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聖嚴慧空 Shengyan Huikong (1930-2009)
[Sheng Yen; Sheng-yen]

"Stilling the mind is like catching a feather with a fan -
every time you move the fan, the feather is likely to be blown away."

Master Sheng Yen



„Nyugalomba hozni az elmét olyan, mint legyezővel fogni egy szálló tollpihét – valahányszor mozgásba lendül a legyező, a tollat bizony elhessenti.”
Seng-jen mester mondását Terebess Gábor fordította

A zen rövid története
Seng-jen mester előadása
Fordította: Szigeti György

Buddhizmus Tajvanban - Wikipédia:
Négy helyi buddhista tanítót a tajvani buddhista „négy mennyei király” személyéhez kapcsolnak. A hozzájuk kapcsolódó intézmények jelentősek az országon belül. Ezek a következők:

Észak (Csin-san körzet, Tajpej): Seng-jen mester (聖嚴, d. 2009) - Dharma Dob-hegy (法鼓山)

Dél (Tasu körzet, Kaohsziung): Hszing Jun mester (星雲) - Fo Kuang San (佛光山)

Kelet (Hualien): Cseng Jen mester (證嚴) - Cu Csi alapítvány (慈濟基金會)

Nyugat (Nantou): Vej Csueh mester (惟覺) - Csung Taj San (中台山)



石頭希遷 Shitou Xiqian (700–790)
Inquiry into Matching Halves
Commented on by Chan Master Sheng Yen
Translated by Ming Yee Wang and Pei-gwang Dowiat

洞山良价 Dongshan Liangjie (807-869)
The Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi
Commented on by Chan Master Sheng Yen
Translated by Ming Yee Wang and Pei-gwang Dowiat

牛頭法融 Niutou Farong (594-657)
心銘 Xin ming
Song of the Mind
Translated by Master Sheng Yen

The Ten Ox Herding Pictures
by Master Sheng-yen

Faith in Mind
Translated by Master Sheng-yen > with commentaries

Contemplating Mind
By Han Shan Te-ch'ing (1546-1623)

Translated by Sheng Yen with Commentaries
In: Getting The Buddha Mind

PDF: The Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism
Inheriting the Past and Inspiring the Future
by Master Sheng Yen

PDF: In the Spirit of Chan
by Master Sheng Yen

PDF: The Effects of Chan Meditation
by Master Sheng Yen

PDF: Chan Practice and Faith
by Master Sheng Yen

PDF: Revisiting the Notion of Zong:
Contextualizing the Dharma Drum Lineage of Modern Chan Buddhism
by Jimmy Yu

Lineage Chart of Zhigang Weirou (Huikong Shengyen) in the Linji School

Illustrated by 陳永模 (Chen Yongmo, 1961-)

Master Sheng Yen
The Founder of Dharma Drum Mountain

The Master has had a weak physique and been prone to illness since childhood. After becoming a monk in the Wolf Hills in China, he went through years of having to perform deliverance rituals day and night for a living, then served in the military, and was finally re-ordained. Thereafter, whether on solitary retreat, studying in Japan, in America spreading the Dharma, or founding Dharma Drum Mountain, he has always been able to find a way forward when there seemed no way out. In his hardships his compassionate vows strengthen, and through his perseverance his wisdom shines. To him, life is a process of realizing the Buddha dharma.


Born into poverty, Master Sheng Yen lived through floods, droughts and years of war in his childhood. But in spite of these trying circumstances, he revealed his unique character at an early age.

Once, as a child, Master Sheng Yen was fortunate enough to be given a whole banana for himself. When he sank his teeth into the banana, the first he had ever tasted, he was so overwhelmed by its delicious flavor that he could not bring himself to take a second bite. Instead, he carefully saved the remainder, which was already beginning to darken, so he could take it to school the next day to let his classmates taste for themselves its wondrous flavor.

Tonsure at Wolf Hills

In 1943, the not-yet-thirteen-year-old Master Sheng Yen voluntarily followed a neighbor to a monastery in the Wolf Hills to become a monk. As a young novice, Master Sheng Yen was known as Changjin, and carried out the many miscellaneous duties traditionally required of monks in China's Buddhist monasteries. Although his work was exhausting, he arose before the sun every morning to prostrate himself before Guanyin five hundred times, praying to and visualizing Guanyin, a poplar twig in hand, sprinkling the cool, ambrosian dew on his head.

And how Guanyin answered his prayer. Master Sheng Yen, who at that time had only a fourth-grade education, was soon able to memorize the thick Daily Recitations for Chan Monastics and understand his masters' lectures. This brought him great surprise and joy, and he discovered that the Dharma, profound and subtle, could actually transform and liberate people. Thus he made a grand commitment: he would try his best to understand and spread the Dharma, using the Dharma to help people come out of suffering and attain happiness. To this day, in spite of the many frustrations and obstacles he has encountered over the years, this commitment has never waned. Instead, it has spurred him to develop the wisdom and will to overcome difficulties and trials.

Moving to Taiwan as a Soldier

In 1949, China was in chaos. After much deliberation, Master Sheng Yen changed his name to Zhang Caiwei and took refuge in the army. His decision was not unlike that of Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, who once joined a group of hunters to flee from danger. Yet as a soldier, Master Sheng Yen never for a day forgot that he had been a monk; he never wavered in his conviction that he would once again take up his monastic robes and return to the path to enlightenment.

In the army, the young Zhang Caiwei closely observed life in the lay world and wondered about the origins of life. Eventually, his mind was totally immersed in a great ball of doubt. Then chance brought Zhang to meet Master Lingyuan, a lineage disciple of the legendary Master Xuyun. That night, under Master Lingyuan's guidance, Zhang Caiwei experienced a powerful epiphany. A strong feeling of release swept over his whole being. Describing the experience, Master Sheng Yen says: "It was as if my life suddenly exploded out of the tin can in which I had imprisoned it."

Returning to Monastic Life

In 1960, after ten years in the service, Zhang Caiwei left the army and received tonsure again under Master Dongchu, taking the Dharma-name Sheng Yen. Not long afterwards, Master Sheng Yen went to southern Taiwan and took up a six-year solitary retreat in the mountains. During his retreat, Master Sheng Yen placed equal emphasis on meditative practice and doctrinal learning. First he studied the precepts, then the Agama sutras. Based on this study, he wrote Essentials of the Precepts and Orthodox Chinese Buddhism, the latter of which has been translated into Vietnamese and sold more than three million copies. With regard to practice, Master Sheng Yen used the method of "no-thought" during seated meditation, and he blended martial arts and yoga to create "Chan in Motion," which later became an important element of the seven-day retreats he leads.

Having long reflected on the development of Chinese Buddhism and looking for a means to reinvigorate Chinese Buddhist culture and education, Master Sheng Yen made a firm resolve to go to Japan to study when his retreat ended. The Master's objective in becoming a scholar was to raise the status of Buddhism within Taiwanese society, and to make people understand that Buddhism, placing equal emphasis on learning and practice, is a repository of human wisdom.

The Pursue of Advanced Studies in Japan

In 1969, the forty-year-old Master Sheng Yen, though having only a fourth-grade education, was admitted to the master's program in Buddhist Studies at Japan's Rissho University on the strength of his published works on Buddhism.

While studying in Japan, Master Sheng Yen led the life of a traditional Chinese monk. He stringently adhered to the precepts, and with natural dignity demonstrated through his actions the proper behavior for a monk in the lay world. In spite of his straitened economic circumstances, Master Sheng Yen never wavered in his resolve to study. He was guided instead by his professor's words of encouragement: "In clothing and food there is no mind for the Path, but with a mind for the Path there will always be food and clothing."

Fortunately, with the timely anonymous financial support from Dr. CT Shen, Master Sheng Yen was eventually able to finish his Ph.D., becoming the first Chinese monk to do so.

Master Sheng Yen's master's thesis was entitled Research on the Mahayana Approach to Calming and Contemplation, and he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Venerable Zhixu, a Ming dynasty master. Even today, the dissertation remains unmatched for its thoroughness, detail and precision, and continues to be one of the world's few important works on Ming dynasty Buddhism.

In addition to his university studies, while in Japan Master Sheng Yen also took part in a number of retreats at Japanese monasteries. These retreats made him aware of the differences between Japanese Zen and Chinese Chan, and enabled him to incorporate the best elements of both traditions into a Chan teaching appropriate to the modern world.

Causes and conditions are impossible to fathom. Master Sheng Yen arrived at the most significant turning point in his life after he completed his degree-he went to the United States to teach Chan. Speaking of those days, Master Sheng Yen says he felt like an itinerant monk pressing ahead through the wind and snow.

Propagation of Buddhardharma in the West

For the purpose of spreading the Dharma and teaching meditation, Master Sheng Yen and his students once wandered the unfamiliar streets of New York City for as long as six months.

Life was difficult, yet back then the master never felt that he was suffering. On the contrary, he says: "Those were happy times. People often say: "In spreading the Dharma, the body is forgotten." I finally had a taste of what it's like to sleep on the earth with the sky as my ceiling." Even today, those who see what the master eats and drinks are still shocked by the simplicity of his life.

And so, with this acetic spirit, Master Sheng Yen has traveled to the four corners of the Earth. These journeys have taken him to the United Kingdom, Germany, Central and South America, Eastern Europe and Russia, even to places like Czechoslovakia and Croatia, where the Dharma has rarely been heard.

These extensive travels led to adjustments to his teachings, originally rich in Chinese flavor, in light of his perceptive observations and teaching experience gained along the way. Gradually, Master Sheng Yen developed a Chan teaching that transcended ethnic and cultural boundaries, one that integrated the traditional and the modern into a form that both East and West could accept.

The Core of Master Sheng Yen's Chan Teaching

As a religious teacher, Master Sheng Yen stresses both the understanding and practice of Buddhist doctrine.

Always, Master Sheng Yen guides practitioners into the world of Chan by presenting Chan in terms that modern people can easily grasp. His teachings also encourage practitioners to apply what they have learned to their workaday lives-after all, Chan is about living in the moment. Because his system of thought and methods of practice make people aware of how close Chan is to their lives, they can therefore provide the people of the modern world with an effective means to bring tranquility to their spirits.

Master Sheng Yen's system of thought has two major components. On the one hand, it follows the traditions of the major schools of Chinese Buddhism-Tiantai, Huayan, Consciousness-only and the Chan school that forms the core of his thought. On the other, it looks back to the essence of original Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, and is also concerned with adapting the Dharma to the modern time and different places and cultures. Therefore, Master Sheng Yen's teachings are universal. At a time when the world is marching along the path towards globalization, Master Sheng Yen is building the foundations of an integrated, global Buddhism.

The focus of the Master's Chan teaching is on developing wisdom. It emphasizes personal practice, supplemented with guidance from the Dharma. Along the process of "gradual practice, sudden enlightenment," a practitioner starts by training the scattered mind until it gradually settles down and clears to a state of one-pointed concentration, or "unified mind." Afterwards, as the practitioner's Chan practice reaches an advanced level, the emphasis would shift to "letting go"-letting go of all grasping, letting go of method and even the thought of letting go itself-so that emptiness may be experienced after the train of language and thought is stilled.

As people differ from one another, each cultivates the Way in his or her own fashion. Therefore, during a Chan retreat, initially the master teaches several methods-counting the breath, following the breath, reciting the Buddha's name, etc.-from which retreatants may pick one to their liking and use it to settle the body and mind. When they reach the doorstep of experiencing the insight of "no-self," Master Sheng Yen, an heir to both the Linji and Caodong lineages of Chan, primarily guides them with Linji's huatou technique and Caodong's silent illumination, occasionally resorting to the methods of calming and contemplation according to their karmic capacities. By alternating the tense with the relaxed approaches, Master Sheng Yen has created a dynamic, vital style of Chan practice.

The Master's teachings emphasize that practitioners should in their daily lives be constantly aware of the thoughts circulating in their minds. This awareness would allow them to simplify their minds and to clearly perceive the changes in themselves and their environment. Wisdom is developed so that people may apply it in their workaday lives to face themselves and grow, to dissolve their attachments and enter into a state of "no-self." With this wisdom, they will be able to remain relaxed and unhindered, enjoying every day and helping others despite the huge pressures of life.

At the heart of Master Sheng Yen's Chan thought is the elucidation and experience of "emptiness" and "no-self." His Chan research is based not only on his years of training in Chan, but also on his extensive reading of the Chan classics, even drawing on the views of original Buddhism's graduated approach and the Tiantai school. Out of this research, Master Sheng Yen has produced numerous significant works examining Chan theory, history and thought. In addition, he has written many papers and treatises on the precepts and the Tiantai and Consciousness-only thought, all of which are worthy references to those researching or seeking an understanding of modern Chinese Buddhism.

In May 1998, in talks on Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama praised Master Sheng Yen as "an extremely humble and learned follower of the Way."

Advocating and Facilitaing Education

Master Sheng Yen is a forward-looking religious leader who believes: "If we don't educate today, Buddhism in Taiwan will have no tomorrow." He has therefore established the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, encouraged Buddhist research, and transcended sectarian boundaries through academic exchanges with Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism. Moreover, he has introduced into Taiwan an international academic perspective on Buddhism, seeking to bring greater depth and breadth to Taiwan's Buddhist studies and education. And now he has founded the Buddhist Seminary of Dharma Drum Sangha University, which provides a complete and practical training environment for the cultivation of monastic talent.

With Master Sheng Yen's support, the Taisho Tripitaka and the Manji-zokuzokyo have been made available in electronic format, and a Buddhist studies database and digital museum established. These convenient tools not only will facilitate Buddhist studies, but have opened up new avenues for future research. At last, the myriad sutras in numerous tomes are no longer difficult to access.

Pure Land on Earth

In 1989, Dharma Drum Mountain, which advocates the realization of a pure land on Earth, was established in Taiwan.

This effort to build a pure land on Earth pivots on "protecting the spiritual environment." Through the Fivefold Spiritual Renaissance Campaign, this goal may be gradually realized in every aspect of life, bring about the purification of one's body and mind. Once the people's minds are purified, the nation will be pure, as explained by Master Sheng Yen in a keynote speech delivered at the first Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders convened by the United Nations in its fifty-five-year history: "[When] individuals start by purifying their mind, filling it with gratitude for life as well as kindness and compassion. . . . they will devote the fruit of their efforts to others."

This concept along with its methods of implementation, originated by combining the liberation and bodhisattva paths, is exactly Master Sheng Yen's proposition for being involved with the world to influence the world and benefiting all sentient beings. It allows modern people to engage in the world to transform it, completely altering the quality of their lives and relieving the spiritual poverty that afflicts most people today.

As his insight penetrates the predicament of all humanity, in recent years Master Sheng Yen frequently receives invitations from around the world to share his incisive observations to awaken the slumberous spirits of the world's people.

Sparked by this boyhood thought: The Dharma is such a wondrous thing, yet few people understand it, Master Sheng Yen's desire to spread the Dharma has been burning ablaze ever since.

Now to date, Master Sheng Yen has led more than two hundred international seven-day Chan retreats, and has been invited to speak at more than seventy major Western universities. The master's untiring travels to spread the Dharma have taken him not only around Asia and to North America, but also to South and Central America, and much of Europe, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, Poland and Croatia.

In May and June of 2000, Master Sheng Yen arranged the first forty-nine-day intensive retreat-the Forty-Nine-Day Silent Illumination Retreat-and transmitted the bodhisattva precepts at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center in the United States. The retreat, which included participants from thirteen nations, marked the start of a new era for Chinese Chan in the Western world.

These days, in many meditation halls all over the world, you can hear Master Sheng Yen's slightly reedy voice speaking to the hearts of students of Chan. Or, you can hear him give one of his humorous yet powerful talks in the world's lecture halls, his words pounding on the hearts of audiences. Master Sheng Yen is like a wise patriarch who provides people with guidance on their journey through life and helps them find its fundamental meaning.

Yet all this time, Master Sheng Yen remains an ordinary monk, holding onto the commitment of his youth. Though his face bears the marks of time, he has never stopped giving. . .

There is no suffering,

no cause of suffering,

no cessation of suffering,

and no path.

There is no wisdom and no attainment.



In English Wikipedia:

Sheng Yen (聖嚴 ; Pinyin: Shèngyán, birth name Zhang Baokang, 張保康) (December 4, 1930 – February 3, 2009) was a Buddhist monk, a religious scholar, and one of the mainstream teachers of Chinese Chan Buddhism. He was a 57th generational Dharma heir of Linji Yixuan in the Linji school (Japanese: Rinzai) and a 3rd generational Dharma heir of Master Hsu Yun. In the Caodong (Japanese: Sōtō) lineage, Sheng Yen was a 52nd generational Dharma heir of Master Dongshan (807-869), and a direct Dharma heir of Master Dongchu (1908–1977).

Sheng Yen was the founder of the Dharma Drum Mountain, a Buddhist organization based in Taiwan. During his time in Taiwan, Sheng Yen was well known as one of the progressive Buddhist teachers who sought to teach Buddhism in a modern and Western-influenced world. In Taiwan, he was one of four prominent modern Buddhist masters, along with Masters Hsing Yun, Cheng Yen and Wei Chueh. In 2000 he was one of the keynote speakers in the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held in the United Nations.

Born near Shanghai in mainland China, he became a Buddhist monk at the age of 13. In order to escape religious persecution from the People's Republic of China, he went to Taiwan in 1949 by enlisting in a unit of the Nationalist Army out of necessity. He became a monk again in 1959 and from 1961 to 1968 he trained in solitary retreat in southern Taiwan. He then completed a master's degree (1971) and doctorate (1975) in Buddhist literature at Rissho University in Japan.

He became abbot of Nong Chan Monastery in Taiwan in 1978 and founder of the Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Culture in New York City in 1979. In 1985, he founded the Institute of Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies in Taipei and the International Cultural and Educational Foundation of Dharma Drum Mountain in 1989.

He taught in the United States starting in 1975, and established Chan Meditation Center in Queens, New York, and its retreat center, Dharma Drum Retreat Center at Pine Bush, New York in 1997. He also visited many countries in Europe, as well as continuing his teaching in several Asian countries, in particular Taiwan. In this way his work helped to bridge East and West and convey the Dharma to the West. He was known as a skillful teacher who helped many of his students to reach enlightenment mostly through meditation. Sheng Yen gave dharma transmission to several of his lay Western students, such as John Crook. Later on, John Crook who formed the Western Chan Fellowship, and several other Western disciples of Master Sheng Yen, such as Simon Child, Max Kalin, and Zarko Andricevic.

Sheng Yen's health was poor in the last couple years of his life, although he still gave lectures in Taiwan. He declined a kidney transplant, stating that he did not expect to live for long, and he would rather save the chance for others who need it.

Sheng Yen died from renal failure on February 3, 2009, while returning from National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei. In accordance with East Asian age reckoning methods, the Dharma Drum Mountain organization states that Sheng Yen died at the age of 80. Officially, according to the Western way of reckoning age, Sheng Yen died at the age of 79.

In alphabetical order of the books' title:



Master Sheng Yen and the Modern Construction of Chan Buddhism
by Jimmy Yu

Within Chinese Buddhism, the late Master Shengyan Huikong 聖嚴慧空(1930-2009) (hereafter, Sheng Yen) was revered as a Buddhist educator, a lineage holder of both the Linji and Caodong lines of Chan, and the progenitor of a newly constructed Chan school within Chinese Buddhism called the Dharma Drum Lineage (Fagu zong 法鼓宗), which unites the two lineages that Sheng Yen was heir to. What stands out in this newly constructed Dharma Drum Lineage is a focus on moral education, an important feature of Chinese Buddhism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Taiwan. This focus on education is a distinct outcome of the impact from the Buddhist reforms and thinkers of the Republican period (1912-1949). Sheng Yen’s teaching of modern Chan is inextricably linked to his Republican period predecessors, but it also evolved from his response to his personal experience teaching his western students and from his response to the Taiwan environment. His Chan is a synthesis and reformulation of the foundational teachings of the Three Studies of precepts, morality, and wisdom found in the early gamas and traditional Chan teachings. The aim of this reformulation is nothing short of ensuring the survival of Chinese Buddhism in the modern age, but the process of this reformulation was complex and gradual. The whole process is a paradigm shift in the development of Chinese Buddhism. While he drew from his predecessors for inspiration, Sheng Yen’s formulation is unique and unmatched by his contemporaries. The aim of this essay is to historicize the conditions that have led to his construction of Chan, the ingredients of his teachings, and the core identity of the Dharma Drum Lineage.

Sheng Yen’s Construction of Chan as Inseparable from Doctrine

It is important to recognize the intellectual and religious position of Sheng Yen vis-à-vis his immediate predecessors in order to understand the significance and aim of the Dharma Drum Chan lineage. While he has inherited the general trajectory of the movement that sought to modernize Buddhism that began in the Republican period, he is more interested in how to implement these ideas and reforms concretely so that Chinese Buddhism can flourish on a global level. His vision and reconstruction of Chan as the apex of Chinese Buddhism was his solution to the perceived crisis. Yet, the complex history of the process of this reconstruction is not easily traceable to specific and deliberate decisions or planning. It appears that he simply responded to the problems he saw in Buddhism. He drew from his personal Chan experiences, lessons from his intellectual predecessors, and interest in education to formulate a viable form of modern Buddhism.

Models of Emulation

Several medieval and late imperial Buddhist masters influenced Sheng Yen’s thought. He consistently looked to them in order to articulate his own teachings. They were all great Chan masters who not only made significant contributions to Chinese Buddhism but also shaped the course its development. They embodied the two-fold ideal of “equal emphasis in understanding and practice.” These figures include Caoxi Huineng 曹溪惠能 (638-713),[1] the sixth lineage master of the Chan tradition and his disciples Hoze Shenhui 荷澤神會 (668-760), the fifth generation successor to Shenhui’s Chan, Guifeng Zongmi 圭峯宗密 (780-841), who was also a patriarch of the Huayan tradition. If we are to include Song masters, then the two most often cited by Sheng Yen are Hongzhi Zhengjue 宏智正覺 (1091-1157) and Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163). These last two figures were innovators of Chan methods of practice, and doctrinally very well informed, as demonstrated in their discourse records. Their impact is most prominent in subsequent lineages of Chan in China, Korea, and Japan. Sheng Yen wrote commentaries to all of these masters’ works. He also spent much time studying the syncretic thought of Ouyi Zhixu 蕅益智旭 (1599-1655) of the late Ming period. Through him he understood the teachings of Tiantai and other schools of Chinese Buddhism.

Sheng Yen sees “innovation” in Chinese Buddhism in the degree to which these masters were able to reinterpret and draw synthesis from both Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachings. He states, “The reason why Chinese Buddhism has become stagnant is because it stopped absorbing external systems of thought and ideas.”[2] One of the reasons why great masters of the past were able to innovatively establish new doctrinal ideas was because they absorbed the best of Confucian and Daoist thinking. In Sheng Yen’s commentary to Zongmi’s Origin of Humanity (Yuanren lun 原人論), a Buddhist primer on doctrinal classification, he states:

In China, there are very few people who have studied and propagated Zongmi’s treatise on Yuanren lun 原人論, a work that expounded the syncretism of the three traditions. In his fivefold doctrinal classification, he included the teachings of humans and gods from Confucianism and Daoism. The impact of this classification is extremely far reaching. We see this impact even in the twentieth-century Venerable Master Taixu’s own doctrinal classification of the Five Vehicles and Three-Tiered System (the Shared Teachings of the Five Vehicles, the Shared Teachings of the Three Vehicles, and the Unique Teachings of the Mahāyāna). For example, he lists the Vehicle of Humans and Gods as the first and foundational vehicle [within Buddhism] and that his slogan, “When humanness is perfected, Buddhahood is perfected” emphasizes this point. It can be argued that Taixu was influenced by Zongmi’s thought in Yuanren lun. [Such emphasis on humanness in Zongmi’s work] can also be said to be the origin of our own endeavor to promote a human-centered form of Buddhism in order to create a Pure Land on Earth.[3]

Here, Sheng Yen highlights the ingenuity and syncretic thought of Zongmi’s doctrinal classification, or panjiao 判教, one of the hallmarks of Chinese Buddhism. This system was a way for Chinese Buddhists to arrange the Buddhist teachings in such a way that each teaching served as an expedient measure to overcome the particular shortcoming of the teaching that preceded it while, at the same time, pointing to the teaching that was to supersede it. In this fashion, a hierarchical progression of teachings could be constructed, starting with the most foundational and leading to the most profound. What is ingenious in Zongmi’s system is that he is the first to incorporate Daoist and Confucian teachings into this Buddhist hermeneutical classification, which can be seen as an attempt not only to harmonize indigenous Chinese teachings with that of Buddhism, but also to appropriate other systems of thought into Buddhism. What is important to highlight is how Sheng Yen values Zongmi’s approach to make this text accessible to ordinary people, not ignoring the indigenous Chinese teachings external to Buddhism, but embrace them to construct a new form of Chinese Buddhism. Also interesting is how Sheng Yen sees himself in alignment with Zongmi, both intellectually and genealogically through his immediate predecessors such as Taixu, who was also inspired by Zongmi.

For articulating a practical Chan approach to practicing the Buddhist doctrine, Sheng Yen looked to the work of Chan Master Shenhui, the disciple of Huineng, who is the sixth patriarch of Chan.

He states:

In the history of Chan Buddhism, Chan master Shenhui plays the role of someone who inherits the wisdom of the past and inspires the future generation of Chan practitioners. After Huineng passed away, even though he had quite a number of disciples, no one can compare with Shenhui. He was fully conversant with both practice and doctrine, and well read in Confucian and Daoist works. Moreover, he was fully immersed in the collections of Buddhist scriptures, commentaries, and monastic codes, and at the same time socially and politically enthusiastic about the welfare of the nation (emphasis mine).[4]

Sheng Yen not only admires Shenhui’s breadth of knowledge in Buddhist doctrine and, at the same time, being a socially engaged Chan master, but also his role as a transmitter of the Buddhist wisdom. Such admiration can only be appreciated in the context of Sheng Yen’s approach to actualizing the Buddhist teaching. For example, he has stated that “The main thrust of Buddhism lies in actualization [of awakening to the truth of reality]. In this sense, doctrinal thought is merely established for the purpose of actualization… Only through genuine realization will one’s true wisdom arise. Only then will a person be able to expound the inconceivable Dharma that is pure. This can only come about through using correct teachings as a guide to actualize the true Dharma and illuminate the mind and perceive one’s self-nature.”[5] He also states that the role of Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan is to “inherit the past and inspire the future.”[6]

Sheng Yen admires the profundity of Shenhui’s teaching as an entry to understanding the Platform Scripture of Huineng.[7]Some scholars contend that the Platform Scripture was produced by the hand of Shenhui. This is not the place to discuss the provenance of the text. Irrespective of its author, the text is extremely important in shaping subsequent development in Chan, and in shaping Sheng Yen’s own understanding of Chan. In his preface to the commentary to Shenhui’s work, Sheng Yen states that “[the depth of this work] allowed me to examine the whole of Buddhism from the perspective of Chan and allowed me to produce a comprehensive Buddhist guide to Chan studies.”[8]

Yet, because many earlier scholarly and popular writings on Buddhism were influenced by Zen sectarianism, Shenhui is not usually thought of as a representative of Chan. Most people conceive of Chan as an iconoclastic tradition free from ritual and doctrine, since it focuses exclusively on the enlightenment experience. Conceived of in this manner, Shenhui would not fit the image of Chan. Recent scholarship, however, has revealed that this image of Chan is shaped largely by how Buddhism was transmitted to and studied in the West. The reality is that in China most influential Chan masters were extremely conversant with Buddhist doctrine, despite Chan’s claim to be “a special transmission outside of the doctrine learning, which does not establish or depend on words and language.” Sheng Yen’s singling out of Shenhui as an exemplar of someone who placed equal weight to learning and practice is not out of the ordinary—it accords with how Chan has been practiced in China for centuries—but his stress on the inseparability of these two aspects is a corrective to what he witnessed in the attitude of American and Japanese Zen.

The Conditions That Led to the Formation of Sheng Yen’s Thought

In order to appreciate Sheng Yen’s Chan teachings, it is essential to examine the conditions that fostered and shaped his understanding of Buddhadharma. His dual emphasis on doctrine and practice, understanding and methods, came from his formative years of studying early Buddhism. His integration of early Buddhism with Chinese Buddhism and the altruistic path of the bodhisattva stemmed from his experiences in Japan. His career as a Chan master began in America and kept on evolving until his death. His promotion of Chan came from his wish to promote Chinese Buddhism. Chan Buddhism was merely a gateway front for him to reconstruct a more effective form of Chinese Buddhism for the modern world. While the conditions that facilitated this long process of developing his thought and teachings are complex, we can discern three general phases to this development.[9] These phases evolved over a span of some sixty years, and his Chan teachings evolved through trial and error.

Early writings from 1961-1969 (age 27 to 39) show Sheng Yen developing an understanding of Buddhism based almost exclusively on the Āgamas and the Buddhist vinaya. I characterize this period as the Early Formation of his intellectual development. During these thirteen years, he published 11 books, two of which are works on comparative religion (comparing Buddhism and Christianity, published in 1956 and 1967). He stated that he wrote these comparative works to counter Christianity’s criticism of Buddhism.[10]

Responding to this criticism has prompted Sheng Yen to reflect and examine the foundation of the Buddhist teaching as a whole. The rest of his writings during this time comprise his close reading and study of the early Buddhist teachings as embodied in the Āgamas. This produced two of his most influential works, both published in 1956: Jielu xue gangyao 戒律學綱要 (Essentials of Monastic Precepts and Regulations) and Zhengxin de fojiao 正信的佛教 (Orthodox Chinese Buddhism). Arguably these two books represent the foundation of his understanding of Buddhist doctrine. His later interpretation of Chan is rooted in this formative period of his life.

During his doctoral studies in Japan, Sheng Yen’s understanding of Buddhism progressed from early Buddhism to later Mahāyāna Chinese Buddhism. I characterize this period as the Integrative Years of his intellectual development, from 1969-1975. Three things transpired: what he witnessed in Japan inspired him to raise the educational level of Chinese Buddhists; his understanding of Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism was changed by his in-depth study of Ouyi; he was exposed to other forms of Buddhism beyond what he had known. Even though he was keenly aware of Taixu’s endeavors to establish Buddhist seminaries, this knowledge was nothing compared to actually witnessing well run seminaries in Japan. At the same time he realized the daunting task Chinese Buddhism faced in trying to integrate Buddhism with the modern educational system. He was determined to improve the educational level of Chinese Buddhists.

Sheng Yen’s study in Japan shaped his doctrinal understanding of Chinese Buddhism and led him to consider how he could formulate Buddhist teachings for the modern age. His 1971 MA thesis on Tiantai zhiguan famen 天台止觀法門 "A Study of the Calming and Contemplation Methods of Tiantai School" was a study of how Huisi’s synthesis of doctrine and practice, which gave Sheng Yen a roadmap that—from the perspective of the Tathāgatagarbha system of thought—showed how to move from Buddhist theory to realization.[11] The impact of this thesis can be seen in Sheng Yen’s later interpretation of Chan, which is doctrinally associated with Tathāgatagarbha thought. His Ph.D. dissertation on the thought of Ouyi Zhixu, Minmatsu Chūūgoku Bukkyō no kenkyū 明末中國佛教の研究 (A Study of Late Ming Chinese Buddhism), published in 1975, also made a lasting impact on his thought. In particular, Sheng Yen saw Ouyi as responding to the same crisis in the deterioration of Buddhism. Ouyi sought ways to integrate and reinterpret various Buddhist doctrines, particularly the Tiantai teachings, to strengthen Chinese Buddhism vis-à-vis the sociopolitical challenges of the times. He responded vociferously to the challenges of those Buddhists and non-Buddhists who misinterpreted and misappropriated Buddhism. He was a defender of the faith in every sense of the word. His response to misappropriations of Chan teachings was particularly strong.[12] Because he saw various problems with Chan adepts, Ouyi distanced himself from any particular Chan lineage even though he himself practiced Chan in the formative period of his life. Sheng Yen’s identity with Ouyi can be seen in the way Sheng Yen responds to what he perceived as a crisis in contemporary Chinese Buddhism and to various misrepresentations of Chan by proponents of Japanese Zen.

Through the works of Huisi and Ouyi, Sheng Yen understood and appreciated the wealth of materials in the Tiantai tradition. He states:

Tiantai is an extremely influential school that systematized both India Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna teachings, and evolved its doctrinal position around the Lotus Sūtra and indigenous Chinese thought… Tiantai thought is meticulously systematized, structured, and hierarchical in nature. Whether it is doctrine or methods of practice, it is tightly organized.[13]

Elsewhere, Sheng Yen stated that Master Ouyi’s Jiaoguan gangzong 教觀綱宗 (The Essence of [Tiantai] Doctrine and Practice) influenced him greatly, especially in its doctrinal organization of Chinese Buddhism.[14] Sheng Yen’s study and commentary of this work allowed him to appreciate the unity of doctrine and practice, or in Tiantai parlance, jiao 教 and guan 觀, and integrate it into his own understanding of Chan.

Sheng Yen witnessed the vibrancy in Japanese academic studies of Buddhism. His historical understanding of Buddhism’s—especially Chinese Buddhism’s—response to socio-political challenges through doctrinal shifts and social programs can be seen in his other writings during this time. One is the Shijie fojiao tongshi 世界佛教通史 (A History of Buddhism in the World), published in 1969. The other is a translation of a 1971 multi-authored book on the history of Chinese Buddhism, Bukkyō shi gaisetsu. Chuūgoku hen 仏教史槪說. 中国篇, which Sheng Yen entitled, Zhongguo fojiao shi kaishuo 中國佛教史概說 (A Brief History of Chinese Buddhism), published in 1972. These two books, particularly the second one, strengthened his historical awareness of the development of Chinese Buddhism.[15] He states, “Those who study the vinaya are naturally inclined to pay attention to [Buddhist] history. The vinaya and history are inseparable. The vinaya consists of documentation of the livelihood and activities of the sa gha and its continuation. This is precisely history… I am neither a vinaya master nor a historian. But because of the decline of modern Chinese Buddhism, I engaged in the study of Buddhist history in the hope of finding inspiration to develop Buddhism in the future.”[16]

On the level of practice, Sheng Yen saw how the Japanese reinterpreted and integrated different forms of Buddhism into their society. On the whole, Sheng Yen was both delighted and astonished to witness ways in which various new Buddhist schools “advocated integrating Buddhist teachings into contemporary society…they ran youth groups, women’s groups, and other groups based on age, with special activities geared toward their members,” and he lamented that “traditional Buddhism didn’t do that. The new schools proselytized like Christians, knocking on doors to try to get people to join them.”[17]

During his breaks form graduate studies, he went to a variety of Buddhist institutions to participate and observe their practice retreats. He did retreats with various schools, including Japanese Zen, Shingon, and Nichiren Shōshu. He even participated in and observed various new religions’ (shinko shukyo) activities. In the end he stuck with the Zen teachings of Rōshi Ban Tetsugyu 伴鉄牛 (1910-1996).[18] Ban Tetsugyu was distantly associated with the newly formed Sanbōkyōdan lineage 三宝教団, literally “Three Treasures Religious Organization,” because he was also a student of Harada Daiun Sogaku 原田祖岳 (1871-1961). Harada’s other student Yasutani Haku’un 安谷白雲 founded the Sanbōkyōdan lineage in 1954. Scholars have highlighted the controversial nature of this new lineage;[19] but what is important to note here is the distinct feature of this school’s emphasis on the integration of both Rinzai and Sōtō methods of practice. Sectarian boundaries between different schools of Japanese Buddhism are strong, even among different lineages of Zen. For a lineage to combine the teachings of two distinct lineages of Zen is unheard of in Japan. I have not yet found direct statements by Sheng Yen on the influence of the Sanbōkyōdan on his own teachings, but it is highly plausible that Sheng Yen’s own combination of the huatou and mozhao methods of Chan stems from what he had learned from Ban Tetsugyu. I will return to this point below.

These experiences in Japan left an indelible mark on Sheng Yen’s understanding of the historical developments of Chinese Buddhism and its doctrinal richness. He was also inspired by the ways in which the Japanese articulated the educational, social, and spiritual roles of Buddhism in modern life. He absorbed everything he could. The impact of these experiences began to blossom in December 1975 when he accepted the invitation of Dr. C.T. Shen, founder of the Buddhist Association of the United States, to serve as the abbot at the Temple of Enlightenment in the Bronx, New York.[20] In the next phase of his life, which I call the Maturing Years of Sheng Yen’s thought, from 1976-2009 (age 47-79), he began a slow process of formulating and articulating a practice-oriented form of Chinese Buddhism catering to modern people.

Unforeseen causes and conditions made Sheng Yen into a “Chan Master.” He originally came to America because many clerics in Taiwanese Buddhist circle viewed him suspiciously. In his twenties, Sheng Yen was a vociferous critic of traditional forms of Chinese Buddhism. Perhaps for this reason, once Sheng Yen left to study in Japan, the monasteries didn’t want him to return. Most clerics were content with the way things were in Taiwan.[21] Soon after receiving his doctorate, Sheng Yen returned to Taiwan for a conference. There, he felt “Like a person who has just gotten a driver’s license, but with no vehicle to drive.”[22] When he returned to Japan after the conference, he received the invitation from C. T. Shen to teach Buddhism in America. On December 10th, Sheng Yen arrived in New York, thus beginning the next chapter of his life.

Prompted by several young Americans, Sheng Yen began to teach Chan. He stated, “Americans are concerned with practical results. The most effective way [to teach them about Buddhadharma] is to teach dhāras or Chan meditation… I began to teach Americans the theories and methods of Chan practice based on the methods of practice that I have personally used in China and Taiwan. Only the format of my teachings comes from what I observed in Japan. It was just this quickly that I transformed from a recent doctor of literature into a Chan Master transmitting the teaching of Chan. Such a speedy transformation was not something I could have ever imagined.”[23]

The Evolution of Sheng Yen’s Chan Teachings

Sheng Yen’s career as a Chan master commenced in America in early 1976 when he began to lead intensive Chan retreats. Later, beginning in 1978, he started to also lead retreats in Taiwan. Within ten years, he was leading intensive Chan retreats in Europe and other parts of the world. His teachings, however, kept evolving through trial and error. This process of evolution can be divided into four periods: the Initial Period of Chan Teachings; the Period of Experimentation; the Period of Refining the Two Methods of Chan; and the Final Teaching of Chan as Education. During the last phase, he began to apply his Chan teachings to his broader interests in education and social and philanthropic programs for Taiwan, applying his vision to the practical and social issues of modern life. The principles of Chan guided him through all of his subsequent endeavors in fulfilling his vision of “Establishing a Pure Land on Earth.” What follows is a general outline of this process; it is by no means an exhaustive study. Further research is required to refine these stages of his Chan development.

Initial Period of Chan Teachings

Sheng Yen’s career as a Chan Master began in the United States. His first American students were a mixture of graduate students, artists, teachers, and people interested in martial arts. The first meditation class, which he called “Special Chan Class,” was held on May 3, 1976 and the method taught was counting the breath.[24] There were only four students,[25] but within a year, Sheng Yen had a group of close to twenty students and they were already doing seven-day retreats at Bodhi House on Long Island.[26] They were open to anything he taught, and Sheng Yen drew on his experience gleaned from his solitary retreat in the mountains of Taiwan. He derived his format from what he had observed under Ban Tetsugyu in Japan. Examples of this may be seen in his adoption of the signals and formalities involved with the beginning and ending of each period of sitting, how to enter the interview room, slow and fast walking meditation, etc. Yet, Sheng Yen’s impromptu and extemporaneous style during this time was something distinct in his teachings. Ouyi, the subject of Sheng Yen’s dissertation research, was critical of uninformed practitioners who deviated from the core principles of Buddhadharma. Studying Ouyi had influenced the way Sheng Yen taught Chan in that he emphasized the inseparability of precepts, meditation, and wisdom—the basic tenets of Buddhism. Sheng Yen’s Chan was traditional in that it employed the Chan methods of sudden enlightenment, such as the “critical phrase” or huatou 話頭. However, it was also not traditional in the sense that, unlike the idealized type of Chan supposedly taught by pre-Song dynasty lineage masters (zushi chan 祖師禪), where there are no discussions of stages (buluo jieji 不落階級) or methods, he provided a clear path of practice. He incorporated the correct understanding of Buddhadharma into his spontaneous retreat talks.

In one of his first “Special Chan Classes,”he proclaimed to his students, “The type of Chan meditation that I teach now is different from that which is now taught in Japanese Zendos and practiced in Chinese monasteries. I call it ‘Chan’ simply to conform to the current American use of the term, but in fact I am transmitting the method of cultivation taught by the Buddha. This is the Mahāyāna Dharma Gate which enables you to become enlightened to the wisdom of the Buddha.”[27] What Sheng Yen taught was an integrative, systematic, and practical approach which aimed at the realization of śunyatā, or wu 無 (emptiness), as frequently mentioned in Chan discourse.[28] In his early retreat talks, Sheng Yen describes wu as:

The supreme realization of the original nature of mind. It neither affirms nor negates any conceptual point of view; hence it does not need language for expression. One can exhaust the resource of language and still not express ultimate Chan. This is because Chan transcends knowledge, symbols—the entire apparatus of language. You may call Chan “emptiness, ”but it is not emptiness in the nihilistic sense, of “there is nothing there.” You may call it “existence,” but it is not existence in the common sense, of “I see it, so it must be there.” It is existence which transcends the fiction of our sense impressions of the world: of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and form. Yet this Chan is never apart from, is all of a piece with, our everyday world. It is indwelling in all beings, everywhere, at all times.[29]

Sheng Yen taught that Chan was neither separate from the world nor identical to ordinary existence. The essence of practice was not to seek some kind of enlightenment but to be free from the bondage of vexations (fan’nao 煩惱). When vexations are absent, the enlightened wisdom mind manifests naturally. In order to realize this wisdom, Sheng Yen set up no fixed teachings or methods. However, he did articulate distinct stages of the process of self-cultivation. He distanced himself from the prevailing emphasis on iconoclastic Zen prevalent in America, centered on k.an practice. He articulated three specific stages that all practitioners must go through in order realize Chan. Ordinary people’s minds, prior to practice, are usually scattered. Their sense of self is limited to and revolves around their bodies and viewpoints and ideas. After practice, the person enters the first stage where the body and mind are harmonized and stable. This is achieved through self-cultivation. The second stage is the unification of subject and object. That is, the person achieves a unified and expanded sense of self that is one with the whole environment or universe. Some religions recognize this as the highest state of godhead, or union with god. The third stage is the letting go of even this unified self. Only when one has reached a unified mind will it be possible to experience the third stage, the state of wu or no-mind. This is the wisdom of no-self.[30] Sometimes Sheng Yen expands these three stages into four: scattered mind,[31] concentrated mind, unified mind, and no-mind.

The articulation of these three or four stages of Chan practice is unprecedented both in traditional Chan of the lineage masters and in the teachings of his contemporaries. No one had presented Chan in this way in modern times, certainly not Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, the most famous proponent of Zen in America at the time; Shunryu Suzuki 鈴木俊隆 (1904-1971), who founded the first Zen monastery in America; Hakuyū Taizan Maezumi 前角博雄 (1931-1995), whose lineage gave rise to many American Zen schools; or Philip Kapleau, arguably the most famous Zen teacher in the United States at the time. Kapleau, a student of Rōshi Yasutani, belonged to the Sanbōkyōdan lineage and taught a form of Zen that incorporated both Sōtō and Rinzai methods. However, in their system, there is no systematization of practice into stages.[32]

In the early retreats, Sheng Yen advocated the “Wu huatou”[33] method as a way to bring practitioners from the unified mind to experience a glimpse of no-mind or no-self. These methods were given on retreats to practitioners who were sufficiently focused. The teaching on huatou was not taught publically, but individually in personal interview. The first retreat was held from May 12 to 19, 1977.[34] Retreatants used all sorts of methods to first calm the mind, after which they would moved on to the huatou practice. Everyone had a different huatou. Sheng Yen also used “extemporaneous encounters” (jifeng 機鋒) on an impromptu basis, during walking meditation, or suddenly calling a student out and requesting an answer to a meaningless question in order to challenge the student, pushing him or her to generate the “doubt sensation” (yiqing 疑情).

A huatou is a critical phrase from a “public case” or gong’an, which is a record of an incident that usually involves a Chan awakening experience. Or, a huatou may stem from a real life situation. The point in meditating on a huatou or a gong’an is to generate an existential dilemma, a sense of wonderment, a yearning to resolve a question. The greater the sense of wonderment, or “doubt”as it is called in the Chan tradition, the greater the break through into awakening. In a state of unification, when the doubt suddenly shatters, all attachments are let go of and the “self” vanishes. With no attachments whatsoever, one experiences no-self.[35] However, Sheng Yen distinguishes the “live” gong’an or huatou from the dead one. A huatou “comes to life” only when it has become part of the practitioner’s life or arises from real life situations. Moreover, Sheng Yen also articulated different levels of huatou, from shallow to deep, so there are stages to one’s realization according to the use of different huatous. During the early retreats, he typically engaged his students with living situations to urge them on to insight into no-self. Several retreat reports were published in the Chan Magazine and in his book, Getting the Buddha Mind. The testimonials detail the lively interactions between Sheng Yen and his students and the insights that the students gained.

One distinctive feature to note is that Sheng Yen did not teach the huatou method in the way the Japanese Zen masters taught the wato (Japanese pronunciation of huatou) and kōan, which is taught in a systematic manner. Due to the influence of Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴 (1686-1769), the reviver of the Japanese Rinzai tradition, Zen practice became a curriculum consisting of a specific number of kōans which a Zen student must “pass” through in the curriculum.[36] Yet, a Zen student is typically taught “to be one” with the kōan he or she is working on in order to reach a unified state. Even today, there is little mention of giving rise to the “doubt sensation” from the practice of wato and kōan in the Japanese Rinzai or in the Sanbōkyōdan traditions. Sheng Yen drew inspiration elsewhere on the use of the huatou method. I suspect he must have drawn from his own personal experience in solitary retreat, from his experience with Chan Master Linyuan, and from his readings of Chinese Chan masters’ works and Japanese scholarly studies of them.[37] Yet, it seems that by 1979, he was already formulating his own hierarchy of meditation practices, distinguishing them into three hierarchical stages of “Worldly Chan”; “World Transcending Chan”; and the “Simultaneous Worldly and World Transcending Chan.”[38]

Sheng Yen taught a host of other methods on early retreats. One retreatant says that he would receive a different method on each retreat he attended.[39] On the very first retreat that Sheng Yen ever led, the student in question received the method of “What is wu?” after his mind was sufficiently settled. On the second retreat, Sheng Yen told him to simply “observe” without wandering thoughts, at all times and not focus on anything. This method had no name, but later on the student realized it was mozhao 默照 or silent illumination. On the third retreat, he was asked to contemplate and visualize the white bones (baigu guan 白骨觀), which involves contemplating one’s own body decomposing, rotting, and eventually turning into white bones. This is traditionally one of the methods in the five points of stilling the mind (wu tingxin guan 五停心觀). On the next retreat he was asked to use the method of contemplating sounds, the method associated with Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin (guanyin famen 觀音法門). All the while, during the retreats, Sheng Yen continued to extemporaneously engage students with “live gong’ans,” compelling them to answer and helping them to have break-through experiences.

In another way that differed from Japanese Zen, Sheng Yen presented Chan practice as inseparable from the three studies (sanxue 三學) of precepts, concentration, and wisdom in Buddhadharma.[40] This framework was established both during and outside the retreat setting. For example, the teaching on repentance during retreats was taught in the context of upholding precepts and moral principles. In his first “Special Chan Class,” he taught not only meditation but also basic Buddhadharma.[41] In his talks on the Platform Scripture on Sunday mornings, he emphasized not just the iconoclastic behavior of Chan masters, but the theoretical underpinning of saṃsāra;[42] the importance of wisdom;[43] and the relationship between self-nature and vexations.[44] At the same time, Sheng Yen offered ten-week long beginner’s meditation classes, covering the basics of Buddhist doctrine and meditation. During regular Sunday talks he gave formal commentaries on scriptures, such as the Platform Scripture, the Heart Sūtra, and the Sūtra of Complete Enlightenment.[45]

In retreat Dharma talks, Sheng Yen emphasized the importance of meeting certain requirements, such as great faith (da xinxin 大信心) in oneself, the method, and the teacher; great vows (da yuanxin 大願心) to help all beings and the attainment of buddhahood; great, ferocious determination (da jingjinxin 大精進心) to offer oneself to the practice; and great doubt (da yiqing 大疑情) from the process of investigating one’s huatou.[46] But these teachings were always carefully implemented within the context of the general Mahāyāna practice of benefitting sentient beings. He taught slow repentance prostration practice as a supporting method on the first retreat, which remains a uniquely consistent method throughout his Chan career. Such a method is not generally taught at other Zen centers and is absent in historical Chan records. This practice came from his own experience during his six-year solitary retreat in Taiwan.[47] Repentance prostration practice and making vows are historically associated with the liturgical tradition in Chinese Tiantai Buddhism. These ritual practices involve recitation of the liturgy in conjunction with carefully orchestrated prostrations to clear obstructions in intensive samādhi practices.[48] Sheng Yen himself engaged in repentance rituals in the beginning of his solitary retreat. Master Ouyi also advocated this practice. In similar ways, Sheng Yen taught repentance prostrations on Chan retreats as a way to clear the mind. Practitioners did not recite anything but only focused on a sense of contrition or humility from recognizing one’s stock of karmic obstacles on the path. Sheng Yen often talked about the incongruity of one’s words and actions and how they harm other people to the retreatants as they prostrated. Many would be brought to tears. As a result retreatants would be left with a very settled mind.[49] Later on, Sheng Yen also stratified this method into stages, from the shallower level of repentance to a deeper level of unification or meditative absorption, which fits his fourfold scheme of stages of mental cultivation.

The Period of Experimentation

The intensive retreats in the 70s were more spontaneous. Beginning in 1980, however, Sheng Yen began to lead four regular retreats each year. He bought a building in Elmhurst, New York, but it was in poor condition. It was only in May, 1981, that the Chan Center was fully renovated. Sheng Yen was able to offer more classes to his students.[50] The more he taught, the more his teachings became clarified and structured. He also explored many other forms of meditation practice, in the hope of systematizing his own teachings.

In 1980 Shegnyan’s exploration of methods of practice led him to publish an anthology of teachings from Chan masters, beginning with Bodhidharma 菩提達摩 (ca. 6th century) and ending with the recent master, his own great grand master, Xuyun 虛雲 (1839-1959). In his preface, he refuted the literal mistaken interpretation of “Chan as not established on language.” He pointed out the necessity to understand Chan as part of the framework of the three studies of precepts, concentration, and wisdom.[51] In 1984 he expanded the definition of “chan” to meditation in general and edited an anthology of masters whose teachings represent the contemplative tradition of Chinese Buddhism. Both non-Chan and Chan masters are included in this volume. This book collects all canonical references of the 111 meditation masters. It shows the shifting values and thought of what these teachers conceived of as practice.[52] In 1987 a selection of Chan masters’ writings from the first book, entitled Poetry of Enlightenment, was published in English.[53]

The understanding and purpose behind these works is the same: Sheng Yen wanted to balance what he perceived as the lopsided form of Zen taught by some of his contemporaries, which overemphasized studying old kōns and seeking enlightenment without a foundation in the three aforementioned studies. Instead, he stressed a more variegated side to Chan by selecting these 111 masters; he showed that there are no fixed Chan teachings or approaches to practice. At the same time all practices are not separate from the cultivation of correct understanding, attitudes, and methods that are grounded in Buddhadharma. In the Poetry of Enlightenment, he stated, “the prevailing view is that there is no way to describe the experience of Chan, it is suggested that we just go ahead and practice by studying the kung-ans. The purpose of these poems is different in that they specifically show you how to practice, what attitudes to cultivate, and what pitfalls to be aware of. Finally, they describe the ineffable experience of Chan itself.”[54]

Indeed, Sheng Yen did not shy away from articulating and presenting conceptual formulations of Chan practice to his students. Correct view is more important than misguided practice. He was a prolific writer. He also encouraged his students to articulate their experiences in words and publish them in the Chan Magazine. Within a year of arrival in America in 1976, he started the Chan Magazine the edited transcripts of his teachings and reports by his students, and the Chan Newsletter in 1979, which includes edited transcripts of his teachings and news items and upcoming events, as well as other Chan works which were previously only accessible in Chinese. He continued to write in Chinese on various aspects of Buddhadharma. Sheng Yen showed that Chan was not separate at all from the rich textual and doctrinal heritage of Buddhism. He elaborated formulations of the path, the diverse and intricate methods of cultivation, and the theoretical implications codified in subtle systems of doctrine. For him, “Chan does not have any fixed methods of practice; as long as there is proper guidance by a good teacher, all methods can be included into Chan.”[55] As he taught and wrote, he began to systemize his teachings.

Sheng Yen taught many different methods privately on retreats, but during the late 80s, he broadened the scope of what would typically be considered to be “Chan” methods. He introduced to his students the wealth of teachings from the Buddhist canon. During this time, Sheng Yen began to offer to his students in New York “Wednesday Special Chan Intermediate Classes”on meditation, wherein he introduced various meditation and contemplation (guan 觀) methods described in the scriptures and Chan discourse records. They included the silent illumination method (mozhao 默照),[56] which he has already taught before, contemplating mind (guanxin 觀心),[57] the method of relinquishing (she 捨),[58] and compassionate contemplation (cibei guan 慈悲觀).[59] By 1998, he was teaching a whole host of methods derived from the scriptures, and the methods included in the intermediate class were the bright moon samādhi (mingyue sanmei 明月三昧) and ocean-seal samādhi (haiyin sanmei 海印三昧) to name a few. Not all of these talks were edited and published. His basic teachings on meditating on the breath continued.

The method of “ocean seal samādhi,”for example, was a popular method that many people used and liked. The “ocean seal” is an enlightened realization that all phenomena mutually interpenetrate and do not obstruct one another. It is a state that contains all dharmas.[60] In the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, it states that the Buddha is always in this samādhi. While there are various commentaries or explanations of its meaning, as a meditation method, however, the canonical references are scarce. The only reference of anyone who actually practiced this method in the entire Buddhist canon is a 13th century master named Mengshan Deyi 蒙山德異 (1232-?), and still the method per se is not described.[61] Sheng Yen must have taught this method based on his own understanding based on commentaries on the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. He explained this method as a form of visual contemplation, wherein the self along with external phenomena (for example problems one may encounter) should be perceived as bubbles on the surface of a vast infinite ocean. From the perspective of the ocean, these “bubbles” are only temporary manifestations of Buddha-nature and poses no problems at all. He particularly stressed the applicability of this method in daily life when encountering difficulties.[62]

These and other methods represent an experimental phase in Sheng Yen’s Chan teachings. Sometimes they were given as methods during retreats, while other times they were given as perspectives that one can adopt especially when encountering difficulties. However, by mid-90s, no one was really using these methods anymore. One of the reasons is that Sheng Yen began to encourage his students to focus exclusively on mozhao and huatou methods.

Period of Refining the Two Methods of Chan

Changes in Sheng Yen’s teachings are the result of many different factors. First, Sheng Yen responded to the lack of structure in traditional Chan teachings. He began to realize the problems that arose in students who focused too much on the strange behaviors of Chan masters in gong’ans. Second, he was requested by his student John Crook to lead “Sōtō-like” retreats in England beginning in 1989. John Crook had been practicing the Tibetan Mahamudra (da shouyin 大手印) and Japanese Shikantaza (zhiguan dazuo 只管打坐) methods prior to practicing Chan with Sheng Yen. Many of John’s students also practiced Shikantaza. Thus beginning with the second retreat in England, Sheng Yen focused on the teachings of mozhao for the retreatants. His close monastic attendant’s experiences with mozhao during this time also contributed to his frequent teaching of the method.[63] As a result, by the mid-90s, the method of mozhao began to be more systematized.

There is a vast difference in the way Sheng Yen taught in the early years and in the late 80s and 90s. In the early years, each student practiced his or her own method. There were no public discussions of methods on retreats.[64] However, by the early 90s everyone began with the breath method, and once the mind was sufficiently settled, retreatants were given either the huatou or the mozhao method. Sometimes they were given one of the methods taught in the “Wednesday Special Chan intermediate Class.” This would typically happen on the fourth day of the retreat. This format lasted until the end of 1997 when Sheng Yen began to lead distinct “mozhao retreats” and “huatou retreats” at the request of his students.[65] The students felt that it would be better if each retreat was devoted solely to one method of practice so they can get deeper into the practice. Otherwise, by the time students began using huatou or mozhao on the fourth day, the retreat would end in a few days.

As stated above, Sheng Yen first introduced the method of mozhao or silent illumination on one of his earliest retreats in the States.[66] Mozhao was taught by Hongzhi Zhengjue 宏智正覺 (1091-1157) in the Song dynasty but was a method that disappeared into obscurity in the Chinese Chan tradition after several generations. Sheng Yen is known as a reviver of this method. It was one of the methods that he discovered and practiced in his solitary retreat. He once said that he simply sat, without a method, without abiding anywhere, yet let the mind to be clear of everything. Then when he had read Hongzhi’s teachings, he realized what he had been practicing.[67] This was the way Sheng Yen first taught mozhao, without stages:

Silent illumination is actually the most direct method, because Chan is not something that you can use your mind to think about. It’s not something that you can use any words or form of language to describe. The method is simply to do away with any method of practice. Use no method as the method itself… The silent illumination method is when your mind simply doesn’t have any thoughts. At that moment you just put down everything, and that is the state of Chan itself. Silent doesn’t mean falling asleep. That’s why we have to follow the word “silent” with the word “illumination,” that is, your mind is very clear.[68]

Sheng Yen also warned about this method:

In the beginning stage, people need to practice in a quiet and peaceful place. That’s why most of the practitioners of the Caodong sect preferred to practice in the mountains, as far away from other people as possible. This has been the case in China as well as in Japan. For this reason this method of silent illumination may not be suitable for the majority of people, because in our modern society it would be quite difficult for every practitioner to go off into the mountains. So I personally don’t often use this method to teach others, at least in the beginning stage. I would only tell a few to use this method. There is another defect of this method. If the practitioner is not using it right, his mind may be in a state of blankness, and he assumes that this is what is meant by “silent.” If this is the case, he can never practice well.[69]

Sheng Yen stated that silent illumination or mozhao is an allusive method and for this reason it “may not be suitable for the majority of people.” As seen in one student’s recollection (see above), it was a formless, methodless method. The student was asked to be clear of whatever is going on without giving rise to any wandering. Interest in mozhao was generated when Getting the Buddha Mind was published in 1980, in which Sheng Yen comments on the Inscription on Silent Illumination (Mozhao ming 默照銘) by Hongzhi, the proponent of mozhao in the Song dynasty. On November of 1980, Sheng Yen was interviewed by Lex Hixon on WBAI radio station about mozhao.[70]

It is worth noting, however, that sometime in the late 80s, possibly during his Intermediate Chan Classes, he began to widely teach this method to many people by clarifying its subtle “stages” and concrete “methods” for practitioners to engage with when using this “methodless method.” The first published English work on a systematized presentation of the mozhao method into three stages (of observing the body, observing the mind, and the state of enlightenment) is in 1993. However, this formulation kept on evolving from what he had taught before.[71] By 1995, he formulated a fourfold stage. The first stage is observing the body sitting; the second is a unified state of body, environment, and mind sitting; the third is the contemplation of emptiness. The fourth is the ineffable state of enlightenment.[72]

By the late 90s, Sheng Yen started to attract several vipassana teachers from the Insight Meditation Society in Boston. They came on retreats and invited Sheng Yen to give talks and lead shorter retreats in Massachusetts. As a result of these encounters, the stages of Sheng Yen’s mozhao method changed again. This time, he sought to differentiate mozhao from vipaśyanā.[73] He clarified that while mozhao originated from the Indian Buddhist practice of “stillness” (zhi 止) and “discernment” (guan 觀) or śamatha and vipaśyanā, it was thoroughly Chinese. Mozhao is rooted in Huineng’s teaching that concentration (ding 定) and wisdom (hui 慧), or samādhi and prajñā, the fruition of śamatha and vipaśyanā, were one and the same: the intrinsically still mind is the essence of wisdom, and wisdom is natural function of the still mind. Mozhao, then, is a method that simultaneously cultivates śamatha and vipaśyanā and must be realized in the activity of daily life—not on the cushion. This is evinced in 1998 when, at the invitation of the Insight Meditation Center of Boston, he articulated a fivefold stage mozhao. The five stages are: relaxing the body and mind; observing the totality of the body; contemplating the environment as one’s body; contemplating the vastness of the self and external environment; realizing the simultaneity of stillness and luminosity, samādhi and prajñā. and the absence of self.[74] These stages are clearly stated in his 2008 book entitled, The Method of No-Method, which is based on two mozhao retreats in 1998 and 1999.[75]

Along with his teachings on mozhao, the huatou method also became standardized. Instead of the spontaneous gong’ans he used to present to his students on retreats, Sheng Yen formulated several stages to the practice of this method. By 1993, his formulation of the method began to imply stages of practice, but the teaching was not fully set. Basically, he taught that the practitioners must stay with one huatou, the practice of which he calls “investigating the huatou” (can huatou 參話頭) until the end of his or her life, even though there is no doubt sensation. However, he does indicate that some people merely “recite the huatou”(nian huatou 念話頭). But if one can truly investigate the huatou, until the point where nothing can interrupt practice, then this is the stage of “observing the huatou” (kan huatou 看話頭).[76] In his 2009 book on huatou, which is based upon four huatou retreat talks, Sheng Yen clarifies four stages of practice. The first stage is “reciting the huatou”; the second is “questioning the huatou”; the third is “investigating the huatou”; and last is “observing the huatou.” This formulation differs from the 1993 version in that the former still considers observing the huatou as a stage before the initial break through experience of enlightenment. Whereas in the latter, Sheng Yen states that “before penetrating through the fundamental barrier (bencan 本參) [of ignorance] the stage is called investigating the huatou; after the fundamental barrier is broken through, that is the stage of observing the huatou.” Sheng Yen defines breaking through the fundamental barrier as seeing the “Buddha-nature or self-nature… a state where all vexations have stopped and dropped away.” However, because vexations will return, and that this is the only initial break through, one still need to continue to practice.[77]

Attending the Second Chung-Hwa International Conference On Buddhism.

Final Teaching of Chan as Education

After the purchase of the mountain site in Taiwan in 1989, Sheng Yen’s involvement increased dramatically in building what later became known as Dharma Drum Mountain. This project taxed his physical health. With this grand building project, he became busier and began to spend less time in retreat participants. This meant that he no longer used the extemporaneous, “pressuring” strategy on his students. Instead, he spent more time defining the two methods of huatou and mozhao into stages in the hope that his students might follow his instructions and deepen their practice on their own. As a result, his Chan teachings were clarified and more accessible, and these teachings began to take the form of socially engaged moral education. He continued with his other interests in education and the vinaya as well.

The Chinese Buddhists’ focus on education during the Republican era really stems from the traditional Chinese sense of self-cultivation or moral education that is deeply rooted in Confucian traditions. Historically the perpetuation and prosperity of Buddhism in China has always depended on the extent to which it was able to demonstrate itself as a viable intellectual and social institution vis-à-vis traditional Chinese values that were held to be essential in moral transformation. In the Confucian system of values, education has always meant much more than purely intellectual training and the development of skills. True Confucian education cannot be separated from the moral improvement of the individual as a social being. The term xue 學, “study” or “learning,” and jiao 教, “doctrine,” have had strong ethical implications. They refer to a number of areas of development: a total process of acquisition and interiorization of the norms of the right way of life; the study and memorization of texts that exemplify those norms; and, at the higher level of “study,” the creation of an elite whose members—either as local leaders or as administrators—will be qualified to further the application of these values.[78] Education had a comprehensive ideal of moral training and an ideological-pedagogical aim for the masses. In this sense, traditional Confucian “education” meant education for all levels of the population. Given this context, Sheng Yen’s focus on education was widely received in Taiwanese society and established as a viable means for improving modern Chinese society.

Buddhism in China has historically provided an alternative moral educational program for the Chinese and, at the same time, supported the existing Confucian institution in educating the society.[79] However, with the declining influence of Confucianism as a viable tradition in modern times, Sheng Yen promoted education in the broad sense of moral cultivation which would act as a vehicle for promoting Buddhism. He also attributed his work in education to his master, Dongchu. He states: “The reason we now have a mountain site called Dharma Drum Mountain is primarily because of my teacher, the late Master Dongchu. In his will, he had expressed hope that I would locate a natural hillside to establish an institute for Buddhist education. The details of this will are in my Chinese article ‘The Difficulty in Repaying One’s Gratitude to the Master’… I share Master Dongchu’s vision that Buddhism has no future without Buddhist education.”[80]

Meditation in Movement.

The works of Taixu, Yinshun, and Dongchu were undeniably important in the development of Sheng Yen’s thinking, but his own vision of what education should be was directly derived from. his own life experience and understanding of Buddhadharma and Chan. As mentioned above, his critique of Taixu and others lay in their inability to put their ideas into practice. For this reason, Sheng Yen strove to make his socially engaged educational vision into formal, teachable programs. Thus he established a new school of Chan—the Dharma Drum Lineage—to integrate the observations and methods of his predecessors as well as those of other Buddhist traditions. He stated: “I studied these two thinkers’ (i.e., Taixu and Yinshun) systematization from the perspective of someone within the Chan tradition living in the modern world. I hope to show that Indian Buddhism, as the wellspring of all later developments of Buddhism, later developed into the Northern and Southern transmissions.”[81] Sheng Yen strongly noted that he was driven by what he saw as a deep crisis (weiji gan 危機感) in the affairs of Chinese Buddhism.[82] Many Chinese practiced other forms of Buddhism—from Tibet or South Asia—rather than Chinese Buddhism. Shengyan believed that Chan was the core of the Buddha’s message, so it was imperative to establish a new school of Chan to bring this message to world.

Sheng Yen began to take a more active role in spreading the Dharma around the world, and he expanded his teachings to include ordinary people who might not be able practice Chan intensively. Sheng Yen emphasized the moral educational nature of Chan. He articulated a three-fold educational program of 1. extensive university education (da xueyuan jiaoyu大學院教育); 2. extensive universal education (da puhua jiaoyu大普化教育); 3. extensive caring education (da guanhuai jiaoyu大關懷教育).

The first refers to education in the general sense of schooling and acquiring knowledge and professional skills. The second refers to the formal spiritual practice of Buddhadharma, specifically Chan practice. The third refers to teaching Buddhist values through socially engaged activities, such as ritual services and disaster relief work.[83] These three fields of education represent a total process of social transformation of the individual. Shengyan regarded these educational programs as practical applications of Chan Buddhism. They gave equal emphasis to understanding and practice, the heart of Buddhadharma and the cure for the suffering of the world.

While his aim to make Buddhism more relevant for modern time stems from his exposure to his predecessors and his own experience, the process of integrating moral education and Chan, culminating in the establishment of the Dharma Drum Lineage, evolved slowly. Already as early as 1986, we can find evidence of Sheng Yen’s interpretation of Chan as a form of moral education. He states: “Chan practice is a continual process of mending [our actions of body, speech, and mind]; it is a form of education.”[84] Chan as education can be seen as a way to move Chan from the retreat setting out into the world. Partly this was prompted to his increasing involvement with the building of Dharma Drum Mountain. He tirelessly worked to represent Dharma Drum Mountain as an educational complex for the study and actualization of Buddhist wisdom. This task took center stage at the expense of focusing exclusively on Chan retreats. In 1992 he began asking his students to interview retreatants on his behalf, at least for the first interview.[85] His health began to decline as his influence in Taiwan became strong. He spent more and more time giving large lectures on socially engaged Buddhism using Chan principles, promoting the vision of establishing a Pure Land on Earth by using buddhadharma to purify people’s minds, to thousands of people in Taiwan.

After the purchase of Dharma Drum Mountain in 1989, all aspects of his teachings began to be interpreted as expressions of “Buddhist education,” including Chan practice and his interest in precepts.[86] All of his Dharma activities subsumed under the banner of “Uplifting the character of humanity” and “Establishing a Pure Land on Earth.” While his teachings evolved into a more socially engaged form of Buddhist moral education, the principle of Chan was the core axis around which all of these activities revolved. For example, in 1993 and 1994, he lectured six times at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (Guofu jinian guan 國父紀念館) on “Vimalakirtī Sūtra and Daily Life” in order to promote the vision of building a Pure Land on Earth.[87] The Vimalakirtī Sūtra, of course, favored by Chan practitioners in the past, promotes the idea that pure lands of buddhas are created by recognizing the intrinsic purity of one’s own mind.[88] Sheng Yen has stated explicitly that his notion of “establishing a Pure Land” is based on this scripture.[89]

Sheng Yen also promoted many programs in his vision of building a Pure Land on Earth. One of which is what is known as the “Four Fields of Cultivating Peace” (sian 四安), which involves peaceful mind, peaceful body, peaceful family, and peaceful activity. The basis of all of these is a peaceful mind, which centers on Chan practice. This was another way for Sheng Yen to promote Chan as a moral education for the masses and subsumes under his vision for “extensive caring education.”[90] Likewise, in Sheng Yen’s promotion of environmental promotion, he states that the activities of protecting the environment “must accord with the spirit, methods, and principles of Chan… these programs that we’re engaged in is a form of ‘Chan in action.’”[91] This formulation of education is markedly different from other contemporary Buddhist organizations such as Foguang Shan 佛光山. For example, its founder Xingyun’s 星雲 (1927-) also promotes education and building a Pure Land in the human world, but his pedagogical formulation of education is oriented more toward a generalized Buddhist etiquette and ritual conduct, not tied to any deep meditation experience much less on Chan.[92]


Sheng Yen’s construction of Chan Buddhism evolved gradually and naturally as a reformulation of his predecessors and a response to modern times. The Dharma Drum Lineage is firmly established in the dual emphasis of doctrine and practice, especially the teaching embodied in early Buddhism and that taught by specific Chan masters, most notably Huineng. His later years of presenting Chan as a form of education stems from his perception that Chan is the most representative school of Chinese Buddhism and that to revive Chinese Buddhism, Chan must be repackaged for an audience steeped in Chinese moral education. The way to do this was to institutionalize his teaching as a new Chan school, not unlike how modern Japanese Buddhist sects are institutionally tied to monasteries.

Sheng Yen states his own reasons, however, for establishing a new school. He states in the booklet, Chengxian qihou:

There are two purposes of establishing the Dharma Drum lineage. First, to harmonize the doctrine of Buddhism with the practice of Chan; second, to build a bridge between Chan Buddhism and Buddhism of other parts of the world, while at the same time appropriating and furthering the strengths of these other forms of Buddhism within our tradition. For example, I have stated above that, “I hope to bring into dialogue Indian Buddhism, as the wellspring of all expressions of Buddhism, with its later developed Northern and Southern transmissions. To the extent of my knowledge, I believe that Chan Buddhism as developed in China is the core of the Buddha’s message.” Moreover, I have said that the Dharma Drum lineage is grounded in the foundation of Chinese Chan Buddhism, which is not bound by the trappings of words and language. The fruits of Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan Buddhist studies can be freely used. The Dharma Drum lineage actualizes the principle of non-abiding and dynamically expands its reach everywhere. In other words, the purpose for establishing the Dharma Drum lineage can be said to be for the benefit of the four assemblies of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen of Dharma Drum Mountain. The ultimate mission of course is to revive Chinese Chan Buddhism, to inherit the past and inspire the future, and benefit all sentient beings.”[93]

Yet, in the same booklet, he reflects on one of the strengths of modern Japanese schools and their ability to perpetuate themselves vis-à-vis the challenges of the modern age. He states “The Japanese schools of Jōdo shū (Pure land School), founded by Hōnen (1133-1212), and the later Jōdo shinsū (“True Pure Land School”), founded by Shinran (1173-1263), are particularly influential in modern Japan. Together, these two Pure Land schools constitute nearly half of the total number of Japanese Buddhists living in Japan. Numerous monasteries have sectarian affiliations with Pure Land Buddhism. In fact every Japanese Buddhist temple and monastery was and is institutionalized and affiliated to a particular sect.”[94] One cannot help but wonder the extent to which what he had witnessed in Japan has influenced his own institutionalization of a new Chan school.

Sheng Yen’s Chan teachings evolved from being spontaneous to being fully systematized in a period of approximately twenty years. This period witnessed several shifts in his teachings, from adhering to traditional pressuring methods of training students, to finding new approaches of practice, to returning to two distinct Chan methods of huatou and mozhao and refining them as the corporate identity of Dharma Drum Lineage. But the success of Sheng Yen’s effort to create a form of Buddhism that is receptive to people in modern times comes from his ability to reinvigorate and appropriate traditional Chinese moral education and articulate effective means for self-transformation, especially in a time when traditional Confucian values has already lost much of its ideological vigor or import for modern people. Sheng Yen’s educational projects and socially engaged Buddhism can be seen ideologically as a move to incorporate traditional Chinese values into the fold of Buddhism. In this sense, the conditions of his success in Taiwan differed from that of the west, where he is perceived mostly as someone who clearly articulated the stages of Chan that is different from Japanese Zen. The ingenuity of Sheng Yen is that, in the midst of this process of reconstructing Buddhism, he is able to retain the inclusive and adaptive nature of Chan without losing Chan identity as a path to sudden enlightenment.


1. It is worthy to note that when Sheng Yen first came to America, he chose to comment on the teaching of Huineng in the Platform Sūtra for his American students as the representative text of Chan; see the Chan Magazine vol. 1, no. 3 (October 1977).
2. See interview of Master Sheng Yen, 1999.
3. See Master Sheng Yen, Huayan xinquan 華嚴心詮 (Taiwan: Fagu wenhua, 2006), 3-4.
4. See Master Sheng Yen, Shenhui Chanshi de wujing 神會禪師的悟境(Taiwan: Fagu wenhua, 2000), 4-5.
5. See Master Sheng Yen, Mingmuo fojiao yanjiu 明末佛教研究 (Taiwan: Dongchu Publishing, 1992), 2.
6. See Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou 承先啟後 8.
7. See Master Sheng Yen, Shenhui Chanshi de wujing 神會禪師的悟境 5.
8. See Master Sheng Yen, Shenhui Chanshi de wujing 神會禪師的悟境 p. 6.
9. Elsewhere I have begun to elaborate on the threefold phase of his teachings; see Yu, “Venerable Sheng Yen’s Scholarship on Late Ming Buddhism,” forthcoming. I have expanded on these three stages here to account for the evolution of his Chan teachings in the later part of his life.
10. See Master Sheng Yen, Jidujiao zhi yanjiu 基督教之研究 (Taipei: Dongchu Publishing, 1967; appendix published independently in 1956), 1-2.
11. See Master Sheng Yen, Tiantai zhiguan famen 天台止觀法門 (Taiwan: Dongchu Publishing, 1979), 4, 125-158.
12. Ouyi Zhixu engaged in extreme self-inflicted violent practices, such as blood writing, to publicly criticize what he perceived as unorthodox Chan practice. Blood writing for him was a way to create boundaries because it demarcated authentic spiritual attainment from the potentially destabilizing disorder of heterodoxy. He called those false Chan teachers as “followers of wild-wisdom” (kuanhui zhi tu 狂慧之徒); see for example, Ouyi Zhixu 蕅益智旭 (1599-1655), Lingfeng zong lun 靈峰宗論 (Taipei: Shihua guoji gufen youxian gongsi, 2004), 791.
13. See Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou 承先啟後 p. 41.
14. See Master Sheng Yen, Tiantai xinyao: Jiaoguan gangzong guanzhu 天台心鑰 : 教觀綱宗貫註 (Taipei: Fagu wenhua, 2002), 6.
15. See Master Sheng Yen, Zhongguo fojiao shi kaishuo 中國佛教史概說 (Taipei: Shangwu yingshu guan, 1972), iii.
16. See Master Sheng Yen, Sheng Yen fashi xuesi lichen 聖嚴法師思歷程 88-9.
17. See Master Sheng Yen, Footprints in the Snow: The Autobiography of a Chinese Buddhist Monk 雪中足跡 (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 141.
18. Ban Tetsugyu 伴鉄牛 was born in Hanamaki city (Iwate prefecture) June 4, 1910. He was ordained as a Sōtō Zen monk by Fuchizawa Chimyo Rōshi July 9, 1917, and received Dharma transmission (inka) from him. From 1931 till 1938, he practiced in Hosshinji temple. He became a student at a Sōtō Zen university, Komazawa University, in 1938 and graduated in 1941. After the war he became a tanto or head monk at Hosshinji in 1947, and also a tanto at Hoonji (Iwate prefecture) in 1948, and became a master of Toshoji. He also received Dharma transmission from Harada Daiun Sogaku Roshi 原田祖岳(1871-1961). Ban Tetsugyu established two temples in Japan, Kannonji (Iwate) and Tetsugyuji (Oita).On May 10, 1992 he retired from Toshoji and passed away on January 21, 1996. He was 86 years old. Ban Tetsugyu was known to be an extremely strict Zen teacher. For his teachings in Japanese, see Ban Tetsugyu 伴鉄牛, Gendai mumonkan 現代無門関 (A Modern Gateless Gate) (Fukuoka 福岡県: Nakagawa Tetsugen 中川鉄厳, 1980); and Gendai hekigan roku 現代碧厳録 (A Modern Blue Clift Record) (Fukuoka 福岡県: Nakagawa Tetsugen 中川鉄厳, 1983). There is also a three volume autobiography; see Ban Tetsugyu 伴鉄牛, Gutoku tetsugyu: Ban Tetsugyu jiden 愚禿鉄牛: 伴鉄牛自伝 (Ignorant Bull: The Autobiography of Ban Tetsugyu) (Fukuoka 福岡県: Nakagawa Tetsugen 中川鉄厳, 1976-1981).
19. For a discussion of the controversies of this lineage, see Robert Sharf, “Sanbōkyōdan: Zen and the Way of New Religions,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 22 (3-4). The Sanbōkyō dan official webpage can be found here: http://homepage2.nifty.com/sanbo_zen/top_e.html.
20. For a brief background of C.T. Shen, see Master Sheng Yen, Foorprints in the Snow 雪中足跡 (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 146.
21. See Master Sheng Yen, Footprints in the Snow, 雪中足跡 p. 148.
22. See Master Sheng Yen, Xuesi lichen 聖嚴法師學思歷程 p. 151.
23. See Master Sheng Yen, Xuesi lichen 聖嚴法師學思歷程 p. 155.
24. See Master Sheng Yen, Footprint in the Snow 雪中足跡 p. 157.
25. See Chan Magazine, vol. 1, no. 1 (Buddhist Association of the United States, 1977), 2-3.
26. See Chan Magazine, vol. 1, no. 2 (1977), p. 4; Lin Qixian, Sheng Yen fashi qishi nianpu 聖嚴法師七十年譜 vol. 2 (Taipei: Fagu wenhua, 2000), 1062.
27. See Chan Magazine, vol. 1, no. 1 (1977), p.1-2
28. See Chan de tiyan chan de kaishi 禪的體驗: 禪的開示 (Taipei, Dongchu Publishing, 1980), 1.
29. See Master Sheng Yen, Getting the Buddha Mind (Dharma Drum Publications, 1982), i-ii.
30. Sheng Yen had articulated these stages on many different occasions in different times. The following are three examples at three different times, beginning with the earliest: see Master Sheng Yen, “Fojiao de xiuxing fangfa” 佛教的修行方法, in Fojiao rumen 佛教入門 (Taipei: Dongchu chuban she, 1977), 188-9; this is a 1977 talk; “Cong xiaowo dao wuwuo” 從小我到無我, in Chan de tiyan: chan de kaishi, 192-200; this chapter comes from a 1978 talk; Getting the Buddha Mind, 28, which comes from a 1979 talk.
31. Sheng Yen had taught these stages in the beginning of his career in America, but in terms of published evidence, it was not until 1978 that he formally introduced the stage of “concentrated mind” in the context of teaching the gong’an or huatou methods; see “First Lecture on Kung-ans,” in Chan Magazine, vol. 1, no 7 (1978-9), 20. By 1980, this system is already well in place in his training and he publically discoursed on it; see “The Practice of Chan,” in Chan Magazine vol. 2, no. 4 (1981), 31-6. This article is a transcription of a public talk at Columbia University on November 6, 1980.
32. See Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment (New York, Harper & Row, 1965).
33. The “Wu” means no, lacking, or non-existence. The “wu huatou” refers to the first gong’an or public case in the Gateless Gate (Wumen guan 無門關), a classic collection of 48 gong’an cases edited by Wumen Huikai 無門慧開 (1183-1260) during the Song Dynasty. For an English translation, see J.C. Cleary, Wumen’s Gate in Three Chan Classics, BDK English Tripiāaka 74-II (Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1999), 65-112. The whole case involves a monk asking Chan Master Zhaozhou Congshen 趙州從諗 (778–897), “Does a dog have buddha-nature or not,” to which Zhaozhou replied “Wu” or “No.” The meaning of this reply and the use of this huatou is explained by Sheng Yen in Getting the Buddha Mind, 41-46. This particular huatou was later widely advocated by Chan Master Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163). In the latter part of his career, Sheng Yen advocated the exclusive use of this particular huatou over others. See below.
34. The first group of retreat participants wrote retreat reports. Seven reports were published in Chan Magazine, vol. 1, no. 3 (October 1977), 1-13. The dating of this retreat comes from one of the retreatants, Araknka Galgoczi on p. 12; and reference in an essay, “Shifu’s Speech: Final Night of Retreat. Bodhi House 19 May 1977,” Chan Magazine vol. 1 no. 6 (Fall, 1978), 12.
35. See Master Sheng Yen, “First Lecture on Kung-ans,” in Chan Magazine vol. 1, no 7 (1978-9), 16-20, especially 18-20; also in Chan de tiyan 禪的體驗 139-44. This talk was delivered on June 25 and July 2, 1978 (see the news items in Chan Magazine vol. 1, no. 5 (Summer, 1988), 1). Sheng Yen distinguishes several levels of live huatou 話頭 from examples of his students using the method. The earliest written document on Sheng Yen’s teaching on gong’an公案 is June 1977, during his second talk on the Platform Scripture. The talk is appears in Chan Magazine vol. 1, no. 4 (December 1977), 15-20. In 1983, the Chan newsletter has a section on two distinct ways of working on the huatou, the peaceful and forceful ways, see Chan Newsletter no. 29 (May, 1993); there is also a whole issue on huatou practice, see Chan newsletter no. 30 (June, 1983).
36. See Victor Hori, Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003).
37. For his relationship and experience of enlightenment under Linyuan, see Footprint in the Snow, 78-88, especially 85.
38. See Master Sheng Yen, Xueshu lunkao 學術論考 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp, 2007), 57-61.
39. The following information comes from my October 2009 interview with Daniel B. Stevenson who was one of Sheng Yen’s earliest students.
40. In 1979 Sheng Yen also founded the “Institute of Three Studies” at Nongchan Monastery, Taiwan; see Qixian Lin, Sheng Yen fashi qishi nianpu 聖嚴法師七十年譜 333.
41. The content of his Special Chan Class is not recorded anywhere, but I was able to confirm with three participants of the very first two classes: Daniel B. Stevenson, Rikki Asher, Paul Kennedy, and Buffe Laffey. My conversations with them about the first Special Chan Class ranged from October 21 to the 28, 2009.
42. See Chan Magazine vol. 1, no. 3 (October, 1977), 18. The talk itself dates to June, 1977.
43. Ibid., p. 20; vol. 1, no. 4 (December, 1977), 17-8. The talk itself dates to June, 1977.
44. Ibid., vol. 1, no 5 (Summer, 1978), 16-7. The talk itself dates to July, 1977.
45. For the Platform Scripture, see Chan Magazine vol. 1, no. 3 (October 1977), 14-20. This is the first of a series of talks on the Platform Scripture, which is dated to June 19, 1977. For the talks on the Heart Sūtra, see Chan Magazine vol. 2, no. 1 (Summer 1980), 20-6. The first talk actually began in November 1979. He began talking on the Sūtra of Complete Enlightenment from 1982-1985; see Sheng Yen, Complete Enlightenment (New York: Dharma Drum Publication, 1997, hardcover; Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1998, paperback), 6.
46. See Chan Magazine vol. 2, no. 9 (Autumn, 1982), 30-6; vol. 2, no. 10 (Winter, 1983), 25-30. These talks were later edited into the book, Getting the Buddha Mind.
47. See Master Sheng Yen, Footprint in the Snow, p. 121-2.
48. See Daniel B. Stevenson, “The Four Kinds of Samādhi in Early T’ien-t’ai Buddhism,” in Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism, ed. by Peter N. Gregory (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986), 45-97.
49. These descriptions come from my conversations with early retreatants in October, 2009.
50. See Lin Qixian, Sheng Yen fashi qishi nianpu 聖嚴法師七十年譜 335-37; Chan Newsletter no. 13 (1981).
51. See Master Sheng Yen, Chanmen xiuzheng zhiyao 禪門修證指要 1-4.
52. See Master Sheng Yen, Chanmen lishu ji 禪門驪珠集(Taipei: Dongchu Publishing, 1984).
53. See Master Sheng Yen, Poetry of Enlightenment (New York: Dharma Drum Publications, 1987).
54. See Master Sheng Yen, Poetry of Enlightenment, 3.
55. See Master Sheng Yen, Chanmen xiuzheng zhiyao 禪門修證指要 (Taipei: Dongchu Publishing, 1980), 4. The first time Sheng Yen led retreats exclusively devoted to these methods was in New York Chan Meditation Center.
56. For silent illumination, see Getting the Buddha Mind, 75-88.
57. The analogy he gave was like a cat watching for mouse to appear. The mind is alert and open, every so wakeful. If a mouse where to appear, referring to a thought, the cat or mind would instantly be aware of it.
58. This method of “relinquishing” everything was drawn from Hanshan Deqing’s discourse records; see Chan Newsletter no. 24 (September 1982).
59. For compassionate contemplation, see Chan Newsletter no. 27 (February, 1983). The talk was given in May 1982.
60. See, for example, T. no. 1877, 45: 646b24.
61. See Changuan cejin 禪關策進 by master Zhuhong 袾宏 (1535-1615), T. no. 2024, 48: 1099a-1099c26.
62. See Chan Magazine (Winter 1992), 7-8. My dating of the teaching of this method is much earlier than 1992. It was probably 1988 or 1989. This is based on my own memory of when this method was taught, in conversation with Harry Miller, another student who attended the Wednesday Special Chan Intermediate Class.
63. His attendant monk of this time, Guogu 果谷, was one of the first monastics who practiced this method beginning in the late 80s. Guogu often received instructions privately from Sheng Yen.
64. This was clarified with Daniel Stevenson, who is one of the earliest retreatants Sheng Yen led in the States. Conversation on 10/22/09.
65. See Master Sheng Yen, Liangqian nian xingjiao 兩千年行腳 (Taipei: Fagu wenhua, 2000), 253. Elsewhere it is stated that specific retreats dedicated to one method, either mozhao or huatou began in 1998, see the preface of Sheng Yen fashi jiao huatou chan 聖嚴法師教話頭禪 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp, 2009), 3.
66. See Chan Newsletter no. 10 (December 1980).
67. This statement comes from a personal conversation with Sheng Yen sometime in the mid-90s. The conversation was recorded, Mickey Disend was the interviewer. I was the translator. However, the talk, to my knowledge, was never published.
68. See Chan Newsletter no. 10 (December 1980), 1-2.
69. Ibid., p. -23.
70. See footnote 66. Chan Magazine vol. 10 (December, 1980).
71. For a more systematized presentation of mozhao in the mid 90s, see Sheng Yen, “Shikantaza and Silent Illumination,” in Chan newsletter no. 106, February, 1995; the talk dates to December 1993.
72. See Master Sheng Yen, Illuminating Silence (London: Watkins Publishing, 2002), x, 99-103.
73. Hereafter I will use the Romanized Sanskrit word, vipaśyanā, because Sheng Yen was primarily using the term in the Chinese context, which follows the Indian Buddhist usage as opposed to the modern American phenomenon of “insight meditation” that is based on the Theravāda tradition.
74. See Master Sheng Yen, Liangqian nian xingjiao 兩千年行腳 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp., 2000), 90-1; 98-114.
75. See Master Sheng Yen, The method of No-Method: The Chan Practice of Silent Illumination (Boston and London: Shambhala Publications, 2008).
76. See Master Sheng Yen, Chan de tiyan 禪的體驗 328-30.
77. See Master Sheng Yen, Sheng Yen fashi jiao huatou chan 聖嚴法師教話頭禪 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp., 2009), 34-5.
78. See Erik Zurcher, “Buddhism and Education in T’ang Times,” in Neo-Confucian Education: The Formative Stage, ed. by William Theodore de Bary and John W. Chaffee, 19-56 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 19-20.
79. Zurcher has demonstrated convincingly the social and educational functions of the Buddhist institutional in China beginning in the Tang times; see Zurcher, op. sit.
80. See Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou, p. 13; “Shi’en nanbao 師恩難報” was originally published as an article in Zhongguo fojiao 中國佛教; it is now included in the anthology entitled, Diaonian, youhua 悼念.遊化 in the Complete Collection of Dharma Drum, under the (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp., 2007), 9-36.
81. See Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou 承先啟後 46.
82. Ibid., Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou 承先啟後 23-6.
83. The first time Sheng Yen discoursed on these three fields of education is 1994; later the talk appeared in a small booklet, Fagu shan chuan fayin 法鼓傳法音 published in 1994. The booklet is now incorporated in the Complete Collection of Dharma Drum, see Master Sheng Yen, Fagu shan de fangxiang 法鼓山的方向 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp., 2007), 79-80; 130-136.
84. See Master Sheng Yen, Nianhua weixiao 拈花微笑 (Taipei: Dongchu Publishing, 1986), 236.
85. Although during this time Sheng Yen did conduct group interviews, sometimes up to five or six retreatants in the same interview room to resolve their questions or difficulties from practice. He began this in New York. Later he also let his Taiwan disciples at Nongchan Monastery conduct interviews. For the dating of allowing his disciples interview, see Lin Qixian, Sheng Yen fashi qishi nianpu 聖嚴法師七十年譜 683.
86. In 1991, he held the first transmission of the bodhisattva precepts at Chan Meditation Center in New York. The precepts he transmitted were a modified form based on the five precepts, ten virtues, and the four great vows. These are subsumed under the “three collective precepts” (sanju jing jie 三聚淨戒) of a bodhisattva: To practice all virtues; to deliver all sentient beings; and to cultivate all precepts; see Pusa jie zhiyao 菩薩戒指要 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Publications, 1995), 4. In 1990 and 1992, he hosted two international scholarly conferences on Buddhist ethics for the modern time. These efforts were ways for him to integrate precepts into his larger reconstruction of Chinese Buddhism for the modern age.
87. Sheng Yen gave a series of six lectures for an audience of 2000 to 3000 Taiwanese people; see Master Sheng Yen, Weimo jing liujiang 維摩經六講 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp, 1995), 10-11.
88. See chapter one in the Vimalakirtī Sūtra. For an English translation, see Burton Watson, The Vimalakirtī Sūtra (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 17-31.
89. See Master Sheng Yen, Weimo jing liujiang 維摩經六講 9-10.
90. See Master Sheng Yen, Fagu jiafeng 法鼓家風 (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp, 2005), 12.
91. See Master Sheng Yen, Fagu shan de fangxian, vol. 2 法鼓山的方向 II (Taipei: Dharma Drum Corp, 2005), 110.
92. See Don Pittman, Eastablishing a Pure Land on Earth (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), 120-1.
93. See Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou 承先啟後 54-5.
94. See Master Sheng Yen, Chengxian qihou 承先啟後 42-3.


Lineage Chart of Zhigang Weirou (Huikong Shengyen) in the Linji School

1. 曹溪慧能 Caoxi Huineng (638-713)
2. 南嶽懷讓 Nanyue Huairang (677-744)
3. 馬祖道一 Mazu Daoyi (709-788)
4. 百丈懷海 Baizhang Huaihai (750-814)
5. 黃蘗希運 Huangbo Xiyun (d.850)
6. 臨濟義玄 Linji Yixuan (d.866)
7. 興化存獎 Xinghua Cunjiang (830-888)
8. 南院慧顒 Nanyuan Huiyong (d.952)
9. 風穴延沼 Fengxue Yanzhao (896-973)
10. 首山省念 Shoushan Shengnian (926-993)
11. 汾陽善昭 Fenyang Shanzhao (947-1024)
12. 石霜楚圓 Shishuang Chuyuan (986-1039)
13. 楊岐方會 Yangqi Fanghui (992-1049) (楊岐系 Yangqi line)
14. 白雲守端 Baiyun Shouduan (1025-1072)
15. 五祖法演 Wuzu Fayan (1024-1104)
16. 圜悟克勤 Huanwu Keqin (1063-1135)
17. 虎丘紹隆 Huqiu Shaolong (1077-1136)
18. 應庵曇華 Yingan Tanhua (1103-1163)
19. 密庵咸傑 Mian Xianjie (1118-1186)
20. 破庵祖先 Poan Zuxian (1136-1211)
21. 無準師範 Wuzhun Shifan (1174-1249)
22. 斷橋妙倫 Duanqiao Miaolun (1201-1261)
23. 方山文寶 Fangshan Wenbao (d.1335)
24. 無見先覩 Wujian Xiandu (1265-1334)
25. 白雲智度 Baiyun Zhidu (1304-1370)
26. 古拙昌俊 Guzhuo Changjun
27. 無際明悟 Wuji Mingwu
28. 月溪耀澄 Yuexi Yaocheng
29. 夷峰鏡寧 Yifeng Jingning (d.1491)
30. 寶芳智進 Baofang Zhijin
31. 野翁慧曉 Yeweng Huixiao
32. 無趣清空 Wuqu Qingkong (1491-1580)
33. 無幻淨沖 Wuhuan Jingchong (1540-1611)
34. 南明道廣 Nanming Daoguang
35. 鴛湖德用 Yuanhu Deyong (1587-1642)
36. 高菴圓清 Gaoan Yuanqing (Gushan school)
37. 本智明覺 Benzhi Mingjue
38. 紫柏真可 Zibo Zhenke (1543-1603)
39. 端旭如弘 Duanxu Ruhong
40. 純潔性奎 Chunjie Xingkui
41. 慈雲海俊 Ciyun Haijun
42. 質生寂文 Zhisheng Jiwen
43. 端員照華 Duanyuan Zhaohua
44. 其岸普明 Qian Puming
45. 弢巧通聖 Taoqiao Tongsheng
46. 悟修心空 Wuxiu Xinkong
47. 宏化源悟 Honghua Yuanwu
48. 祥青廣松 Xiangqing Guangsong
49. 守道續先 Shoudao Xuxian
50. 正岳本超 Zhengyue Benchao
51. 永暢覺乘 Yongchang Jueshen
52. 方來昌遠 Fanglai Changyuan
53. 豁悟隆參 Huowu Longcan
54. 維超能燦 Weichao Nengcan
55. 奇量仁繁 Qiliang Renfan
56. 妙蓮聖華 Miaolian Shenghua
57. 鼎峰果成 Dingfeng Guocheng
58. 善慈常開 Shanci Changkai
59. 德清演徹 Deqing Yanche (aka 虛雲 Xu-yun) (1840-1959)
60. 佛慧寬印 Fohui Kuanyin
61. 靈源宏妙 Lingyuan Hongmiao (1902-1988)
62. 知剛惟柔 Zhigang Weirou (慧空聖嚴 ) (Huikong Shengyen) (1930-2009)

Lineage Chart of Huikong Shengyen in the Caodong School

Caoxi Huineng
Qingyuan Xingsi (d.740)
Shitou Xiqian
Yaoshan Weiyan
Yunyan Tancheng
Dongshan Liangjie
2 arrows
Yunju Daoying
Tongan Daopi
Tongan Guanzhi
Liangshan Yuanguan
Dayang Jingxuan
Touzi Yiqing
Furong Daokai
Caoshan Benji
2 arrows
Lumen Zijue
Danxia Zichun
2 arrows
Puzhao Yibian
Lingyan Sengbao
Yushan Shiti
Xueyan Huiman
Wansong Xingxiu
Xueting Fuyu
Lingyin Wentai
Huanyuan Fuyu
Chunzuo Wencai
Songting Ziyan
Ningran Liaogai
Jukong Qibin
Wufang Kecong
Yuezhou Wenzai
Zongjing Zongshu
Zhenxie Qingliao
Tiantong Zongjue
Xuedou Zhijian
Tiantong Rujing
(Dogen in Japanese)
Hongzhi Zhengjue
Zide Huihui
lineage ended after
ten generations
2 arrows
Huanxiu Changrun
Cizhou Fangnian
Yunkong Changzhong
Wuming Huijing
2 arrows
Yunmen Yuancheng
(Yunmen line)
Ruibai Mingxue
Poan Jingdeng
(焦山糸 Jiaoshan Line)
Guqiao Zhixian
Jiantang Dejing
Shuoan Xingzai
Minxiu Fuyi
Biyan Xiangjie
Jizhou Chengyao
Juchau Qingheng
Xingyuan Juequan
Moxi Haiyin
Yuehui Liaochan
Liuchang Wuchun
Jiehang Daxu
Yunfan Changzhao
Fenping Zhaoci
Dejun Zijue
Jitang Jiatai
Zhiguang Wenjue
Dongchu Denglang
博山元來 (博山糸)
Boshan Yuanlai
(Boshan Line)
鼓山元賢 (鼓山糸)
Gushan Yuanxian
(Gushan Line)
2 arrows
Huikong Shengyen

Mingshan Chuanxin




Official website

Revisiting the Notion of Zong: Contextualizing the Dharma Drum Lineage of Modern Chan Buddhism
by Jimmy Yu
Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal (2013, 26: 113-151) New Taipei: Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies

In 2006, the Buddhist monk Sheng Yen, one of the most influential Chinese Buddhist clerics of modern times, founded a new lineage (zong 空) of Chan Buddhism in Taiwan called the “Dharma Drum Lineage” (Fagu zong 法鼓宗).

Lineage Chart of 慧空聖嚴 Hui-kong Sheng Yen (知剛惟柔 Zhi-gang Wei-rou) in the Linji School
Lineage Chart of Hui-kong Sheng Yen in the Caodong School


A zen rövid története
Seng-jen mester előadása
Fordította: Szigeti György
In: Buddha tudat, Zen buddhista tanítások. Ford., szerk. és vál. Szigeti György
Budapest, Farkas Lőrinc Imre Könyvkiadó, 1999, 173-182. oldal

A zen tradíció keletkezését homály fedi. Az indiai
történelemben fellelhető néhány feljegyzés pontatlan.
Bódhidharma több mint ezer évvel Sákjamuni Buddha
halála után utazott Kínába, és a közbenső időszakról
csak keveset tudunk.

Fellelhető néhány történet és legenda, amely a zen
eredetét írja le. A leghíresebb történet a Tanátadás tör-
ténete; Buddha tanátadása Mahákásjapának, legfőbb
tanítványának, akit a zen hagyomány első pátriárkájá-
nak tekintünk. Ezt az eseményt azonban nem lehet
történelmi tényekkel bizonyítani.

A Tanátadás története így szól: Egy napon Sákja-
muni Buddha a Keselyű-bércen adott tanítást; csend-
ben felmutatott egy szál virágot hallgatói előtt. Úgy
tűnt, senki sem látta meg az ebben rejlő bölcsességet,
egyedül csak Mahákásjapa mosolyodott el. Akkor a
Buddha így szólt: "Kásjapa megértette tanításomat."
Ez a történet a zen hagyomány kezdete és ez a Tanáta-
dás mind a mai napig tart. Ez a történet a buddhista
történelemben egészen a tizedik századig, a Szung-di-
nasztia koráig ismeretlen volt. Nem kellene kételked-
nünk a zen hagyomány eredetében, csak azért, mert ez
a történel kétes hitelességű.

Sokkal fontosabb magát a zen metódusait tanul-
mányozni, minthogy elvesszünk a történelmi vitában.
Ezeket a metódusokat, amelyeket mind a mai napig
gyakorolunk, Sákjamuni Buddha két tanítványának
megvilágosulási történetével illusztrálhatjuk; az egyik
nagyon világos, a másik egy kissé homályos.

Az első tanítvány, Ánanda, erős tudatáról és hihe-
tetlen emlékezőtehetségéről vált ismertté. Ánanda nem
érte el a megvilágosodást a mester haláláig, mivel azt
hitte, hogy a Buddha megvilágosodottnak tekinti majd
őt az intelligenciája miatt. Ez azonban soha nem követ-
kezett be. Miután Buddha megtért a nirvánába, Ánan-
da abban reménykedett, hogy talán majd Mahákásjapa
segítségére lesz.

Buddha halála után Mahákásjapa megpróbált egy-
behívni 500 megvilágosodott tanítványt, hogy a mes-
ter tanításait összegyűjtsék és feljegyezzék. Ő azonban
csak 499 megvilágosodott tanítványt talált. Néhányan
arra biztatták, hogy hívja meg Ánandát, de Mahákás-
japa ezt elutasította, mert Ánanda nem volt megvilá-
gosodott lény, és ezért nem lehetett közösségük tagja.
Mahákásjapa azzal zárta le a vitat, hogy ha Ánandát be-
veszik közösségükbe, akkor ő távozik.

Mahákásjapa az állhatatos Ánandát három ízben
zavarta el. Egyszer Ánanda így szólt hozzá:
- Most, hogy a Buddha megtért a nirvánába, egye-
dül csak te segíthetsz elérni a megvilágosodást.

- Nagyon elfoglalt vagyok - szólt Mahákásjapa. ­ Nem
lehetek segítségedre! Egyedül csak magadban bízhatsz!

Ánanda végül belátta, hogy ha a megvilágosodásra
törekszik, akkor csak saját magára támaszkodhat.
Nyomban elvonult a világ egy elhagyatott szegletébe,
és leült meditálni. Egy napon elérte a megvilágosodást.
Miért? Mert meghaladta minden ragaszkodását, ahogy
teljesen megbízott önmagában.

A másik történet Buddha egyik legoktondibb tanít-
ványáról szól, akit Kis Ösvény"-nek hívtak. Kis Ös-
vényen kívül mindenki más emlékezett Buddha tanítá-
saira. Ő ha megpróbálta felidézni a szútra első szavát,
nyomban elfeledte az utána következő szót, és viszont.
Buddha a tanítványok lábbelijének tisztításával bízta
meg, mivel képtelen volt más feladatot elvégezni.

Miután hosszú éveken át tisztogatta mások lábbeli-
jét, felötlött benne a kérdés: Ezek a lábbelik tiszták, de
vajon tiszta-e a tudarorn?" Abban a pillanatban ellob-
bant a tudata. Mámorosan felkereste a Buddhát, aki
boldogan közölte vele: Fiam, megvilágosodott lény

Ezek a feljegyzések, mint igaz történetek, korabeli
szövegekben találhatóak. Az első azt mutatja, hogy a
gyakorlás során nem feltétlenül szükséges a tudás és az
intelligencia a megvilágosodás eléréséhez. A második
történet azt bizonyítja, hogy még a legoktondibb tanít-
vány is képes elérni a megvilágosodást. Ez persze nem
azt jelenti, hogy a zen az együgyűségre ösztökél, vagy
nem ismeri el az intelligens emberek megvilágosodását.
Sákjamuni Buddha, Mahákásjapa és Sáriputra tanult
emberek voltak. A zenben az a lényeg, hogy a tudat ra-
gaszkodással teli-e, vagy sem. Ugyanis a megvilágoso-
dás csak akkor érhető el, ha a tudatot nem köti ragasz-

Azt mondják, hogy Mahákásjapától Bódhidharmá-
ig huszonnyolc tanítvány kapta meg a Tant, s hogy
minden esetben pátriárkáról volt szó. Alig hihető, hogy
egyedül pátriárkák kapták meg a Tant. Kínában szintén
abban hisznek, hogy Bódhidharmától a Hatodik Pátri
árkáig, Huj-nengig, csak pátriárkák részesültek Tan-
átadásban. Mi azonban tudjuk, hogy Bódhidharmának
két-három tanítványa volt. Az egyetlen Tanátadásban
való hit abból fakad, hogy mi csak a pátriárkát ismer-
jük el a Tan hordozójának.

Én vagyok a zen tradícióban a negyvennyolcadik,
aki közvetlenül mestertől tanítványig kapta meg a
Tant; amely Tan a Hatodik Pátriárkától származik. Így
lettem a Lin-csi tradíció tagja. Ebben a tanátadási vo-
nalban, minden előttem lévő mesternek több mint egy
tanítványa volt, de amikor visszamész a tanátadási vo-
nal eredetéig, csupán egy tanítványt ismersz el, a töb-
bieket figyelmen kívül hagyod.

A Hatodik Pátriárkának sok tanítványa volt, akik
számos ágnak és nemzedéknek az alapírói voltak. Né-
hány ág kihalt, köszönhetően a tanítványok hiányának,
néhány azonban mind a mai napig él. Ezért alig hi-
hető, hogy Indiától Kínáig csupán egyetlen Tanátadás
volt huszonnyolc nemzedéken át.

Röviden vázoltuk a zen történetér és Tanátadását.
Most pedig beszéljünk a zen stílusdról, karakteréről. Az
Ötödik Pátriárkának, Hung-zsennek (meghalt 674-
ben) két kiemelkedő tanítványa volt - Sen-hsziu és
Huj-neng. Sen-hsziu a fokozatos gyakorlást képviselte,
Huj-neng azonban a nem-gyakorlás gyakorlatát. Mind-
ketten a tükör" szimbólumát használták tanításuk

Sen-hsziu így tanított: a gyakorlás olyan, mint a
tükör tisztítása. Addig műveld a tudatodat, amíg a tü-
kör tiszta nem lesz.

Huj-neng szintén a tükör" szimbólumát használta,
Tanítása értelmében nincs tükör, ennélfogva nincs por
sem. Ez azt jelenti, hogy az igazi természet, vagy igazi
én, tiszta. incs szükség semmire. Egy zen mondás azt
mondja: Amíg nincs semmi a tudatodban, bármerre
nézel - északra, keletre, délre és nyugatra -, rninden

Minden vonalnak megvan a maga szabálya, stílusa
és gyakorlata, de a cél ugyanaz: a megszabadult tudat.
valamennyi nehézség meghaladása. A zen gyakorlatban
nincs pontosan körülírt kívánalom: amint tudatod
megnyugszik, megbékülsz.

Célszerű megismerni a zen gyakorlat lényegét.
Ugyanis anélkül a gyakorlás nem vezet eredményre.
Tekintsük most át ezt: Bódhidharma tanításában a
gyakorlis a legfontosabb, míg Huj-nengnél a nem-gya-
korlás. Bódhidharma metódusa két részre osztható: a
tanítások belátására, mint a hirtelen megvilágosodásra;
illetve a gyakorlásra, mint a fokozatos művelésre.

A gyakorlás négy összetevője a következő:

1. A sors elfogadása: a karma, az ok-okozat törvé-
nye, a buddhizmus alaptanítása. Az ebben az életben
tapasztalt nehézségek a korábbi életekben elkövetett
tettek eredménye. A múltbeli életek tettei erre az életre
is kihatnak, ne szomorkodj és ne légy dühös emiatt.

2. Összhangban lenni a szerencsés körülményekkel:
a jószerencse és a kedvező körülmények a korábbi éle-
tekben elkövetett tettek eredménye. Érezd át a szeren-
csédet, de ne légy túlságosan boldog vagy büszke.

3. Gyakorlás keresés nélkül: A keresés szenvedést
okoz. Ne keress és akkor megszabadulsz az önközép-
pontúságtól, és megtapasztalod a tudat tökéletes sza-

4. Gyakorolj a Dharma szerint: a sors elfogadása
nem azt jelenti, hogy alávetjük magunkat mindennek,
ami velünk történik. Például, önszántadból nem vá-
lasztod a tűzhalált, még ha ezzel másnak segítesz. Nem
választod az éhhalált, mikor éhes vagy. Ugyanis nem ez
a zen szellemisége. A Dharma szerinti gyakorlás azt je-
lenti, hogy teljes erőddel a Dharma megvalósítására tö-
rekszel. Amikor a körülmények megengedik, iparkodj
a legjobbat kihozni magadból. Nem a siker a fontos,
hanem a fáradhatatlan törekvés. Ne légy túlságosan
boldog, amikor sikerült, s nem légy elkeseredett, ami-
kor nem. Fogadd el az eredményeket békésen. legye-
nek azok jók vagy rosszak.

A megvilágosodás a motiváció. Mielőtt elkezdesz
gyakorolni, szükséged van motivacióra, A gyakorlás
kezdetekor azonban el kell engedned a megvilágoso-
dásra való törekvést, ugyanis a motiváció érihez való
ragaszkodást okoz; s ha nem szabadulsz meg tőle, soha
nem éred el a megvilágosodást.

Beszéljünk a Hatodik Pátriárka hirtelen megvilágo-
sodás tanáról. A Hatodik Pátriárka szútrája azt a gya-
korlást hangsúlyozza, mely időtől és tértől független,
nem tesz különbséget erény és gonoszság között, jó és
rossz között, helyes és helytelen között. A tudat meg-
szabadult mindenfajta megkülönböztető gondolatról.
Ez önmagában a gyakorlás.

A Hatodik Pátriárka szútrájában használt tudat
kifejezés a tiszta tudatra utal, amely szabad a gondola-
tokról, s mely azonos a bölcsességgel vagy a megvilágo-
sodással. A Hatodik Pátriárka szútrája a nem-gondol-
kodással kezdődik és a nem-formával végződik. A
nem-gondolkodás magában foglalja a nem-ragaszko-
dást, a nem-tartózkodást, a nem-emlékezést. A nem-
gondolkodás azonos a nem-formával - beleértve vala-
mennyi létezést, legyen az természeti, mentál is vagy
materiális, amely időben és térben létezik. A nem-for-
ma egy és ugyanaz a tiszta tudattal és a gondolkodással,
ugyanaz, mint a bölcsesség és a megvilágosodás. Anél-
kül, hogy bármely metódust használnánk, a megvilá-
gosodás elérhető.

Most pedig beszéljünk a zen gyakorlás stílusáról,
amely fokozatosan csökkenti a nyugtalanságot és nö-
veli a bölcsességet. Ez a gyakorlás két részre osztható:
napi gyakorlatra és időszakos gyakorlatra.

A napi gyakorlat magában foglalja a napi rendszeres
meditációt. Mindennap egy bizonyos napszakot medi-
tációval tölts. Amikor nem gyakorolsz, éberen és tuda-
tosan légy jelen a világban, az élethelyzetekben. Gyak-
ran mondom a tanítványaimnak, hogy legyenek ébe-
rek, akárhol vannak a világban, és legyenek tudatosak,
akármit csinálnak. Éljenek a jelenben. Ez is a napi

A napi gyakorlat azonban nem elég. Szükséged van
időszakos, koncentrált gyakorlatra is. Minden héten,
hónapban vagy évben vonulj vissza egyedül, akár egy
vagy két napra, akár egy hétre vagy egy hónapra. Töltsd
az idődet meditációval, gyakorolj fáradhatatlanul.
Az időszakos gyakorlat másik fajtája a csoportos
gyakorlás. Ennek az a haszna, hogy a gyakorlók egy-
mást segítik. Ez a koncentrált időszakos gyakorlás na-
gyon hasznos. A napi gyakorlat nélkül a nyugtalanság
és a szenvedés egyre csak növekedne. A tudat nem lelné
békéjét. Amennyiben csak a napi gyakorlatokra törek-
szel, s nem végzel időszakos koncentrált meditációt, a
gyakorlásod erőtlen marad.

Egyszer megkérdeztem egy magas rangú katolikus
papot, hogyan őrzi meg lélekjelenlétét, miközben sü-
rög-forog a különféle helyeken és igazgat számos ügyet;
hogyan őrzi meg eközben nyugalmát, s hogyhogy nem
vágyik a világi életre, a feleségre és a családalapításra.
Ő azt válaszolta, hogy a papok számára naponta kettő
vagy négy óra szellemi gyakorlat van előírva, s anélkül
képtelen len ne megőrizni papság"-át,

A zen ezért hangsúlyozza a napi gyakorlatot. A me-
ditáció egymagában nem elég. Ugyanazt az éber tuda-
tot kell megélned a mindennapos cselekedetekben,
mint amit a meditációban tapasztalsz.