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紫栢真可 Zibo Zhenke (1543–1603), aka 達觀眞可 Daguan Zhenke

(Rōmaji:) Shihaku Shinka, aka Takkan Shinka

Daguan Zhenke. (J. Takkan Shinka; K. Talgwan Chin’ga 達觀眞可) (1543–1603).
Chinese CHAN master of the Ming dynasty, also known as ZIBO. Daguan was a
native of Juqu prefecture in Jiangsu province. He was ordained at age sixteen and
is said to have attained awakening after reading the following verse by the
layman Zhang Zhuo (d.u.), a disciple of the Chan master SHISHUANG
QINGZHU: “Cutting off deluded thoughts increases maladies ever more,/
Heading out toward true suchness is also heresy” (duanji wangxiang zhongzeng
bing,/ quxiang zhenru yishi xie). Like his influential contemporaries HANSHAN
DEQING and YUNQI ZHUHONG, he was renowned for his advocacy of
NIANFO Chan, in which Chan meditative practice was combined with the
invocation or recitation of the name of the buddha AMITĀBHA. Daguan was
known as one of the four great monks of the Ming dynasty along with Hanshan
Deqing (1546–1623), Yunqi Zhuhong (1535–1615), and Ouyi Zhixu (1599–
1655). Daguan’s teachings are recorded in the Zibo zunzhe quanji and
Zibo laoren shiji.
(The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, 2014)

Four Eminent Monks of the Wanli Era (Wanli si gaoseng 萬曆四高僧)

Hanshan Deqing 憨山德清 (1546–1623)
Daguan Zhenke 達觀真可 (1543–1603), aka 紫栢真可 Zibo Zhenke
Yunqi Zhuhong 雲棲株宏 (1535–1615), aka 蓮池祩宏 Lianchi Zhuhong
Ouyi Zhixu 蕅益智旭 (1599–1655)


Crossing Cao Stream
by Zibo Zhenke
IN: Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China
Translated by Charles Egan
(Translations from the Asian Classics), Columbia University Press.

Zibo Zhenke (1543–1603) was from Juqu (Jurong, Jiangsu); his secular surname was Shen, his zi Daguan, and his hao Zibo Laoren (Old Man of the Purple Cypress). He and his close friend Hanshan Deqing (1546–1623), along with Pure Land master Yunqi Zhuhong (1535–1615), were known as the “dragon-elephants” of late Ming Buddhism. Zhenke grew up wild, and his parents could not control him. He later admitted he had been a crude youngster with a fiery temper, who “knew only drinking wine and eating meat,” who “relied on drunkenness to vent his anger,” and whose companions were “pig and dog butchers.” He left home at age 16 and wandered as far north as the Great Wall, so beginning a lifetime habit of restless travel. At age 17, while he was taking shelter from a rainstorm beneath one of the Suzhou city gates, his life was transformed when he met a monk named Mingjue from nearby Huqiu (Tiger Hill). He was formally ordained two years later. Zhenke is generally considered to have been in the Linji lineage, but like other major Ming Buddhist figures, he was in fact a syncretist, merging Chan with Pure Land Buddhism, and even Neo-Confucianism and study of the Book of Changes. He was by all accounts an unusual and charismatic man. He is described as stern of appearance and ascetic and uncompromising in demeanor; he forced himself to walk until he could travel 200 li (60 miles) in a day, slept at night in a seated posture for many years, and once wrote a temple inscription in his own blood. In 1586 he first met Deqing, at the latter’s retreat on Mount Lao (in Shandong). It appears that Deqing introduced Zhenke to his connections at the imperial court, including the empress dowager. With support from his patrons, beginning in 1589 Zhenke led a group to edit and recut the blocks for a ten-thousand-fascicle version of the Buddhist canon, known now as the Mount Jing Canon. He also organized the rebuilding of temples and monasteries. Zhenke remained engaged with the ruling class, and this was his eventual undoing. He was implicated in the so-called “Yaoshu” (Weird Book) incident of 1603: an anonymous pamphlet was circulated that claimed that Prince Changxun intended to usurp the throne. Zhenke was arrested, and died in prison. His funeral at Mount Jing was overseen by his dear friend Deqing.

Crossing Cao Stream

I walk through endless vistas of empty green,
Until the winding Cao blocks the temple road.
You ask what message comes from south of the peaks?
In the sound of water, white birds on green mountains.

Cao Stream—the course ran below Mount Shuangfeng (in Qujiang, Guangdong). This was an important Chan site, as it was near the residence of Sixth Patriarch Huineng.

south of the peaks—Lingnan, in southeast China (roughly comprising Guangdong and Guangxi). It is remembered in Chan discourse for the mocking comment made by Fifth Patriarch Hongren when he first met Huineng: “If you're from Lingnan then you're a barbarian. How can you become a Buddha?”

Source: X73n1452 Zibo zunzhe quanji 20:320. Form: 7-j.



PDF: Zibo: The Last Great Zen Master of China
translation and commentary by J.C. Cleary; foreword by Thomas Cleary
Berkeley, Calif. : AHP Paperbacks, 1989.

"Zibo's teaching": p. [65]-150. Includes bibliographical references (p. 153-155).


PDF: Syncretism reconsidered: The Four Eminent Monks and their syncretistic styles
by William CHU
Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 29 Number 1 2006 (2008). pp. 43-86.


PDF: A fragile revival : Chinese Buddhism under the political shadow, 1522-1620
by Zhang, Dewei
The University of British Columbia (Vancouver), Thesis, 2010, pp. 150-158.

5.2 Zibo Zhenke‘s 紫柏真可 (1543-1603) Death in Prison Zhenke was another leading monk in the late Ming.61 Like Deqing, he spent his time in the Jiangnan region during the Jiajing era and then traveled to North China in the Longqing period when he was in his late twenties. In Beijing he received instruction from Bianrong Zhenyuan for nine years. He was very proud and straightforward, as evidenced by his immediate departure of Shaolin si 少林孝 in Henan in disgust after attending a lecture by its abbot Daqian Changrun 大千常潤, the twenty fifth patriarch of the Caodong 曹洞 School. 62 Unlike Deqing who confined himself to North China before his exile, Zhenke frequently traveled in areas like Shanxi, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Hunan, and Anhui.

5.2.1 Zhenke, Daokai, and the Inner Court Zhenke‘s life and undertakings obtained tremendous assistance from Mizang Daokai who became his disciple in Wanli 8 (1580). Daokai was known mainly for his contribution to the compilation and carving of the Jiaxing edition of the Buddhist canon and to the restoration of Lengyan si 楞嚴寺 where most of this project was being carried out. This canon was first advocated by monks like Faben Huanyu 法本幻余 (fl. 1602) and Zhenke and scholar-officials like Yuan Huang 袁潢 (1533-1606; jinshi, 1586), Lu Guangzu, and Feng Mengzhen. When Daokai participated in this project according to Zhenke‘s arrangement, he vowed to make every effort to complete it. Shortly later, he became the major driving force and the executive head of it. This project was money-consuming, but Zhenke insisted that the money should be collected not from a few big patrons but from as many people as possible so that all of them had the chance to enjoy the benefit of almsgiving.63 Around Wanli 10 (1582) Daokai designed a system in which forty men were assigned as the heads to collect funds. Interestingly, he planned to find twenty people in Beijing, ten in Shanxi, and only ten in the Jiangnan region. This designation looks unreasonable in the sense that North China was far less wealthy than south China, but it is consistent with a common optimism for North China in terms of its Buddhism in the early Wanli era. This plan also suggests Daoikai‘s strong relationship with the inner court because he intended to depend mainly on the imperial family to fulfil the task.

That Zhenke found his way to the inner court was largely because of Daokai‘s influence in the inner court. No later than Wanli 12 (1584), Daokai had already set up a close contact with Cisheng through eunuch Xu Fudeng whom we have seen in Chapter Four. Judged from the casual but intimate tone in which Zhenke mentioned him, this eunuch might be a disciple of Daokai or Zhenke and was entrusted by Zhenke with important things like the delivery of the Buddhist canon and the restoration of Lengyan si, where the Jiaxing canon project was being carried out.64 Daokai submitted a memorial to Cisheng and attributed the carving of the Jiaxing canon to her order in Wanli 17 (1589), although it was he himself who was in charge of the project. His strong influence in the inner court is implied in a letter, in which he warned his friend that he cannot get a suitable and elegant Buddhist canon without his intervention.65 Benefited by this close relation with the inner court, when Zhenke arrived in Beijing in Wanli 20 (1592), Daokai gave his master a warm welcome accompanied by some eunuchs.66 When Zhenke arrived in Beijing in Wanli 29 (1601), it is said that eunuchs rushed out to pay respects to him.67

Unlike Deqing, however, Zhenke maintained a relative balance between Cisheng, Wanli, and eunuchs. He was active in Beijing and Shanxi before the tension between Cisheng and Wanli increased, which made it possible for him not to have to side with either of them. He backed Cisheng in the issue of the crown prince, but he paid due respect to Wanli as well.68 Such a stance came as no surprise, considering that Daokai visited Beijing frequently and kept him updated with court strife. It also explains why Zhenke was able to tell Deqing about the clandestine and subtle situation in Wanli 20 (1592) before the disaster befell the latter.

In sharp contrast to Deqing, despite his frequent travels, Zhenke always took the Jiangnan region as his major base and enjoyed popularity among the elite there. In his thirties Zhenke had won the respect of Lu Guangzu, Yuan Huang, and Tao Wangling 陶望齡 (1562-1609), all being famous patrons of Buddhism of the age. As time passed, he became even more influential among scholar-officials and got strong support from several powerful and wealthy families in Wujiang (present-day Wujiang in Jiangsu province). 69 However, it seems that he was not always a good teacher, both because of his strict character and his tight schedule. Once again, it was Daokai who came to his assistance; Daokai took the responsibility to direct those people and kept them around Zhenke, like in Feng Mengzhen‘s case.

Zhenke was insightful in making plans and Daokai was capable of organizing and accomplishing the tasks, but Daokai was always worried about his master. They both were concerned with the Buddhism and politics of their age, but the differences between them were obvious. The master was not only absorbed in his ideals but also too proud to bend to reality, while the disciple was more practical and flexible. In a letter, Daokai said about his master to an official, ―Our master has a Buddha-like heart, but ordinary people are expert at flattering. Moreover, there are no capable and insightful people serving [him]. [Therefore], you can make all decisions and make sure that they will not be against both the secular law and the vinaya. [You] will lose both of them provided that you treat one unfairly. On some [unusual] occasions, it is unnecessary to comply with our opinions.‖ (蓋老師佛祖肚腸, 而眾生巧於投抵, 且左右 無明眼護惜, 凡百在門下主張. 必期世出世法兩無傷損. 若虧其一, 必喪其兩. 一時之情, 不必盡徇我輩).70 This letter demonstrates how sensitive Daokai was to the danger facing his master and how practical he was in face of the reality. Unfortunately, it proved that there was something out of his control.

5.2.2 Zhenke‘s Death in Prison Zhenke finally got involved with intrigue and lost his life in prison. On the first day of twelve month in Wanli 31 (1604/1/1), Zhenke who then lived in Tanzhe si 潭柘孝 west of Beijing was arrested by the Imperial Bodyguard. He was tortured in the following days; he was beaten with a bamboo stick thirty times and his fingers were pressed between sticks one hundred times. The charges against him included composing an ―evil pamphlet‖ (yaoshu 妖書), intervening in state affairs through colluding with scholar-officials, and failing to pay due respect to the deceased Emperor Muzong. Only two weeks later, on the fifteenth day of the same month (1604/1/15), he was sentenced to execution after the assizes (jiaojianhou 絞監 候).71 He deplored this hopeless situation, ―Since the secular world has become as such, what is the point [for me] to keep living?‖(世法如此,久住何為?)72 Two days later, he died in prison.

Zhenke had already lived in Beijing for a few years before the event. He went to Beijing in Wanli 28 (1600) with an intention to save Wu Baoxiu 吳寶秀 (?-1600; jinshi, 1589), the Prefect of Nankang 南康 who had been arrested and taken to Beijing because of his resistance to the encroachment imposed by eunuch mining intendants (kuangjian 礦監).73 There are different opinions about why he did not leave Beijing after that. Deqing said that his staying there was to fulfill three tasks: saving Deqing, stopping the tax on minerals (kuangshui 礦稅), and finishing the continuum of the Record of Transmission of the Lamp‖ (xu chuandeng lu 續 傳燈錄).74 In a record of the investigation, Zhenke admitted that he intended to save Deqing through eunuch Yan Luan 閻鸞 (fl. 1610) but had not taken action. Yan Luan, who will appear again in the next chapter, was very likely a channel between Zhenke and Cisheng. Zhenke also confessed that he resided in Beijing in the hope of obtaining a copy of the Buddhist canon.75 Shen Lingyu 沈仙譽 (fl. 1605) was Zhenke‘s disciple. When arrested, he admitted that he frequently discussed with his master about how to save not only Deqing but also Zhang Ben, the eunuch involved in Deqing‘s case and sentenced to death.76 Moreover, he said that Zhenke, together with Jieshan Furu 戒山傅如 (fl. 1606) and others, was trying to send the Buddha tooth into the inner court.77 The last opinion says that it had something to do with Cisheng‘s promise to build Zhenke a monastery.78

The real reason for Zhenke‘s arrest was conflicts among court officials. Zhu Changluo was finally established as the crown prince in Wanli 29 (1601), but he still faced serious threat from Zhu Changxun and Courtesan Zheng. On the eleventh day of the eleventh month of Wanli 31 (1603/12/13), a pamphlet to be known as ―Evil pamphlet‖ (yaoshu 妖書) appeared in many places in Beijing. It says that Wanli was forced to make Zhu Changluo the crown prince under tremendous pressure, and that Zhu Changluo was destined to be replaced by Zhu Changxun soon. This pamphlet set off a big political bomb in the inner and outer court, and everybody wanted to keep away from it as far as possible. Shen Yiguan (1531-1615), Zhu Geng (1535-1608; jinshi, 1568), and Shen Li 沈鯉 (1531-1615; jinshi, 1565) were three Grand Sectaries at that time, with Shen Yiguan as the senior one. A strange point in the pamphlet is that Shen Yiguan and Zhu Geng were both listed in it as accomplices while Shen Li was not. Shen Yiguan was in deep conflict with Shen Li, he thus strongly suspected Shen Li of designing this scheme.79

The conflict between Shen Yiguan and Shen Li originated from another political event. In the third month of Wanli 31 (1603), Zhu Huayue 朱華越, a family member of Prince of Chu, submitted a memorial claiming that Zhu Huakui 朱華奎 (1568-1643), currently Prince of Chu, was not a son of his alleged father Prince of Gong of the Chu 楚恭王 (?-1571) but the son of the latter‘s brother in law.80 Bribed by Zhu Huakui with big gifts, Shen Yiguan intercepted this memorial. Upon knowing of this, Zhu Huayue personally went to Beijing in the fourth month and got an order that this case be investigated by the Minister of Rites. Vice Minister of Rites Guo Zhengyu 郭正棫 (1554-1612; jinshi,1583) refused Zhu Huakui‘s bribery and disagreed with Shen Yiguan in how to investigate this case. Guo and Shen thus began mutual attacks, during which Guo disclosed that Shen received Zhu Huakui‘s bribery. It happened that Guo was Shen Li‘s student. Therefore, Shen Yiguan incited a censor to impeach Guo Zhengyu and Shen Li. Then another censor further said that there were close connections between the ―fake Prince of Chu‖ case and the ―Evil Pamphlet‖. This unfounded charge infuriated the emperor, but the censor was not punished because of Shen Yiguan‘s assistance. Finally, Shen Yiguan got a complete victory: Guo Zhengyu was arrested and Shen Li‘s house was sought.81

Zhenke was involved with this infighting among officials because of his letters to Shen Lingyu. Shen was a good physician who maintained wide connections with officials, including Guo Zhengyu. When Guo was put in prison, his correspondence with Shen Lingyu led the latter to be arrested as well. With Shen Lingyu‘s arrest, Zhenke‘s letters to him were found too. In a letter Zhenke said, ―The restoration of Haiyin si at Mount Lao was to protect the offspring of the emperor for the Holy mother. Now the temple was destroyed and [Deqing] was exiled. This harms the kindness of the Holy mother and hampers the filial piety of the emperor.‖(勞山海印 之復, 為罯母保護罯躬香火. 今毀孝戍清, 是傷罯母之慈, 妨皇上之孝也).82 These letters were presented to the emperor who, in rage, immediately ordered Zhenke to be arrested.

Unlike Deqing‘s case, many people had predicted the dangers in Beijing and vehemently objected to Zhenke‘s plan to move in the capital in different ways. Daokai was reported to have seen a vision in meditation that his master would have a disaster, and this hunch probably had something to do with his familiarity with the inner court. He wrote a letter in blood to warn his master of the danger but, unfortunately, failed to persuade him out of the plan. Then, all at a sudden, Daokai disappeared and never came back again, although he was then in charge of the project of the Jiaxing canon which Zhenke had entrusted to him in great earnest.83 With regard to this mysterious disappearance, some think it was because Daokai was exhausted with the task, while others deem it as a desperate remonstration against his master‘s decision to visit the capital.84 Elites in the Jiangnan region also strongly opposed Zhenke‘s plan. By the fall of Wanli 31 (1603), even Deqing who was then thousands of miles away from the capital wrote a letter advising Zhenke to retreat into the mountains. In addition, Zhenke appears to have felt the coming of a disaster and knew that it would be a matter of life and death. In response to Deqing‘s warning, he said, ―I would like to abandon my humble body‖(捨此一具貧骨).85 In a letter to Feng Mengzhen, he even said that he would rather cut off his head, to which Feng was not able to do anything but lament.86

When and why did Beijing become so perilous for a monk like Zhenke that a temporary residence could disturb his friends and followers so much? After this case, it was said that ―this serious case suddenly happened. Spies and police were everywhere in the capital. [They] made arrests only on the basis of rumors and speculation and implicated a lot of people‖ (時大獄猝發, 緝校交錯都下, 以風影捕繫, 所株連甚衆) and that ―many people were arrested in a few days, making everybody in the capital feel in danger.‖ (數日間, 鋃鐺旁午, 都城人人自危!)87 This case thus made the capital a dangerous place. But a more important problem is why Zhenke‘s friends and followers were worried about so much when he took a temporary residence in Beijing before the case broke out? To answer this question we have to take a few steps back. After Shen Yiguan became the senior Grand Secretary in the eleventh month of Wanli 29 (1601), Zhenke was nearly used by him to expel his political enemy Huang Hui. Another key figure in this event was Yu Yuli who was Zhenke‘s disciple and major patron. Yu Yuli was Shen Li‘s student. In the summer of Wanli 31 (1603), with assistance of Shen‘s other two students, including Guo Zhengyu, Yu Yuli got a promotion. And then they often visited Shen Li together, which made Shen Yiguan even unhappier. Shen Lingyu kept contact with Yu and Guo, and more importantly, he often boasted about such relations in public. Therefore, after the ―evil pamphlet‖ event occurred, Zhenke and Shen Lingyu were seen by Shen Yiguan as a chance to attack first Guo Zhengyu and then Shen Li.88

In fact, the alarm had sounded one year before.89 In the intercalary second month of Wanli 30 (1602), Censor Zhang Wenda 張問達 (?-1625; jinshi, 1583) submitted a memorial to the emperor, charging Li Zhi 李贄 (1527-1602) with advocating unorthodox doctrines to delude the world and cheat common people. This memorial ended as follows: ―Recently, some gentry and scholar-officials hold dhāraṇī, recite the Buddha‘s name, and serve monks with reverence. By holding rosaries (shuzhu 數珠) in hand, they think they are taking the Vinaya precepts; by hanging marvellous images (i.e. Buddha‘s images) in the room, they think they have converted to Buddhism. They defy the teachings of Confucius and are engrossed in Chan Buddhism. (近 來縉紳士大夫, 亦有捧咒念佛, 奉僧膜拜, 手持數珠, 以為律戒;室懸妙像, 以為皈依;不 遵孔子家法, 而溺意禪教者). The target of this comment, according to contemporary people, was at Huang Hui and Tao Wangling.90 In the next month, Censor Kang Piyang sent a memorial explicitly suggesting that Zhenke be arrested and all of his followers be expelled from Beijing.91 Wanli had no response to this memorial, but this message alarmed many people.

Cisheng raised no voice in this case, like in Deqing‘s case, but Wanli‘s attitude was ambiguous. Some said that Zhenke ended his life voluntarily to avoid further humiliation after knowing that Wanli wanted his death. This opinion does not seem groundless given that he was sentenced to a postponed gallows. But others argue that the emperor had no intention of killing Zhenke, which seems more convincing to me. When arrested, Shen Lingyu‘s correspondence with Zhenke, Yu Yuli and others were found. This made the emperor suspect that ―officials were conniving with lobbyists [to get promotion]‖ (疑臣下與遊客交結). Lobbyism was what the emperor detested the most, and this partly explained why he kept silent about Zhenke‘s arrest.92 Finally, however, he forgave Shen Lingyu and set him free. In fact, this case also implicated Zhenke‘s fellow monks. Jieshan Furu, a native of Haiyan, Zhejiang, was Zhenke‘s friend. Furu went to the capital in Wanli 28 (1600) in the hope of reopening the ordination platform at Great Zhaoqing si 大昭慶孝 in Hangzhou and of obtaining a copy of the Buddhist canon. He had returned to Hangzhou before the ―evil pamphlet‖ event occurred, but he was still arrested and brought to Beijing to be investigated. Nevertheless, he was released and given a bestowed copy of Buddhist canon in Wanli 34 (1606).93

In the investigation, the censor in charge tried to implicate Shen Li and Guo Zhengyu, but Zhenke and Shen Lingyu frustrated his attempt. Zhenke had wide connections with scholars-officials, and his words in the investigation could bring a disaster to them. Decades later when commenting on Zhenke‘s investigation records, Qian Qianyi said, ―evil men were happy with implication. They intended to use the Great Master (i.e. Zhenke) as a net to kill good scholar-officials who were not in their party. [Finally] they dared to kill an arhat.‖ (奸邪 小人, 快心鈎黨. 欲借大師為一網, 斬艾賢士大夫之異己者, 遂不憚殺阿羅漢).94 Zhenke would rather end his life than involve scholar-officials, which made him even respected by scholar-officials.


Translated by John Balcom
In: After Many Autumns: A Collection of Chinese Buddhist Literature
edited by John Gill, Susan Tidwell, Buddha's Light Publishing, 2011

Master Zibo Zhenke (1543-1603) was a monastic from Jiangsu Province. Though he was ordained in the Chan School, Zibo Zhenke was uniquely invested in Buddhist literature and textual criticism, and employed a teaching style that explicated sutras character by character. Believing that previously printed editions of the Buddhist canon were too difficult to read, he oversaw the creation of a new printed edition, called the Fangce Canon. This edition was based on the fifteenth century Northern Canon compared against the fourteenth century Southern Canon for textual accuracy.

Zibo Zhenke was also a staunch believer in monastic discipline, as evinced in his essay “On the Kitchen,” which analyses the duties of the monastery cook in Buddhist doctrinal terms.


On the Kitchen

The Buddha said, “The place in a temple for preparing offerings of food and drink for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha is known as the ‘kitchen of accumulated fragrance.’ But if those who prepare food and drink do not understand the three virtues or distinguish among the six flavors and if their three karmas of body, speech, and mind are impure, then the kitchen ought instead to be called the ‘kitchen of accumulated filth.’”

What are the three virtues? They are purity, gentleness, and acting in accordance with the rule. What are the six flavors? They are plain, salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter. If the food offered to the Buddha and the sangha is impure and consists of meat and fish, then the virtue of purity is lost; if it is not fine and pleasing and somewhat astringent, then the virtue of gentleness is lost; if it is not made on time, not properly made, not prepared carefully, and tasted before it is offered to the public, then the virtue of acting according to the rule is lost. If the three virtues are not blended in harmony with the six flavors, the three virtues are lost. The plain flavor is the essence of all flavors. The salty flavor is by nature moist, and it can moisten the muscles and skin. Thus, when blending flavors one should begin with salt. The spicy flavor is by nature hot, and can warm the coolness of the internal organs. Thus, the flavor of peppers is called “spicy.” The sour flavor is by nature cooling and can release the ill effects of the other flavors. Thus the flavor of vinegar is called “sour.” The sweet flavor is by nature gentle, and it can be gentle on the spleen and the stomach. Thus the flavor of sugar is called “sweet.” The bitter flavor is by nature cold, and it is capable of releasing the heat of the internal organs. Thus acridity is called “bitter.”

You people who examine and observe the three virtues and the six flavors, understanding how these virtues are virtues and how these flavors are flavors, in addition to holding no concept of self, others, sentient beings, or longevity,1 do with your six sense organs and four limbs diligently and skillfully prepare food to offer to the Buddha and the sangha—such a person [gains] merit. It is as if one were to fill the vastness of space with the seven treasures2 for endless kalpas, without giving rise to a single thought of stinginess or tiredness; the merit of [one who prepares food in this way] would be ten thousand times greater.

And why is this? When the three virtues are not lacking and the six flavors are not absent, if such food and drink were smelled by the Buddha or entered the mouth of a monastic, it would be like smelling sandalwood and tasting sweet dew. The five internal organs3 will be balanced and the skin smooth and pleasant, the body comfortable and the mind at peace, externally endowed with physical strength while internally endowed with mental vigor. Endowed with physical strength, the body is healthy. When the mind is endowed with vigor, the spirit will be undisturbed. When the body is healthy, one can advance towards the Way; when the spirit is undisturbed the wisdom of contemplation is easy to achieve. When food does not accord with the rule, then the body sickens and the mind is filled with anxieties. When body and mind are racked with illness and worry, it is impossible to progress toward enlightenment.

This being the case, the lives and fates of those practicing the Way are inextricably linked to those in the kitchen. Therefore, cooks who do not distinguish among the three virtues and lack precision in the use of the six flavors are referred to as “ox-headed torturers from hell,” or killers. If cooks distinguish among the three virtues, are precise in the six flavors, and prepare food and drink to offer to the Buddha and the sangha and by directing the six sense organs and the four limbs without a sense of self, others, sentient beings, or longevity, they are referred to as compassionate bodhisattvas. This is the reason for the expression: “The three thousand Buddhas were all produced in the kitchen.”

If someone is always greedy and does not respect the virtuous and honorable, they will be reborn as a hungry ghost in hell. If someone is wasteful and does not consider future difficulties, they will be reborn in poverty. If someone who prepares food and drink and the six sense organs are uncontrolled, the nine orifices are unbridled,4 the four limbs unclean, then they will be reborn as maggots and bedbugs.

All of the above is based on the Buddha’s words. If someone hears or reads this they will develop a sense of shame. If a person practices it with a sense of respect, they will overcome ignorance while gaining wisdom, their wrongdoing will decrease as they accrue merit, and they will gain peace of mind and comfort. They will attain the supreme Way and become bodhisattvas. The Buddha’s words are the truth. A child of the Buddha5 in the kitchen will attain the Buddha-mind and be released from suffering.



1: Reference to the “four notions” of the Diamond Sutra.

2: Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, ruby, pearl, and carnelian. The act of filling space with these materials is a reference to the massive acts of generosity described in the Diamond Sutra.

3: Heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and stomach.

4: Both eyes, both ears, both nostrils, mouth, anus, and urinary tract.

5: Monastic disciple of the Buddha.


The calligraphy for Zibo Zhenke's poem “There Is Water in the Cauldron” is by contemporary scholar and calligrapher Shen Peng.

There Is Water in the Cauldron
by Zibo Zhenke
Translated by John Balcom

There is water in the cauldron,
But without fire it cannot be heated.
There are seeds in the ground,
But without spring they won't sprout.
There is foolishness in the mind,
But it cannot be destroyed without study.



Zibo Zhenke: Kuhmist vom Landhaus zur Hohen Kiefer
Deutsch von Taro Yamada & Guido Keller, Frankfurt, Angkor Verlag, 2005, 80 S.
Gedruckt nur noch im Sammelband "Meister des Zen", (Band 2) https://www.amazon.de/Meister-Zen-Sammelband-Taro-Yamada-ebook/dp/B00TQWCZOC/angkorverlag-21/

Zibo Zhenke (1543-1603) war ein herausragender Zen-Meister im China der Ming-Zeit. Er wurde vom Volk zugleich als Meditationslehrer wie als Interpret der Zen-Philosophie geachtet, unterstützte zeitlebens die Verbreitung des buddhistischen Kanons Jiaxing zang und half, den Nanhua-Tempel des sechsten Patriarchen Huineng zu restaurieren. Zibos Kernlehre handelt vom Denken: Nicht nur das, was wir wahrnehmen, ist ein Produkt unserer Gedanken, sondern auch der Wahrnehmungsvorgang selbst ist bedingt und letztlich leer. Freilich erscheint in allem die Buddha-Natur. Durch ihre Verwirklichung wird der gewöhnliche Mensch laut Zibo zum Weisen; fortan ist er nicht mehr länger Sklave seiner Gedanken und Sinneseindrücke. Gerade im Lichte neuer Erkenntnisse der Hirnforschung fasziniert Zibos durchdringende Analyse unseres Wahrnehmungsapparates.

Guido Keller, 1964 geboren, studierte Journalismus, Amerikanistik, und Germanistik. 2000 gründete er den Angkor Verlag in Frankfurt am Main.


Der Verschleierte Geist: Zen-Betrachtungen des Chinesischen Mönchs-Philosophen Zibo Zhenke
by Sebastian Gault
(Schweizer Asiatische Studien / Etudes Asiatique Suisse), Peter Lang, Bern, 2003, 379 S.