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 Bodhidharma Wall Gazing

Bodhidharma cave wall gazing – The First Patriarch of Ch'an.

Songshan Puji – The "Forgotten" Seventh Patriarch of Ch'an

Songshan Puji (Traditional Chinese: 嵩山 普 寂, pinyin Sōngshān Pǔjì; Wade–Giles: Sung-shan P'u-chi) was a Ch'an master of the East Mountain School. Puji (651–739) was the Seventh Patriarch of Chinese Ch'an after Bodhidharma and the Dharma successor of Yuquan Shenxiu (606?–706), the "first" Sixth Patriarch. Due to the controversy between the Northern and Southern Schools of Ch'an, though, Puji's place in history has been obscured.

Puji ("Universal Quiescence") was from Luozhou, Henan, north of Dengfeng county, where laid sacred Mount Song (Traditional Chinese: 嵩山; pinyin: Sōngshān), one of the Five Great Mountains of China. Puji was born into the Feng family, which had hermit traditions. As a boy, he showed great intellectual capacity and studied the traditional Chinese texts on Confucianism and Taoism.

Dissatisfied with his initial studies, though, Puji turned to the study of Mahayana Buddhist sutras (scriptures) and sastras (treatises). His Buddhist studies began in Daliang (near modern Kaifeng), the former capital of the state of Wei. His readings included the Lotus Sūtra, the yogachary teachings of the Buddha's nature, and the Treatise On Awakening the Faith in Mahāyāna.

He took the precepts under Preceptor Duan (d.u.) of Luoyang, or Dongdu (东都), the "Eastern Capital" of the Tang dynasty. He then studied the Vinaya with Preceptor Jing (634–712) of Nanquan (in the Guichi District of modern day Anhui province). In 688, he was ordained a monk by Jing.

Puji decided to study meditation and went to Master Luzhou Faru (638–689) of the Shaolin Temple (Shàolín Sì 少林寺). Faru was the first Dharma heir of Daman Hongren (601–674) the Fifth Patriarch of Ch'an and was widely famed. Faru died before his arrival, though, so he next journeyed to Jade Spring Temple (Yuquan Si 玉泉寺) at the east piedmont of Yuquan Mountain in Danyang County, Hubei Province. There he began his studies under the temple's abbot, Shenxiu. During the next seven years, he focused on the study of the Sūtra of Inquiry by the God of Thinking-about-Goodness (Siyi Fantian Suowen Jin 思義梵天索維金) and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra.

In 700, Shenxiu sponsored Puji for official ordination. From 701–704, Puji was a monk at Songyue Temple (Sōng yuè Sì 嵩嶽寺) at the foothills of sacred Mount Song, near the Shaolin Temple.

Meantime, Shenxiu entered Luoyang in 701 at the invitation of Empress Wu (reign 690–705) of the Second Zhou dynasty, who had usurped the authority of the Tang dynasty. Shenxiu was recognized as Honren's next Dharma heir and the seat of East Mountain teaching founded by Dayi Daoshin (580–651) the Fourth Patriarch of Ch'an and Hongren was transferred to the imperial court.

Following Shenxiu's death in 706, Emperor Zhongzong of the Tang dynasty (r. 684, 705–710) appointed Puji as the leader of Shenxiu's disciples. Puji initially declined the position, but reconsidered and took Shenxiu's place in the imperial court.

In 723, Puji moved to Jing'ai Temple (Jīng ài Sì 京愛寺) in Luoyang. He was later installed at Xingtang Temple (Xìng táng Sì 興堂寺) in Luoyang in 727 by Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–756), where he preached dharma for the rest of his life. During this final period, his fame and influence at the imperial capital reached their height. A text dating from 772 recorded that Puji had 10,000 students of whom 63 were main disciples. He was honored as "Ch'an Master of Great Illumination" (Dazhao 大釗).

Information on fourteen of Puji's main disciples is preserved. Nine of these were known to teach the dharma in Southern China. Two of these prominent Ch'an masters were Nanyue Mingcan (d.u.) and Dao-xuan (702–760).

Mingcan gained the nickname Lanzan (Lazy Zan 懶贊;) because he refused to take part in monastic matters. He was also dubbed "Leftovers" because he was wont to eat food left uneaten by other monks. Despite his eccentricities, when he spoke, his sayings were in line with the principles of East Mountain teaching.

In 742, three years after Puji's death, he went to the monastery at Mount Heng (Traditional Chinese: 衡山; pinyin: Héng Shān), also called Nanyue (南岳; South Peak or Mountain), in southeastern Hunan. He was said to either stay in a hut or in a stone cave on the mountain. He lived a humble life of reclusion in the surrounding forests, operating the monastery during the day and keeping company with the monastery pig at night. He lived in this manner for twenty years. Periodically, he amazed the other monks by dislodging giant boulders with a light touch of his foot or driving away tigers with a whip.

Mingcan wrote the poem Song of Enjoying the Way (Lè dào gē 樂道歌):

When I want to go I simply go.
When I want to stay I simply stay.

Mingcan appears in an episode recorded by Ch'an Master Yuan Keqin (1063–1135) in the Blue Cliff Record (Bìyán Lù 碧巖錄), a collection of Ch'an gong'an (公安; paradoxical anecdotes or riddles):

Lanzan [i.e., Mingcan] lived in seclusion in a stone cave on Mount Heng 衡 [i.e., Nanyue]. Emperor Dezong 德宗 [r. 779–805] heard his name and dispatched a messenger to summon him to the court.

When the messenger reached the cave he announced the command of the Son of Heaven, then said, "Your Reverence should rise and acknowledge the Imperial Benevolence."

Zan, who at the time was poking a fire of cow-dung, pulled out a roasted root and began to eat. As it was wintertime, mucous was dripping down onto his chin, and he made no answer.

The messenger laughed and said, "May I suggest that Your Reverence wipe the mucous away?"

"Why should I go to that bother for a common man?" Zan replied. In the end he did not rise.

The messenger returned and reported to the throne. Dezong was filled with admiration.

Mingcan was given the posthumous name "Ch'an Master of Great Clarity" (Dàmíng 大明).

Biographers speculate that his earlier eccentric behavior was due to his negative assessment of the leadership of the monastery where he was ordained. The change in his behavior after 742 may have been due to a change in the monastery's leadership.

Dao-xuan is noteworthy for importing East Mountain Ch'an teachings, Huayan school teachings, and the Bodhisattva Precepts to Japan. He was ordained at an early age in the Vinaya school at Dafu Temple (Dàfú Sì 大福寺) in Luoyang. He then traveled and practiced Ch'an meditation followed by an intensive study of Tiantai doctrines before returning to his home temple where he lectured on Buddhism.

In 733, he was invited by two Japanese monks, Eiei (栄叡) and Fushō (普照), to provide Buddhist ordinations and to teach the dharma in Japan. Dao-xuan agreed to go and arrived in 736.

Dao-xuan lectured on the latest Buddhist teachings from China, acted as Risshi (律師, "precept master") for ordinations, and in 752 officiated the opening of the Tōdai-ji (東大寺, Eastern Great Temple) in Nara, Japan. The Tōdai-ji was the administrative center for the provincial temples and Japan's six early Buddhist schools: the Hossō, Kegon, Jōjitsu, Sanron, Ritsu, and Kusha.

In 760, Dao-xuan's health failed and he passed away at Hiso-dera Temple (比蘇寺) in Yoshino Province.

Puji oversaw the greatest success of the East Mountain School at the capital. He also accelerated its fall, though, by attaching its fate so closely to the Tang imperial court. The East Mountain School carried on its influence until it and the imperial court were overcome in 755 by the events of the An Lushan rebellion (753–763), which left the dual capitals of Luoyang and Chang'an (the "Western" Capital or Xijing (西京)) and northern China in ruins.

Puji and Yifu (658–736) are named as the most important disciples of Shenxiu. The Masters of the Lanka name Puji as one of four of Shenxiu's foremost students. Almost nothing is said about them or their teachings nor are they differentiated from one another. Meditation teacher Puji from Songgao Mountain (also Mount Song) in Luozhou, meditation teacher Jingxian from Mount Song, meditation teacher Yifu from Mount Lan near Chang'an, and meditation teacher Huifu from Mount Yu in Lantian all studied as dharma companions at the same time under Shenxiu.

They left home when they were young, stayed true to their precepts, and sought a teacher of the path to Buddhahood. They all found their way to Yuquan Temple in Jingzhou where they met Shenxiu and received the transmission of his meditation teachings.

All of these teachers served Shenxiu for over ten years and they each attained realization. Shenxiu charged Puji, Jingxian, Yifu and Huifu together to pass on his teachings.

It was said of Puji and the others:

The mountain of dharma is pure,
The sea of dharma is clear,
The mirror of dharma is bright,
The lamp of dharma shines out.

Puji and the others sat atop famous mountains and cleared their minds in deep valleys of self-realization. They were esteemed for their virtue. They lit the dark veil of ignorance with the lamp of meditation, and all who learned from them achieved the Buddha mind.

Near the end of his life, though, Puji came under a series of virulent written and oratical attacks an obscure monk named Heze Shenhui (654-758). Shenhui contemptuously labeled the East Mountain School founded by Dayi Daoxin (580–651) the Fourth Patriarch of Ch'an and continued by Hongren, as the "Northern School." Shenhui denounced Puji and the other disciples of Shenxiu as teaching an inferior "gradualist" approach to enlightenment. Shenhui promoted a "sudden" teaching of enlightenment that came from what he called the "Southern School." He had reputedly studied under both Shenxiu and Dajian Huineng (638–713), a then little known student of Hongren's. Shenhui stressed his connection to Huineng, who he asserted was the true Sixth Patriarch and the head of the Southern School. Shenhui thus implied as well that he was the true Seventh Patriarch. Shenhui played an instrumental part an igniting the controversy between the Northern and Southern Schools of Ch'an.

Shenhui became abbot of the Heze Temple (Hézé Sì 菏澤寺) near Luoyang in 745 after Puji's passing. He intensified his attacks on the Northern School (in actuality the East Mountain School) and his support of the Southern School. Being a gifted and charismatic speaker, Shenhui succeeded in creating a split in the teachings of the East Mountain School where before there had been none.

By the ninth century, Shenhui's fictitious Southern School and its doctrine of sudden teaching were accepted as the orthodox transmission of Chinese Ch'an and Huineng was recognized as the Sixth Patriarch in a reworking of the history of Ch'an. Shenhui was established posthumously as the Seventh Patriarch as well, but was soon forgotten himself in the following years.

Modern scholarship today offers a more balanced view of Puji whose contribution to Ch'an has been marginalized.

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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