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归宗智常 Guizong Zhichang (9th c.)

aka 廬山歸宗寺智常 Lushan Guizong Si Zhichang

(Rōmaji:) Rozan Kishū Ji Chijō


Chan Master Lushan Guizong Si Zhichang
景德傳燈錄 Jingde chuandeng lu
廬山歸宗寺智常禪師 T.51, no.2076, 255c24 436 320 113
Daoyuan. Records of the Transmission of the Lamp: Volume 2 (Books 4-9), The Early Masters, Book 7.123
Translated by Randolph S. Whitfield

Chan master Zhichang (d. 827) of Guizong Temple on Mount Lu (Jiangxi) mounted the podium and said, ‘From times of old eminent monks have never been without wisdom and even other noble ones were not of the same stamp as the average. These days it is not possible [for people] to be so outstanding and independent, they just waste time. Everybody, do not misuse the heart, there is no one who will do it for you, just as there is no one using your heart. Do not emulate others. In the past people relied on the awakening of others and all their words were blocked, like the light which does not penetrate. There is simply something in front of the eyes.’


A monk asked, ‘What is the wonderful meaning?’

‘No man can know it,’ said the master.

‘What about those who aspire to it?’ asked the monk.

‘If there is an aspiration to it then it errs,’ said Master Zhichang.

‘What about those who don’t aspire to it?’

‘Who is searching for the wonderful meaning?’ said the master. ‘Go! There is no room for you to make use of the heart!’

‘But if there are no skilful means by which to enter the gate, how will the people of today gain an entry?’ asked the monk.

‘It is possible through the wonderful wisdom-power of Guanyin to be rescued from the sufferings of the world,’ said the master.

‘What is the wonderful power of Guanyin?’

The master struck the top of a bronze cauldron three times and said, ‘Do you hear it or not?’

‘Yes,’ answered the monk.

‘Why do I not hear it?’ asked the master.

The monk had no answer and the master, taking his striker, took his leave.


The master was once walking with Nanquan. Later, quite suddenly, they lost each other. At tea Nanquan said, ‘In the old days, discussing the [Chan] stories with master Elder Brother, we were always familiar with them; but what if someone were to bring up the ultimate matter now, how would it be?’

The master answered, ‘This piece of ground is very good for setting up a Buddhist hermitage.’

‘Putting aside the setting up of a Buddhist hermitage, what about the ultimate matter?’ said Nanquan.

The master then overturned the tea kettle and got up. Nanquan said, ‘The master Elder Brother has already drunk tea but Nanquan has not yet drunk tea.’

‘With talk like this, even one drop is too much,’ said the master.


A monk asked, ‘This business takes a long time, so how to conduct the heart?’

‘When an oxhide is stretched over an outdoor frame, the frame makes a creaking sound. The average man doesn’t hear it but all the sages feel ripples of laughter,’ said the master.


Because the master was receiving a worldly official he raised the two strings of his hat. ‘Understood?’ the master asked him.

‘No,’ said the official.

‘Do not take it amiss, the old monk has a head cold and can’t take the hat off,’ said the master.


The master once entered the garden to cut vegetables. He drew a circle around a head of cabbage and said to everyone, ‘Under no circumstances should this one be disturbed.’ Nobody dared disturb it. After a while the master returned, saw the cabbage still there and then, going at the assembly with his stick, he said, ‘This band of fellows – there is not one among you who has any wisdom!’


The master asked a newly arrived monk, ‘Where have you come from?’

‘From Fengxiang (Shanxi),’ said the monk.

‘Have you brought that with you or not?’ asked the master.

‘Yes,’ answered the monk.

‘Where is it?’ asked the master.

The monk then, with both hands raised aloft as if making a reverent offering, motioned to submit it. The master, raising his hands, made as if to receive it and then tossed it behind his back. The monk made no response. ‘This wild fox,’ said the master.


Whilst the master was mowing grass a lecturing monk, who had come for training, suddenly had a snake crossing his path. The master decapitated it with his hoe.

‘There is a lot of noise about the real thing but actually this is just a coarsely behaved monk,’ said the lecturing monk.

‘Go to the tea room, Venerable, and drink some tea,’ said the master.


Yunyan269 came for training and the master motioned as if drawing a bow. After a moment Yan made as if pulling out a barb. ‘Rather late in coming,’ said the master.

269 Yunyan Tangsheng (782-841 CE), the master of Dongshan (807-869).


Some monks were taking their leave and the master hailed them saying, ‘Approach and I will tell you about the Buddha-dharma.’

The monks approached and the master said, ‘All of you people have outstanding business and at a future time will still have to come back to this – except that no one will recognise you. When the weather is cold, it is good to be leaving.’


The master ascended the podium and said, ‘Today I wish to talk about Chan, so all of you draw near.’

Everyone came closer and the master said, ‘You must listen to the deeds of Guanyin for a proper response to every situation.’

‘What are the deeds of Guanyin?’ asked a monk.

The master snapped his fingers, ‘Did everybody hear that?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ replied a monk.

‘What are you band of fellows looking for here?’ asked the master and drove everyone out with his stick. Laughing, he returned to the abbot’s quarters.


A monk asked, ‘How can a freshman gain entrance?’

The master struck the top of bronze cauldron three times saying, ‘Can you actually hear it or not?’

‘Yes,’ replied the monk.

‘Why can I not hear it?’ asked the master, who again struck three times. ‘Still hear it?’ he said.

‘No,’ said the monk.

‘Why can I hear it?’ asked the master.

The monk had no answer.

‘The power of Guanyin’s wonderful wisdom is able to save the sufferings of the world,’ said the master.


The Provincial Governor for Jiangzhou, Libo,270 asked the master, ‘In the teachings it is said that Mount Sumeru can conceal a mustard seed. Libo does not doubt this, but a mustard seed concealing Mount Sumeru – is this not foolish talk?’

‘People say Your Excellency has read ten thousand books. Is this so?’ replied the master.

‘It is so,’ said Libo.

‘Even with a man as tall from head to toe as a palm tree – where could ten thousand books be kept?’ asked the master.

Libo just bowed his head.

On another day he asked further, ‘What aspect of the business is clearly elucidated in the great collection of teachings?’

The master raised his fists to show him. ‘Understand?’ he asked.

‘No,’ answered Li.

‘This impoverished scholar. He doesn’t even know what a fist is!’ said the master.

‘Please point it out,’ asked Li.

‘If you come across someone on the way, give it to him. If you meet no one then be attentive in letting it circulate in the world at large,’ said the master.

270 Retired from public life, he became a recluse but was later called to serve as a high-ranking civil servant. See Old Tang History, 171; New Tang History, 118.


Due to suffering from double vision the master had some herbs applied to his eyes but the eyeballs went red. He was then referred to as the Venerable One with the red eyes. Later he revealed his cessation. The posthumous title of ‘Chan Master of Great Reality’ was conferred upon him.




Guizong Zhichang
Zen Masters of China,
pp. 143-144.

 A student of the sutras once visited Guizong Zhichang while he was working the soil in the garden with a hoe.  Just as the student drew near, he saw Guizong use the hoe to cut a snake in half, killing it in violation of the Buddhist precept not to take any form of life.

                “I'd heard that Guizong was a crude and ill-mannered man, but I didn't believe it until now,” the student remarked.

                “Is it you or I who's crude or refined?” Guizong asked.

                “What do you mean by ‘crude'?” the student asked.

                Guizong held the hoe upright.

                “And in that case, what do you mean by ‘refined'?” the student asked.

                Guizong made a motion as if cutting a snake in half.

                “And yet,” the student said, “if you had allowed it, it would have gone away on its own.”

                “If I'd allowed it to go away on its own, how would you have seen me chop the snake in two?”



by Andy Ferguson
In: Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings, Wisdom Publications, pp. 105-108.

GUIZONG ZHICHANG (n.d.) was a disciple of Mazu. He came from ancient Jiangling (located in modern Hubei Province). Almost nothing is recorded of Guizong’s early life, nor are the dates of his birth and death known. After leaving Mazu, he lived near Mt. Lu at Guizong Temple.67 During his lifetime he gained considerable fame as an expounder of Zen. When the famous Tang dynasty poet and statesman Bai Zhuyi served as the magistrate of Jiangzhou, he often visited and paid his respects to Guizong.


Master Zhichang of Guizong Temple of Mt. Lu entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “The virtuous of former times were not without knowledge and understanding. Those great adepts were not of the common stream. People these days are unable to be self-empowered, nor can they stand alone. They just idly pass the time. All of you here, don’t make the error of employing your mind. No one can do it for you. Moreover, there is no ‘place’ where the mind can be used. Don’t be seeking it somewhere else. Up to now you have been acting in accordance with someone else’s understanding. Your own speech is completely obstructed. The light does not shine through. There are obstructions blocking your vision.”


A monk asked Zen master Guizong, “What is the essential mystery?”

Guizong said, “No one can understand it.”

The monk said, “How about those who seek it?”

Guizong said, “Those who seek it miss it completely.”

The monk said, “How about those who don’t seek it?”

Guizong said, “Go! There’s no place for you to use your mind.”

The monk said, “Then, is there no expedient gate through which you can help me to enter?”

Guizong said, “Kwan Yin’s sublime wisdom can save the world from suffering.”

The monk said, “What is Kwan Yin’s sublime wisdom?”68

The master struck the top of the incense urn three times with his staff and said, “Did you hear that or not?”

The monk said, “I heard it.”

Guizong said, “Why didn’t I hear it?”

The monk was silent.

The master then took his staff and got down from the seat.


An unusual story about Guizong is entitled “The Causation of Guizong Chopping the Snake.”

One day a scriptural monk came to visit Guizong as he was weeding the garden with a hoe. Suddenly, a snake appeared. Guizong took the hoe and chopped it in two.

The monk said, “Long have I heard that Guizong was a crude-mannered teacher.”

Guizong said, “Are you crude or am I crude?”

The monk then asked, “What is ‘crude’?”

Guizong held the hoe upright in the air.

The monk said, “What is ‘refined’?”

Guizong then assumed a posture to chop the snake.

The monk said, “If you let it, it will go away by itself.”

Guizong said, “If I let it go away, how could you see me chop the snake?”

The monk was speechless.


Yunyan came to visit. Guizong assumed a pose of drawing a bow at him. After a long pause, Yunyan assumed a pose of drawing a sword.

Guizong said, “You’re too late!”


Guizong entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “I want to speak about Zen. All of you, gather around.”

The monks gathered closely around Guizong.

Guizong said, “Listen to Bodhisattva Kwan Yin’s practice. Its goodness extends everywhere.”

Someone asked, “What is Kwan Yin’s practice?”

Guizong pointed with his finger and said, “Do you still hear it?”

The monks said, “We hear it.”

Guizong said, “What is this pack of fools looking for?”

He took his staff and chased the monks out of the hall. With a big laugh he went back to the abbot’s quarters.


A monk was leaving the monastery.

Guizong asked him, “Where are you going?”

The monk said, “I’m going everywhere to study the five flavors of Zen.”

Guizong said, “Everywhere else has five Zen flavors. Here I only have one-flavored Zen.”

The monk said, “What is one-flavored Zen?”

Guizong hit him.

The monk said, “I understand! I understand!”

Guizong said, “Speak! Speak!”

The monk hesitated.

Guizong hit him again.

The monk later went to Huangbo and told him about this previous exchange with Guizong.

Huangbo entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “Great Teacher Ma brought forth eighty-four people. But if some worthy asks them a question every one of them just wets his pants. Only Guizong is up to snuff!”


Governor Libo of Jiangzhou said to Guizong, “In the scripture it says that a mustard seed fits inside Mt. Sumeru. This I don’t doubt. But it also says that Mt. Sumeru fits inside a mustard seed. I’m afraid this is just foolish talk.”

Guizong said, “I’ve heard that Your Excellency has read thousands of scriptures. Is this so or not?”

The governor said, “Yes, it is true.”

Guizong said, “From top to bottom your head is about the size of a coconut. Where did all those scriptures go?”

The governor could only bow his head in deference.

On another occasion the governor asked Guizong, “What can someone learn from the great scriptural canon?”

Guizong raised his fist into the air and said, “Do you understand?”

Governor Libo said, “I don’t understand.”

Guizong said, “There’s still a big gap in your understanding! You don’t even understand a fist!”

The governor said, “Please, Master, explain it to me.”

Guizong said, “If you meet someone on the path, then give it to him. If you don’t meet anyone, then just disseminate the world’s truth.”


Zen master Guizong suffered from cataracts, and he applied a medicine to his eyes that caused them to turn red. Thereafter people called him “Red-eyed Guizong.” Later he passed away. He received the posthumous name “Zen Master Arrive at Truth.”



Dōgen, 1200–1253. [Shōbō genzō sanbyakusoku] The true dharma eye: Zen Master Dogen's three hundred koans
with commentary and verse by John Daido Loori; translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori

Guizong’s “One-Flavor Zen”

A monastic bid farewell to Guizong Zhichang.
Guizong said to him, “Where are you going?”1
The monastic said, “I am going to many places to study the five-flavor Zen.”2
Guizong said, “There is one-flavor Zen in my place.”3
The monastic said, “What is your one-flavor Zen?”4
Guizong hit him.5

Guizong is being much too kind to this monastic. Dazzled by the promise of something
new or esoteric, the monastic is prepared to go off searching for a head to place on top of
his own. There are times when even the teachings can be misleading. Each and every
one must directly realize the source outside the teachings. The principle cannot be
grasped within words and ideas.
Guizong wants to show this directly—he lowers a hook to fish out a question. The
monastic, greedy for the bait, climbs onto the hook, saying, “What is your one-flavor
Zen?” Guizong follows the imperative and hits him. Clearly, there is no other truth. Can
you see it?

The Great Way is vast and all-pervading—
if you direct yourself toward it, you move away from it.
For the mind unified with the Way,
all striving ceases.

1. Teachers have always been concerned with students’ coming and going.
2. He will just wear out his sandals searching for something that does not exist.
3. The old master sees a cage, so he builds a cage.
4. The monastic walks right into it and closes the door behind him.
5. This is as it should be. The monastic should be grateful.


Guizong Holds Up a Fist

Once Guizong Zhichang was asked by Governor Libo, “I am not asking about the Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of Sūtras. But what is the meaning of the Ancestor’s [Bodhidharma’s] coming from India?”1
Guizong held up his fist and said, “Do you understand?”2
Libo said, “No, I don’t.”3
Guizong said, “You have studied extensively, yet you don’t know what a fist is!”4
Libo said, “Truly, I don’t understand it.”5
Guizong said, “If you meet a true person, you are fulfilled in the Way.6
If you do not meet a true person, you spread worldly truth.”7

Governor Libo is a scholar and student who wants some insight into the reality that is
Zen, rather than the words and ideas that describe it. Guizong holds up his fist. With a
single action he cuts off all calculations and rationalizations. If you can see into it here,
then I will grant that you are free and clear in every way. If you don’t see it, then it’s
important to avoid falling into the pit of intellectualizations. The governor does not
understand. Clearly his studies are of little value here. But say, is this an expression of his
ignorance or is it an expression of intimacy?
If you think that the truth of this kōan is in the fist, then you are a hundred thousand
miles from the truth. But if it’s not in the fist, then where can it be found? The old master
is compassionate and sacrifices his eyebrows, saying, “If you meet a true person, you are
fulfilled in the Way. If you do not meet a true person, you spread worldly truth.”
We should understand that encountering a true person is not the same as casually
meeting someone along the way. Encountering a true person means seeing with the
whole eyeball. Encountering a true person means attaining penetration. It means seeing
into the skin of one’s own face and knowing how thick it is. Aside from this, there is
nothing further.

Holding up a fist, he swallows all of space and time—
this is the spring that is neither yin nor yang.
Buddhas and ancestors vanish like a dream—
not a single trace of their passing remains.

1. Each time it comes up it’s fresh and new.
2. He should have hit him with it instead of just holding it up.
3. See? If he had hit him with it, further complications would have been avoided.
4. Too much study dulls the mind.
5. An honest person is hard to find these days.
6. The eyes are horizontal, the nose is vertical.
7. Mud six feet deep, brambles six feet high.



Entangling Vines: A Classic Collection of Zen Koans
A Classic Collection of Zen Koans by Thomas Yuho Kirchner. Foreword by Nelson Foster, Wisdom Publications, 2013, 352 p.

Guizong Zhichang (Kuei-tsung Chih-ch’ang, Kisu Chijō; 8th–9th c.; Case 123), also known as Lushan Zhichang (Lu-shan Chih-ch’ang, Rozan Chijō), was a Dharma heir of Mazu Daoyi; nothing is known of his early life. After finishing his study under Mazu he went to Mount Lu , where he resided at the temple Guizong si . He was active as a teacher of both monks and lay students, and he left many exchanges that display his distinctive approach as a teacher. Huangbo Xiyun praised him as the one among Mazu’s many Dharma heirs who went beyond all the others. Zhichang’s eyes, like those of China’s ancient sage rulers, are said to have had double pupils. He attempted to render this rather surprising feature less noticeable by rubbing his eyes with a medicine that turned them red, earning for himself the nickname Chiyan Guizong (Red-eyed Guizong). The Jingde-Era Record of the Transmission of the Lamp records the following words of Guizong:
Everyone, do not apply your minds mistakenly. No one else can do it for you, and there is nowhere to apply your mind. Seek not from others; it is because you have always relied on the understanding of others that whatever is said hinders you and the light cannot get through, as though something were in front of your eyes. (T 51:255c)

Case 123
濟下三評 Comparing Three Students of Linji

In the “Zen Master Huiran of Sansheng Temple” chapter of the Treasury of Bright Light, Juzhou Baotan says:

The disciples Baoshou Zhao, Sansheng Huiran, and Xinghua Cunjiang under Linji were much like the disciples Baizhang Huaihai, Guizong Zhichang, and Nanquan Puyuan under Mazu.

Baizhang resembled Mazu in his strength of character; Guizong resembled Mazu in his depth of talent; and Nanquan resembled Mazu in his greatness of mind. In the same way, Baoshou resembled Linji in his sincerity, Sansheng resembled Linji in his keenness, and Xinghua resembled Linji in his subtlety and depth.

The sincerity of Baoshou is seen in how he applied the staff to the clear blue sky,1 and in how he struck Rivet-and-Shears Hu.2 The keenness of Sansheng is seen in his exchange with Yangshan Huiji,3 and also in the way he struck Xiangyan,4 pushed over Deshan,5 and extinguished Linji’s True Dharma Eye.6 The subtlety and depth of Xinghua is seen in his scattering of pearls in the purple-curtained room,7 and in the way he waved his hand two times in front of the monk’s face.8 Though they each gained but a single of the master’s qualities, still Linji’s Zen has lasted a hundred generations. If all his qualities were grasped, how could Linji’s Zen fail to flourish for a thousand or ten thousand generations?

What always troubles me is that if the stick and shout are not applied to the present generation, Linji’s Dharma will decline. Why should there be anything that later generations cannot do if they but make the effort? The problem is that their teachers have not yet fully penetrated Linji’s Dharma. It is like drinking water and knowing for oneself whether it is cold or warm. Xinghua’s stick of incense9—this was gained through hardship and effort. Therefore Linji’s Dharma flourishes.

1.A monk asked, “When there’s not a cloud for ten thousand miles, what then?” Baoshou answered, “The clear sky should taste the staff!” The monk said, “What offense has the clear sky committed?” Baoshou struck him (Compendium of the Five Lamps, “Baoshou”).

2.Rivet-and-Shears Hu (Hu Dingjiao) called upon Baoshou Zhao.a Baoshou said, “I’ve long heard about Rivet-and-Shears Hu. Is that you?”b “Yes,” Hu answered. Baoshou asked, “Can you can drive a rivet into the void?” Hu replied, “Break it open, master, and bring it here!” Baoshou struck him. Hu didn’t accept this. Baoshou said, “In the future, a talkative monk will clarify this matter for you.” Hu later visited Zhaozhou and told him of this conversation. Zhaozhou asked, “Why were you hit by Baoshou?” Hu said, “I don’t know what my error was.” Zhaozhou said, “You couldn’t even deal with this one split seam! How could you ask Baoshou to break open the void and bring it to you?” Hu was silent. Zhaozhou then said, “Just rivet shut that split seam.” At these words Hu had an understanding (Blue Cliff Record 48, Commentary).

a.Hu Dingjiao’s name, derived from the fact that he was a tinker (means “nail” or “rivet,” means “scissors” or “shears”).

b.Hu was well known in China as a poet before starting his Zen study.

3.Sansheng Huiran arrived at Yangshan Huiji’s place. Yangshan asked him, “What is your name?” Sansheng answered, “Huiji.” Yangshan said, “Huiji is my name.” Sansheng replied, “My name is Huiran.” Yangshan laughed heartily (Compendium, “Sansheng”).

4.Sansheng went to Xiangyan Zhixian’s place. Xiangyan asked, “Where did you come from?” Sansheng answered, “From Linji.” Xiangyan said, “Did you bring Linji’s shout?” Sansheng hit Xiangyan in the mouth with his sitting cloth (Compendium, “Sansheng”).

5.Sansheng went to Deshan Xuanjian’s place and started to spread his sitting cloth [to pay obeisance]. Deshan said, “Don’t spread your napkin—we don’t have even leftover soup and spoiled rice.” Sansheng said, “Even if you did, there’s no place to put it.” Deshan struck him. Sansheng grabbed Deshan’s staff and pushed him onto the meditation platform. Deshan laughed heartily (Compendium, “Sansheng”).

6.See Case 195.

7.Xinghua addressed the assembly, “I hear shouts in the front corridor and shouts in the back quarters. All of you, don’t make blind shouts or wild shouts. Even if you shouted me up into the sky I’d come back down, and though I might not have a breath of air in me I’d revive and say, ‘That’s still not enough!’ Why? Because I have yet to scatter pearls for you inside the purple-curtained room.” (Compendium, “Xinghua”; “scattering pearls for you inside the purple-curtained room” indicates Xinghua’s revealing his deepest understanding in the sanzen room.)

8.See Case 184.

9.Following Linji’s death, Xinghua studied further under his fellow student Sansheng, from whom, he said, he learned the meaning of Linji’s “host” and “guest.” He then studied under Dajue, another of Linji’s Dharma successors. When he inquired about the Dharma, Dajue threatened him with a beating. At this Xinghua awoke to the deep meaning of the severe beatings Linji had received at the hand of his teacher Huangbo (see Case 187).

Xinghua later said that, had he stopped with Sansheng’s teaching, his understanding would have been incomplete; under Dajue, he attained true realization. Nevertheless, at the ceremony in the Dharma Hall when Xinghua assumed the abbacy of a monastery and held up a stick of incense to announce whose successor he was, he said, “Elder brother Sansheng was too far abovea me to merit this stick of incense; elder brother Dajue was too liberal.b It is best, therefore, that I offer it to my late teacher Linji.”

a.“Too far above” translates, which usually means “solitary” or “lonely,” but which in this case has a nuance of grandeur, like a solitary peak standing above all others.

b.“Liberal” translates, which has a variety of meanings, including “to buy or sell on credit,” “to treat,” “to stretch,” “distant,” “lenient,” “loose,” and “gentle.” Here the meaning probably corresponds to “lenient,” although it is difficult to define the exact sense in which the word is being used.




PDF: Ordinary Mind as the Way
The Hongzhou School and the Growth of Chan Buddhism
by Mario Poceski
pp. 53ff.