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首山省念 Shoushan Xingnian (926-993)
(Rōmaji:) Shuzan Shōnen

Shoushan Xingnian
by Andy Ferguson
In: Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings, Wisdom Publications, 2011, pp. 335-338.

SHOUSHAN XINGNIAN (926–93) was a disciple of Fengxue Yanzhao. He came from ancient Laizhou (now in Ye County in Shandong Province). Shoushan is remembered for having concealed and carried on the Linji lineage during the turbulent end of the Tang dynasty. As a young man, he left home to live at Nanchan Temple, where he took the monk’s vows. Later, as he roamed China, Shoushan daily chanted the Lotus Sutra and thus gained the nickname “Nianfahua [‘Chanting Lotus Sutra’].” The Wudeng Huiyuan provides an account of the circumstances of the transmission from Fengxue to Shoushan.


One day when Shoushan was in attendance, Fengxue said tearfully, “Tragically, the way of Linji will perish with me.”

Shoushan asked, “Among the monks is there no one who can carry on?”

Fengxue said, “There are many clever ones, but few who see self-nature.”

Shoushan said, “Is there no one in particular?”

Fengxue said, “Although I’ve watched for a long while, still I’m afraid that as for this path, I can’t pass it to anyone.”

Shoushan said, “It should be possible. Please tell me more about it.”

Later Fengxue entered the hall. With the blue lotus eye of the World-Honored One he gazed across the assembled monks. Then he said, “The time has come for you to speak out. If you say nothing you will have buried the ancients. But what will you say?”

Shoushan shook his sleeves and went out.

Fengxue then threw down his staff and returned to his room. His attendant followed him and asked, “Why can’t Nianfahua face you?”

Fengxue said, “Nianfahua understands.”

The next day, Shoushan and a monk named Zhen Yuantou were talking with Fengxue.

Fengxue asked Zhen, “What is it that the World-Honored One didn’t say?”

Zhen said, “The dove coos in the treetop.”

Fengxue said, “Why say these silly verses? Why don’t you grasp and embody the words?”

Then Fengxue asked Shoushan, “How about you?”

Shoushan said, “In deportment, uphold the ancient road, not letting the silent function fall.”

Then Fengxue said to Zhen, “Why can’t you see what Nianfahua has said?”


Fengxue thus passed on the Dharma seal to Shoushan. During the chaotic fall of the Tang dynasty, Shoushan “covered his tracks and concealed his light,” coming forth again with the teaching only when conditions were appropriate. Then Shoushan began teaching in Ruzhou on the mountain from which he gained his name. He later served as abbot at the Guangjiao Monastery on Bao’an Mountain (located in modern Hebei Province).


Shoushan held up a bamboo comb before the assembly and said, “If you say it’s a bamboo comb then you’re grasping. If you don’t call it a bamboo comb you’re turning away. So what do you say?”


A monk asked Zen master Shoushan Xingnian, “Can a single tree blossom or not?”

Shoushan said, “It’s long been in blossom.”

The monk said, “Can it bear fruit or not?”

Shoushan said, “It suffered a frost last night!”


A monk said, “I’d like to know if you can explain Linji’s shout and Deshan’s stick.”

Shoushan said, “You try it.”

The monk shouted.

Shoushan said, “Blind!”

The monk shouted again.

Shoushan said, “What’s this blind fellow shouting for?”

The monk bowed.

Shoushan hit him.


A monk asked, “What is the mind of the ancient buddhas?”

Shoushan said, “Three pounds of Zhen Province hemp.”


A monk asked, “I have long been submerged in delusion. I ask the master to receive me as a student.”

Shoushan said, “I don’t have time for that.”

The monk said, “How can the master act in this manner?”

Shoushan said, “If you want to practice, then practice. If you want to sit, then sit.”


A monk asked, “What is a bodhisattva before she becomes a buddha?”

Shoushan said, “All beings.”

The monk said, “How about after she becomes a buddha?”

Shoushan said, “All beings. All beings.”


A monk asked, “What is Shoushan?”

Shoushan said, “East Mountain is high. West Mountain is low.”

The monk asked, “What about the person inside the mountain?”

Shoushan said, “Fortunately for you my staff isn’t in my hand.”


A monk asked, “A single phrase from Caoxi was heard by everyone on earth. I’d like to know if the master has a phrase that everyone can hear?”

Shoushan said, “They don’t go outside the gate.”

The monk said, “Why don’t they go outside the gate?”

Shoushan said, “Because they are given to everyone on earth.”


Near death, Shoushan entered the hall to bid farewell to the monks. He then recited this verse:

The Silver World, the Golden Body,
Impassioned or passionless, together one Truth,
When brightness and darkness are exhausted, neither shines forth.
The sun past its apex reveals the whole body.

After reciting this verse, the master sat peacefully and then passed away. A stupa was built to house his sacred relics.