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Heze Shenhui

Heze Shenhui – The Creator of the Southern School of Ch'an

Heze Shenhui (Traditional Chinese: 菏泽神會/神会; Wade–Giles: Ho-tse Shen-hui, 684–758) was a Chinese Buddhist monk who sowed dissension among the ranks of the Ch'an clergy of China. He created the so-called "Southern School" of Ch'an and falsely labeled the "East Mountain School" of Dayi Daoxin (580–651) the Fourth Patriarch and Daman Hongren (601–674) the Fifth Patriarch as the "Northern School," fueling an artificial Northern and Southern School controversy. He supposedly studied under both Yuquan Shenxiu (606–706) the Sixth Patriarch and Dajian Huineng (638–713), but later started a campaign that had Huineng posthumously named as Sixth Patriarch and himself as Seventh Patriarch over Songshan Puji (651–739). Shenhui had a great impact on the rhetoric of Chinese Ch'an Buddhism and the lineage of China's Ch'an Patriarchs.

Shenhui was born in Xiangyang, a prefecture-level city in northwestern Hubei province. His family surname was Gao (高). At a young age, he initially studied The Five Classics of Confucius (551 BC–479 BC) and the Taoist writings of Lao Tzu (601 BC–c. 531 BC) and Zhuangzi (c. 369 BC–c. 286 BC). He was then drawn to Buddhism, the third of the Three Teachings prevalent in China.

Shenhui is alleged to have studied separately with Shenxiu and Huineng during different periods of his youth. He received ordination as a monk in Chang'an, or Xijing (西京), the "Western Capital" of China, when he was 20.

When Huineng passed away in 713 at Guo'en Temple (Guó ēn Sì 囯恩寺) in Xinzhou, Shenhui was around 30 years old and had attended Huineng for many years. In 720, Shenhui began to teach at Longxing Temple (Lóngxīng Sì 隆興寺) in Nanyang (present day Hubei province), where he was little known for many years.

During this period, many Buddhist masters contended for legitimacy in the emerging Ch'an school. The first Ch'an lineage was laid down in the epitaph of Hongren's disciple Faru (638–689) who established himself with the monks and nuns of the Shaolin Temple (Shàolín Sì 少林寺) following his studies at East Mountain. Faru's epitaph stated that in India there was a wordless transmission from mind to mind of the Buddha's essential teaching that eventually reached Bodhidharma (483–540), who transmitted it to China. It went from Bodhidharma to Dazu Huike (487–593) to Jianzhi Sengcan (529–606) to Daoxin to Hongren and ended with Faru himself. Other disciples of Hongren's soon challenged the epitaph, claiming that they were the next point on the lineage after Hongren. They included Laoan (also known as Huian, died 708) and especially Shenxiu, who became widely famous in his later years and was honored in the imperial court by Zhou Empress Wu Zetian (r. 684–705), who usurped the T'ang dynasty, and T'ang Emperor Zhongzong (r. 684, 705–710). Written by Puji, Shenxiu's epitaph states that he received a special transmission from Hongren that had passed down from Bodhidharma. No mention is made of Faru or Hongren's other students.

Against this background of competing claims to legitimacy, many years after the deaths of both Shenxiu and Huineng, Shenhui first gained recognition in 730, 731, and 732. He staged public debates at a town in Shandong province, far to the northeast of Luoyang, , i.e., Dongdu (东都), the "Eastern Capital" of the T'ang dynasty, with students of Shenxiu's two primary disciples: Puji and Yifu (658–736).

At the Great Dharma Assembly in Henan Province in 732, Shenhui, first labeled the East Mountain School (Dongshan 東山) as the "Northern School" (Beizong 北宗) of Ch'an. He disputed the legitimacy of Shenxiu's position as the Sixth Patriarch, claiming that Shenxiu usurped the title from Huineng. He supported his claim by falsely stating that Huineng possessed the robe and begging bowl of Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch. Shenhui also condemned Shenxiu and his disciples for enjoying the support and favor of the T'ang Imperial court in the dual capitals of Luoyang and Chang'an rather than practice in the countryside of China as earlier Ch'an patriarchs and their followers had done.

A written account of the debate in 732 (edited after 745) records a question posed to Shenhui by a little-known monk named Chongyuan, and Shenhui's response:

Dharma Master Chonyuan asked Shenhui, "The two worthies, Ch'an Master Puji of Mount Song and Ch'an Master Xiangmo Zang of the Eastern Peak (i.e., Mount Tai), teach people to sit in meditation and 'freeze the mind to enter concentration, fix the mind to view purity, activate the mind to illuminate the external and concentrate the mind to realize the internal.' They declare that this is the teaching. Why do you today preach Ch'an without teaching people to sit [in meditation] and without teaching people to 'freeze the mind to enter concentration, fix the mind to view purity, activate the mind to illuminate the external, and concentrate the mind to realize the internal'? What is 'sitting in meditation'?"

His Reverence Shenhui answered, "To reach people to sit [in meditation this way]…is to obstruct bodhi (i.e., enlightenment). When I say 'sit' now, [I mean that] 'sitting' is for thoughts not to be activated. When I say 'meditation' now, [I mean that] 'meditation' is to see the fundamental nature. Therefore, I do not teach people to have their bodies sit and their minds abide in entrance into concentration. If it were correct to declare such a teaching, then Vimalakīrti would not have scolded Sāripūtra for sitting in meditation."

Dharma Master Chongyuan asked, "Why is it impermissible for Ch'an Master Puji to use the label 'Southern school'?"

His Reverence answered, "Because when Reverend Shenxiu was alive, all those who study the Path in China referred to these two great masters as '[Hui]-neng of the South' and '[Shen]-xiu of the North' – everyone knew this. It is because of these titles that we have the two schools of North and South. Ch'an Master Puji is actually a student of [Shenxiu of] Jade Springs [Temple] (Yùquán Sì 玉泉寺) ; he actually never went to Shaozhou (Huineng's place of residence) but now falsely mouths off about his being the Southern school. Therefore, this is impermissible."

This was a shocking address in which Shenhui advocated a type of Ch'an that was no ch'an at all in which the practice of dhyāna, or meditation, was omitted. Using the format of a public debate, Shenhui staged a dramatic and sharply worded attack on the "Northern school," which was a label he invented and applied to Shenxiu and his disciples. The name "Northern school" immediately stuck, even though it was clearly a contemptuous and false distortion. Shenhui was actively at work in rewriting the history of Ch'an, and he borrowed substantially from the so-called "Northern school" even as he vilified it. For example, Shenhui set up his own lineage hall in imitation of Puji, even as he worked to establish the transmission from Bodhidharma to Huineng (and then implicitly to Shenhui himself) as the sole lineal succession of Ch'an. The "Northern school" had originally generated the basic configuration of the Ch'an genealogical model, but only with Shenhui was its one line quality emphasized so strongly. Shenhui's ideas of mediation practice also borrowed perspectives shown in Hongren's and Shenxiu's writings even as he denied the value of meditation.

Another attack was launched at the Great Cloud Temple (Dàyùn Sì 大運寺) in Huatai in 734 where he presented an address called the Exposition on Right and Wrong in regards to Bodhidharma's Southern School. It took the form of a dialogue between him and Chongyuan again, who championed Shenxiu's falsely labeled Northern School. The influence of this conference on the imperial court and public opinion was debatable, but it laid down the lines of Shenhui's criticisms of the so-called Northern School.

In addition to disputing Shenxiu's position as Hongren's successor, he also accused the Northern School of promoting an inferior "gradual" (jian jiao 漸教) and dualistic approach to enlightenment or "gradual path" (Sanskrit: karamavrittya; क्रमवृद्धि) rather than "sudden" (dun jiao 頓教) enlightenment or "sudden path" (Sanskrit: yugapad; युगपद्) like the "Southern School" (Nanzong 南宗), which he invented.

The Record of the Zen Discourses of the Monk Shenhui records Shenhui saying:

[Northern School teachings] are the methods of the ignorant. Zen master Huineng's practice is found apart from the two methods of 'subduing' or 'not subduing' the mind; this is why it says in the sutra, 'mind does not abide within, nor is it external'. It is in quiet sitting; when one sits in this manner, one realizes buddhahood. In the six generations that have come before, not a single person performed the practices of Shenxiu, they are entirely different.

Shenhui further asserted that Shenxiu's teachings deviated from Ch'an for their stress on ceremony and sutra study, rather than sitting meditation and no-mind or "Wu Hsin" (wú xīn 吴新). He charged "Northern School" students of attempting to steal Bodhidharma's robe, severing the head of Huineng, and rewriting the inscription of Shenxiu's tomb with the words "Sixth Patriarch."

Shenhui declared that the true heir to Hongren was Huineng, who he claimed had founded the Southern School of Ch'an. Huineng was then an obscure monk who was named in just one source, the Lengqie Shizi ji by Jingjue (683–c. 750), an early 8th century list of Hongren's ten or eleven principle disciples. Huineng was number eight on this list behind Shenxiu, who was named first. Hongren was quoted as noting that Huineng would be a master of only local importance. Shenhui claimed to be a disciple of Huineng, and the implication of his condemnation of the Northern School and his advancement of Huineng and the Southern School was that he, and not Puji, was the true Seventh Patriarch.

Shenhui traveled north and became abbot of the Heze Temple (Hézé Sì 菏澤寺) near Luoyang in 745. His most intensive period of writing and talks on the Southern School and sudden enlightenment took place.

Shenhui was invited into the eastern capital by Song Dong, president of the Ministry of War. Shenhui began to gain followers. Though Puji and Yifu were both deceased, their disciples and the Northern School continued to have supporters among high-ranking officials. One of these was the Imperial Censor Lu Yi. In 753, Lu Yi accused Shenhui of rabble rousing and subversive behavior. Lu Yi had Shenui exiled from Luoyang following an interview with T'ang Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713–756).

Shenhui was banished a total of four times by various T'ang imperial regimes. He was sent to different places during his exile, which were all strongholds of Northern School (i.e. East Mountain) teachings. Shenhui continued to preach and gain influence, but he might have spent his last years in disgrace had not the rebellion of the half Persian-half Turkish general An Lushan (703–757) erupted in 753 and changed the fortunes of many.

During the ensuing chaos of the An Lushan Rebellion (753–763), Lu Yi died and Shenhui was recalled to Luoyang in 757. Shenhui was tasked with assisting the new emperor, Suzong (r. 756–764), in raising funds for his government by selling ordination certificates, a practice that had been forbidden by the former emperor, Xuanzong.

Shenhui gained great prestige for his oratory prowess in raising funds for the T'ang government during the An Lushan rebellion. He was awarded with imperial patronage and a special Ch'an building in the Heze Temple. After his death, he was posthumously granted the title of National Teacher (Kuo Shih 国史) in addition to being named the Seventh Patriarch over Puji.

Buddhist scholar Heinrich Dumoulin wrote: "It seems ironic that one who so relentlessly criticized masters of the Northern School for carelessly assuming honorific titles and so betraying the true spirit of Bodhidharma should spend his old age basking in the grace of the powers that be."

When the An Lushan rebellion was finally brought to an end in 763, northern China was devastated and both capital cities of Luoyang and Chang'an, where the Northern School had been prominent, were reduced to ruins. The Northern School died out in most of China by the 9th and 10th centuries. A vacuum was created in which the Hongzhou School of Ch'an Buddhism emerged (in present day Jiangxi province), spread, and became institutionally dominant. The Hongzhou School traced itself back to Huineng. Though it didn't continue the sectarianism of Shenhui, it adopted his stress on "sudden" enlightenment. From the Hongzhou School emerged the "five families of Ch'an," which gave birth to or heavily influenced most Ch'an lineages throughout Asia and the rest of the world today.

Shenhui reputedly died while meditating in 760. His burial stūpa is located at Longmen Grottoes (Lóngmén Shíkū 龍門石窟) or Longmen Caves (literally: "Dragon's Gate Grottoes"), where tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples are housed. They are located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of Luoyang. One of his existing writings is a poem called "The Record Revealing the Lineage" (Xianzongji 显宗记) that mentions twenty-eight masters in India, though no names are given.

Shenhui's attacks on the so-called Northern School were based on distortions of its teachings. For example, American scholar Philip Yampolsky wrote that Shenhui's claim that the Diamond Sūtra was the principal sūtra of Bodhidharma and his disciples rather than the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra was "pure fabrication."

Additionally, the Treatise on the Contemplation of the Mind (Guanxin Lun 觀心論), a Northern text credited to Shenxiu clearly says: "It does not take long to witness this (i.e., to realize sagehood); enlightenment is in the instant. Why worry about your white hair (i.e., about your age)?" Shenhui derided Shenxiu's advocacy of constant practice as being "gradualist" (a charge which could also be made against the Dongshan tradition of the Fourth and Fifth Patriarchs. No significant differences existed between Northern Ch'an teachings, which were based on the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Awakening of Faith text, and Shenhui's position, which was imperfectly derived from the Diamond and other Prajñāpāramitā ("Perfection of Wisdom") sūtras.

In fact, Shenxiu and his disciples supported both gradual and sudden approaches, depending on the abilities and experience of the student.

The unreliable Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch, which was created by a little known disciple of Huineng's named Fahai (d.u.) to promote Huineng as the Sixth Patriarch, itself records Shenxiu saying to an assembly:

The dharma is originally a single school; it is people who think 'north' and
'south.' The dharma is of one kind; but the understanding of it may be 'direct' or
'gradual.' So why the terms 'direct' and 'gradual'? Dharma itself is neither
'direct' nor 'gradual.' Rather it is people who are sharp or dull. Hence the terms 'direct' and 'gradual.'

Though Shenhui was not prominent like other Buddhist masters such as Shenxiu or Faru, his oratory and political skills were considerable and his campaign, was in the end, extremely successful. Eventually, many of Shenhui's false claims about Huineng were added into the famous, but inaccurate, Platform Sūtra. His attacks on gradualism and dualism and his advocacy of sudden enlightenment made later generations of Ch'an practitioners sensitive to these issues. Though Shenhui's value system, in which sudden enlightenment (especially the first moment of inspiration) was good and gradual enlightenment (the progressive development toward complete understanding) was bad, was not accepted, his rhetoric made others steer clear of formulations that could be criticized as either dualistic or gradualist. Following Ch'an texts followed an unwritten "rule of rhetorical purity," avoiding any talk of specific meditation practices since any method was gradualistic by definition in some manner.

Guifeng Zongmi (780–841), a third-generation descendant of Shenhui, recorded in 796 that a council of Ch'an masters assembled by order T'ang Emperor Dezong (r. 779–805) named Shenhui as the Seventh Patriarch of Ch'an. Zongmi wrote "an imperial commission determined that the Southern line of Ch'an represented the orthodox transmission and established Shen-hui as the seventh patriarch, placing an inscription to that effect in the Shen-lung Temple (Chén lóng Sì 沉龍寺)."

However, Shenhui was not widely accepted as the Seventh Patriarch and his importance in early Ch'an was soon largely forgotten. Shenhui's lineage was called the Heze School. The names of a few of his immediate students are known, but none were significantly famous aside from Zongmi. The patriarchs of following Shenhui were Cizhou Zhiru (723–811), Yizhou Nanyin (705–782), Suizhou Daoyuan (d.u.), and Zongmi. Zongmi was not descended from Shenhui, but from another monk with the same name, Jinzhong Shenhui (d.u.) of the Jingzhong Temple (Jīng zhōng Sì 京中寺) in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan, illustrating the rule of Ch'an studies: "Lineage assertions are as wrong as they are strong." Furthermore, Zongmi lists seven different Ch'an factions, of which only two traced themselves to Huineng (the other factions saw Hongren, in one case Daoxin, as their ancestor), so Shenhui's vision of the Ch'an lineage was not complete. The Heze school died out with Zongmi after the Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 845 by T'ang Emperor Wuzong (r. 840–846).

Shenhui's idea that only one person at a time could be in possession of the transmission quickly faded away as well. According to the Platform Sūtra, Huineng himself didn't pass on Bodhidharma's robe nor did he appoint a "patriarch" to succeed him. Instead, like his teacher Hongren, he had many students who went on to teach Ch'an. Shenxiu, whom he displaced as the Sixth Patriarch, never claimed to be the only legitimate successor to Hongren as well. The different Ch'an groups, which held the early transmission line in common, more or less accepted each other as legitimate even when they competed. In the decades after Zongmi, only Ch'an groups tracing themselves to Huineng survived, and the implicit agreement between the different Ch'an lineages to accept each other's legitimacy became an enduring pattern of Chinese Ch'an.

Shenhui's speeches were found in 1900, among other documents, in the Mogao Caves, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas or the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, which comprise a complex of 492 temples 25 km (16mi) southeast of Dunhuang. Dunhuang is a county-level city in northwestern Gansu Province, Western China located in an oasis placed at a cultural and religious crossroads on the Silk Road. Modern scholars view Shenhui's arguments against the "Northern School" to be falsifications and overstatements. German scholar Heinrich Dumoulin viewed Shenhui as "unscrupulous." Japanese scholar Ui Hakuju wrote that Shenhui had "traits deserving of moral censure and criticism for intolerance."

Additionally, a number of scholars doubt that Shenhui actually knew Huineng. Australian scholar John Jorgensen wrote: "It is unlikely, despite his claims, that Shenhui ever met Huineng or was his disciple… . As Shenhui had little information about the actual Huineng, he had to invent a biography of him… . It would seem that Shenhui invented the figure of Huineng, for his claims would make Shenhui the true heir of the single line of transmission from the Buddha in the Southern lineage."

Rather than serve as a true meditation teacher and aid practitioners with finding enlightenment, Shenhui's legacy is more that of a propagandist and evangelist who was instrumental in the rewriting of Chinese Ch'an history.

The tradition of Ch'an Buddhism and Shaolin martial arts are continued in martial arts classes for men, women, and children offered by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.

 

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