by the eds. Heine, Wright)

1.Tsung-mi's Zen Prolegomenon. Introduction to an Exemplary
Zen Canon. - Jeff Broughton.

2. Mazu Yu-lu and the Creation of the Chan Records of Sayings.
- Mario Poceski.

3. The Lidai fabao ji (Record of the Dharma Jewel Through the
Ages. - Wendi Adamek

4. The Huang-po Literature. - Dale S. Wright.

5. Lineage and Context in the Patriarch's Hall Collection and
the Transmission of the Lamp. - Albert Welter.

6. The Record of Hongzhi and the Recorded Sayings Literature
of Sung Dynasty Chan. - Morten Schlutter.

7. The Wu Men Kuan (J.Mumonkan): The Formation, Propagation
and Characteristics of a Classic Zen text. - Isshi Shudo.

8. The Eihei Koruku: The Record of Dogen's Later Period at
Eihei-ji Temple. - Steven Heine.

9. Chanyuan Qinggui and Other 'Rules of Purity' in Chinese
Buddhism. - T. Griffith Foulk.

Fittingly, this study opens with Broughton's essay dealing with Tsung-mi. (The use of 'prolegomenon' in the title seems heavy, but as Broughton notes, with 25,000 Chinese characters, Tsung-mi's text hardly constitutes a 'preface'). As a contemporary with the emerging Ch'an schools in T'ang China, Tsung-mi was in a privileged position to assess their characteristics. Though a member of mainstream Chan (through the Ho-tse/Shen-hui line), Tsung-mi was also a Hua-yen master with a solid grounding in the Teaching school/scriptures. As such, he was critical of the extreme edge of the emerging Ch'an/Zen tradition, namely, the 'Hung-chou' school shaped by Ma-tsu Tao-yi and his followers, who had allegedly pushed anti-scripturalism and iconoclastic behaviour to extremes. Though Broughton looks at Tsung-mi's perception of all the proto-typical Ch'an sources, Tsung-mi's remarks about the Hung-chou school are likely to attract the most attention, for this school shaped much that we find in Rinzai(Lin-chi) Zen today.

So far as the reviewer is concerned, the 'jury is still out' on the question of Ma-tsu's alleged extremism. Some adherents of the Hung-chou school may have advocated the extremes noted - but, uncomfortably, Tsung-mi more or less paraphrased Ma-tsu's remarks, in his critique. In this respect, Broughton notes the concern of Pei-hsiu, a chancellor and eminent lay-Buddhist who enjoyed close ties with Huang-po Hsi-yun, a successor of the Hung-chou school. It is apparent that Pei-hsiu entered into correpondence with Tsung-mi over this matter. I draw attention to this topic, because it helps to explain why Ch'an Buddhists felt the need to define (or redefine) their orthodoxy - in written sources. Being charged with heterodoxy would have meant a loss of patronage.

Mario Poceski's essay looks at the formation of texts like Ma-tsu yu lu (Mazu yulu in pinyin) and the 'Yu-lu' (Recorded sayings) genre in general. Comparing variants of text material dealing with Ma-tsu, he shows how it has been tightened up and added to in various ways, by different editors. This does not necessarily invalidate texts (though some would aver that it does), but it does show how texts have been used to exemplify certain teaching characteristics.

Given Broughton's lead essay - touching on the controversy over Ma-tsu and the Hung-chou school, one wonders why Poceski didn't focus on the characteristic idioms and phrases that Tsung-mi had singled out for blame. Collating these and exploring them alongside more accommodating language, would have yielded a better perspective on Ma-tsu's legacy. That texts can be added to - is not, in itself, of intrinsic interest. It is what they say - that counts.

While interesting, it would have been better if Wendi Adamek's essay dealing with the 'Lidai Fabao ji' (Record of the Dharma Jewel through the ages')had been placed elsewhere in the book, for the following essay, dealing with the 'Huang-po literature' had direct bearing on the issues raised in the previous chapters. Wright's essay is probably the single, most important contribution to this joint study of Ch'an/Zen literature. As he observes, the Huang-po material is valuable because (unlike some other texts)- it is "precisely dateable, providing a crucial historical marker in the Zen tradition" and constitutes a bridge between the legacy of Ma-tsu - and Lin-chi (Rinzai). Wright notes the great care and attention Pei-hsiu brought to the task of organising a definitive written account of his master's teaching. He also notes Pei-hsiu's initial reluctance to undertake anything of the sort - for fear of creating a distorted or inadequate account of Huang-po's teaching. But after the master's passing, Pei-hsiu rose to the occasion, conferring with Huang-po's immediate successors to this end.

While isolated passages found in the Huang-po material could be seen or misconstrued as instances of the iconoclastic/anti-scripturalist position often identified with the Hung-chou school, Wright notes plentiful passages where Huang-po's 'orthodoxy' vis-a-vis the Teaching school, seems more certain.

Albert Welter's essay is basically an analysis of the role played by the two earliest 'Ch'an histories' - the Tsu Tang Chi (Records of the Ancestors Hall) and the Chuan Teng Lu (Records of the Transmission of the Lamp).' The former had been lost for centuries, until its re-discovery in Korea, in the 1930's. Like the texts discovered at Tun Huang, scholars were curious to see whether the Tsu Tang Chi - presumably free from editorial tamperings found in the extant sources, would throw fresh light on the origins of the tradition. Welter suggests that these texts reflect the interests of different Ch'an factions. For their own part, the editors of the Tsu Tang Chi acknowledged that their sources were incomplete. About 256 monks are listed in the Tsu-tang Chi, against 1,700 in the Chuan Teng Lu. As such, it seems perverse to compare them. Still, judged against the Chuan Teng Lu, the Tsu Tang Chi yields nothing radically different about the origins of the well known Ch'an lineages. There are minor discrepancies - in listings of Dharma successors in certain transmission lines (Welter provides careful analyses of such things) but, these were merely the anomaly of the situation, reflecting the material available to the compilers at the time, much of it stemming from their own transmission (Ts'ao-tung)line. Still, as Welter concedes, they honoured and recognised Ma-tsu etc.

Like the Tsu Tang Chi, the Chuang Teng Lu documents the earlier, formative stage, of the two main Ch'an schools in the Nan-yeuh and Ching-yuan lines. It shows masters such as Ma-tsu and Shih-t'ou sending their followers back and forth between one another's temples. As these lines flourished, they blossomed into the 'Five Ch'an schools' (wu-chia) - all of which are given attention in the Chuan Teng Lu. It includes a few T'ien-t'ai masters, besides. As such, one might question the extent to which the Chuan Teng Lu reflects 'factional' interests. That said, it was astute of Welter to point out that Tao-yuan and Yang-i - both responsible for editing the Chuan Teng Lu, in one way or another, had different perspectives on the material. Tao-yuan's title had been 'Fo-tzu tung-tsan chi' - 'Collection of the Common Practice of the Buddhas and Patriarchs' - stressing complementarity between the Teaching School (the myriad practices/wan-hsing)and the Chan transmission, as against Yang-i's title, exalting the Ch'an school as the 'chiao wai pieh hsing' or 'special practice outside the teaching (school).' Editors have certainly left their mark on these texts.

Morten Schlutter's essay documents the background to the formation of Hongzhi's Recorded Sayings. Once lost in China, it is gratifying to note the renewed interest in this fascinating material, characteristic of Ts-ao-tung (J. Soto) Chan in the Sung. In fact, Schlutter's essay is virtually a compact survey of all the important components in Hongzhi's collected writings. It is of note that this material includes Zen verses and comments in the mould of kung-an (J. koan) literature, which should alert us to the folly of trying to define Zen schools on the basis of their allegience to, or rejection of - the kung-an.

With the kung-an/koan in mind, Isshi Shudo's essay, exploring the background to the formation of the Wu Men Kuan (J. Mumonkan) has some interesting points to make. Hitherto, relatively little has been said about Shinichi Kakushin, the Japanese monk responsible for introducing the Mumonkan to Japan. He had studied under Master Wu-men personally, in China, and thus acquired the text from its parent source. Contrary to what might be supposed, Isshi notes that Keizan Jokin - the Soto-based founder of Soji-ji, studied with (the Rinzai based) Shinichi Kakushin. In this sense, Isshi's entry tempers the tendency to see factional interests as the uppermost concern of such texts. As with Isshi's entry in the companion volume to this text (Zen Koan:Texts and Contexts), the remarks here are somewhat dry, but they give good account of the background to the Wu Men Kuan and the particular success it has enjoyed in Japan.

Heine's essay on Dogen's Eihei koruku - outlining his later career at the Eihei-ji, will interest many. There are some inspiring verses and lines here - all very characteristic of Dogen, and well worth reading/reflection. In other respects, this material is technical in the usual Heine fashion, with a chronological breakdown of the component parts of this latter-day Dogen creation. While restrained, there is a definite sense here that we are dealing with Soto hagiography. This seems fair enough with the material at hand - but, if history matters, I can't help wondering about the shroud of silence placed over the dogmatic elements that crept into Dogen's thinking in his final years. Not all a case of 'bamboo under and bright moon' etc.

The final chapter of this book by T. Griffith Foulk outlines the variants of 'pure rule' books Ching-kui (J. Shingi) or monastic regulations, devised for Chan monks in China, subsequently introduced to Japan. By and large, these rules still regulate life in the Zen temples and those who take up life as'unsui' (trainee monks) will have to live with such rules - regulating every aspect of monastic life, including the appropriate manner of eating, going to the toilet etc. It is of note that entering the abbot's/masters room (ju-shi) for instruction - i.e. dokusan/ sanzen was a recommended part of the schedule, but left to the discretion of individual monks.

Griffith-Foulk asserts that - despite the received interpretation, these regulations are not 'Pai Chang's pure rules' as commonly held, but derive from the Vinaya - like most other Chinese Buddhist schools. I think this needed better focus, for the Ch'an/Zen temple regulations associated with Pai-chang enabled monks to work, whereas in most cases, the regulations binding upon other schools, did not. According to Chinese historians, this enabled the Ch'an tradition to survive bouts of persecution which fairly crippled other Buddhist institutions, largely dependent upon donations. Though we think of the T'ang as the golden age' of Chinese Buddhism, it also suffered reversals, and saw persecution on a large scale. Griffith -Foulk notes the research of a Chinese Nun - Mi fa, who continues to regard Pai-chang's 'pure rules' as a genuine influence, even though Pai-chang's material per se, is no longer extent.

Little is said here about how such rules have survived the text of time. Van de Wetering's 'Empty Mirror' shows that these rules can sometimes be very relaxed in Japanese temples.
Conversely, the Myoshinji is so strict, it is rumoured that it has occasionally raised concern about attracting new blood.
Griffith-Foulk notes some of the historical precedents, rules drawn up for the Buddhist life in India. The restriction on eating after mid-day seems ridiculous in countries with long winters, temples without heating. Some provision has been made to get round this, by defining snacks as 'medicine.'

Griffith-Foulk says little about the arbitrary modifications these rules have occasionally been subjected to. Chinese Ch'an temples were provided with a reading room/library, with light wells set in the roof. In Japanese Rinzai temples, however, this was ruled out for an indeterminate period. When Ingen Zenji (Mampukuji Obakuzan) first came to Japan in the Tokugawa, he was surprised to find that none of the Rinzai monks he met had read the Rinzai Roku. Partly through Ingen's influence, Rinzai temples once more allowed junior monks to read, but to this day, some Rinzai temples still restrict access to libraries, reserving it as a privilege for senior monks. In the Meiji, other arbitrary rules supervened, set by the government. These effectively prohibited Zen monks from studying under masters of different lineages, whereas in Hakuin's lifetime, they were free to do that.

Even the axiom -'a day without work, is a day without food' is no longer strictly true, if taken in its original sense, indicating work out in the fields. This has nothing to do with negligence on the part of the monks. It is a corollary of what happens when you form large instututions. It may mean doing chores around the temple precincts, but the self-sufficiency advocated of old, is not that much in evidence. There may be exceptions to this - especially in the 'Rinka' temples. But the Zen 'work ethic' began to disappear in the temples of Sung China, which even employed hired labour, to do the work.

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