Thursday, September 11, 2008

Northern School

'Northern School' denotes a school of . This nomenclature was perpetuated in western scholarship which for the most part has been largely through the lens of southern Chan. The term "East Mountain Teaching" is more culturally and historically appropriate. East Mountain gets its name from the East Mountain Temple on 'Shuangfeng' of Huangmei. The East Mountain Temple was on the easternmost peak of the two. "Northern School" is considered pejorative, implying the aphorism: "suddenness of the South, gradualness of the North" . This characterization of East Mountain Teaching is unfounded in light of documented evidence found amongst manuscripts recovered from the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang. , ''et. al'' commenting on this aphorism state:

Contrary to first impressions, the formula has little to do with geography. Like the general designations of Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna , the formula carries with it a value judgement. According to the mainstream of later Zen, not only is sudden enlightenment incomparably superior to gradual experience but it represents true Zen - indeed, it is the very touchstone of authentic Zen.

Kuiken in discussing a Dunhuang document of the Tang monk and meditator, 'Jingjue' states:

The aristocratic Tang monk and meditation teacher Jingjue wrote a collection of vitae of ten senior meditation teachers, all obviously outside the established meditation tradition of Mt Tiantai. Jingjue's surname was Wei 韋; he was a brother-in-law of emperor Zhongzong. Prior to 705 Shenxiu 神秀 ... was his tutor. After 708, Jingjue studied with the Pure Land teacher Xuanze 玄賾 . Jingjue's memorial stele: ''Inscription for the stupa of Master Jingjue, the late Bhadanta of the National Monastery of Da'an'' 大唐大安國寺故大德靜覺師塔銘, was written by Wang Wei 王維 . Jingjue's Record introduces Hongren of Huangmei 黃梅宏忍
as the main teacher in the sixth generation of the 'southern' or 'East Mountain' meditation tradition. Shenxiu is mentioned as Hongren's authorized successor. In Shenxiu's shadow, Jingjue mentions 'old An' 老安 as a 'seasoned' meditation teacher and some minor 'local disciples' of Hongren. Unlike Jingjue suggests, Shenxiu and Dao'an were connected with Yuquan 玉泉 Abbey in Jingzhou 荊州 , a meditation center related to the school at Mt Tiantai.

Dumoulin to redress the wronging of Fa-ju states:

The consciousness of a unique line of transmission of Bodhidharma Zen, which is not yet demonstrable in the Bodhidharma treatise, grew during the seventh century and must have taken shape on the East Mountain prior to the death of the Fourth Patriarch Tao-hsin
. The earliest indication appears in the epitaph for Fa-ju , one of the outstanding disciples of the Fifth Patriarch Hung-jen . The author of the epitaph is not known, but the list comprises six names: after Bodhidharma and Hui-k'o follow Seng-ts'an, Tao-hsin, Hung-jen, and Fa-ju. The Ch'uan fa-pao chi takes this list over and adds as a seventh name that of Shen-hsiu . In an epitaph for Shen-hsiu, his name is made to take the place of Fa-ju's. The Leng-ch'ieh shih-tzu chi omits Fa-ju and ends after Shen-hsiu with the name of his disciple P'u-chi . These indications from the Northern school argue for the succession of the Third Patriarch Seng-ts'an , which has been thrown into doubt because of lacunae in the historical work of Tao-hsuan. Still, the matter cannot be settled with certainty.


The East Mountain Teachings were founded by Fa-ju whose principal teachers were Hui-ming and Daman Hongren. Because of Fa-ju the 'Shaolin Monastery' , constructed in 496CE, yet again became prominent. Fa-ju had only a brief stay at Shaolin Temple, but during his stay the cloister became the epicentre of the flourishing Chan movement. An epitaph commemorating the success of Fa-ju's pioneering endeavours is located on Mount Sung.

, ''et. al'' hold that: "Fa-ju and his colleagues mark the beginning of the activity of Bodhidharma Zen masters in North China." Unfortunately, Fa-ju did not have a good publicist and he was not included within the list of Cha'an Patriarchs.


, ''et. al'' hold that: "No doubt the most important personage within the Northern school is Shen-hsiu, a man of high education and widespread notoriety."


Pao-t'ang Wu-chu or 'Bao-tang Wu-zhu' , head and founder of Pao-t'ang Monastery at Chengdu, Szechwan located in south west China was a member of the East Mountain Teachings as was Reverend Kim .

Further reading


*Matsumoto, Shiro . ''Critical Considerations on Zen Thought.'' Komazawa University. Source:
*Poceski, Mario . ''Attitudes Towards Canonicity and Religious Authority in Tang Chan''. University of Florida. Source:
* ; Heisig, James W. & Knitter, Paul . ''Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1 India and China''. New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-908230-7
*McRae, John R.. ''The Northern School of Chinese Chan Buddhism''. Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University.


*Zeuschner, Robert B.. "The understanding of mind in the Northern line of Ch'an " in ''Philosophy East and West'', Vol.28, No.1. Hawaii, USA: University of Hawaii Press. Source:
*Poceski, Mario . ''Patterns of Engagement with Chan Teachings Among the Mid-Tang Literati''. Association of Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Boston 2007. “Intersections of Buddhist Practice, Art, and Culture in Tang China” Panel. University of Florida. Source:
*Kuiken, Kees . ''The Other Neng 2: Part Two Sources and Resources''. Source:
*Dumoulin, Heinrich . "Early Chinese Zen Reexamined ~ A Supplement to 'Zen Buddhism: A History'" in ''Japanese Journal of Religious Studies'' 1993 20/1. Source:

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