XING LONG TANG - Practice of Poetry in Song Dynasty Chan Yulu 禪語錄


Poetics of Silence: Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正覺 1091-1157)
and the Practice of Poetry in Song Dynasty Chan Yulu 禪語錄

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    In total silence, words are forgotten; bright and clear, it’s right before you.
    When reflected in its vastness, your body is awakened.

    Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正覺 1091-1157)

The Song dynasty (960-1279) was a period of immense change and cultural development, marked by the emergence and growth of a new literary elite that was stimulated by advancements in printing technology, an imperial policy that promoted literary culture (wen 文), and increased numbers of young scholars competing to enter office through the civil service examinations. During this same time period, Chan Buddhism became enormously influential and was institutionalized through imperial support and the patronage of literati-officials.1 The popularity of Chan, along with its polemical assertion of being “not dependent on words and letters” (buli wenzi 不立文字), is seemingly counter to the literary trajectory of the period and its ostensibly Confucian leanings.2 Nevertheless, Chan monks fully participated in the emerging literary culture, creating an extensive corpus of writings within literary genres of their own, especially the two novel and most influential forms of Chan texts: yulu 語錄 (recorded sayings) and denglu 燈錄 (lamp records).

The seemingly irreverent and illogical dialogues of the “recorded sayings” (yulu) collections have epitomized the Chan school since the beginning of their publication and dissemination, inscribing the ideal of “not dependent on words and letters” into a stylized literary form. Although the master’s dialogues and sermons remain foremost within these collections, Song yulu regularly include writings authored by the masters, disrupting the myth of the Chan master as a spontaneous, non-literate sage and expanding the generic boundaries of what constitutes yulu. Substantial amounts of poetry, in particular, have been consistently incorporated into yulu collections since their earliest publications and constitute an integral component of Song dynasty Chan. 3 As the poetic content of yulu underwent crucial generic developments and innovations during the Song that became standard in subsequent dynasties, its poetic forms and aesthetic characteristics contribute to the definition of the yulu genre, broadening its literary contours and altering the reception of Chan.

The yulu of Chan master Hongzhi Zhengjue 宏智正覺 (1091-1157) in order to demonstrate how poetry both forms a critical component of Chan yulu and paradoxically embodies the wordless insight central to Chan. Hongzhi’s yulu offers a highly pertinent case study for three main reasons. First, Hongzhi was one of the most influential Chan masters, largely responsible for securing the prominence of the Caodong 曹洞 (Jap. Sōtō) sect that had been revived from near extinction during the mid-eleventh century. Thus, my research constitutes a major study on Hongzhi as a prominent religious and cultural figure.4 Second, his extensive yulu not only contains the greatest number of poems among Song Chan yulu, it is fully representative of the poetic genres ubiquitous within Chan yulu and wellestablished by the late eleventh century. The breadth of Hongzhi’s yulu, as well as his fame, is only surpassed by his Linji 臨濟 sect contemporaries Yuanwu Keqin 圓悟克勤 (1063–1135) and Yuanwu’s disciple Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163), known for developing the kanhua 看 話 (investigating the phrase) form of gong’an 公案 (J. kōan) practice central to Rinzai (Ch. Linji) Zen lineages today.5 Compared to Yuanwu and Dahui, Hongzhi’s yulu contains a more significant number of poems and a greater variety of genres, more reflective of the range of poetry found throughout Song Chan yulu.

    Hongzhi Zhengjue (宏智正覺 1091-1157) Master was a Chinese Chán Buddhist monk who authored or compiled several influential Buddhist texts. Hongzhi's conception of "silent illumination" is of particular importance to the Chinese Caodong and Japanese Soto zen schools; however, Hongzhi was also the author of an important collection of koans, although koans are now usually associated with the Linji or Japanese Rinzai schools). According to the account given in Dan Leighton's Cultivating the Empty Field, Hongzhi was born to a family named Li in Xizhou, present-day Shangxi province. He left home at the age of 11 to become a monk, studying under Caodong master Kumu Faqeng, among others, including Yuanwu Keqin, author of the famous koan collection, the Blue Cliff Record. In 1129, Hongzhi began teaching at the Jingde monastery on Mount Tiantong, where he remained for nearly thirty years, until shortly before his death in 1157, when he ventured down the mountain to bid farewell to his supporters. Hongzhi is the author or compiler of several texts important to the development of Chán Buddhism. One of these is the koan collection known in English as The Book of Equanimity, The Book of Serenity, or The Book of Composure (Chinese: Ts'ung-jung lu; Japanese: Shoyuroku). A collection of Hongzhi's philosophical texts has also been translated by Dan Leighton. Hongzhi often referred to as an exponent of Silent Illumination Chán (Jap.: Mokusho Zen). His father and ancestors all converted to Chan. When he was born, it was said that there was light outside the house, and his right arm was curled up like ring. He studied Confucianism and Five Classics at the age of seven. At his father's request, he went to Jingming Temple at age 11, and took priest vows from Master Zhiqiong of Cixue Temple of Jinzhou at age 14. When he was 18 years old, he traveled around for learning and said "I will not come back without any achievement!" to his teacher on departure. After then, he practiced in Ruzhou Xiangshan Temple, Dahong Temple, Yuantong Temple, Sizhou Puzhao Temple, Shuzhou Taiping Temple, Jiangsu Nengren Temple and Zhenzhou Changlu Temple. In 1129, he reached Mingzhou and was invited to be the abbot of Tiantong Temple. At that time, Jin attacked Mingzhou and most temples were ransacked and the monks scattered, but only Tiantong withstood the attacks. The master was strict with himself and others and his works were shining. He was not greedy and was generous in benefaction. During famine times, he saved tens of thousand people. Monks in the temple increased from less than 200 to over 1000 after he reached here. During his time of being the abbot of Tiantong Temple, all palaces and halls there were rebuilt, and the temple owned fields covering area of 13,000 mu. In 1157, he was sent to Lingyin Temple, but he returned to Tiantong less than one month later. On the next day, he took a bath and changed clothes and wrote a parting message to the public and Dahui respectively, then he passed away at the age of 60. He was titled Master Hongzhi in 1158 and honored as the ancestor of Tiantong's resurgence and a famous master of Chan in the South Song Dynasty.

Due to the preference for iconoclastic dialogues, as well as the particular demands required for translating poetry, yulu in Western scholarship is often defined on the basis of the encounter dialogue, and translations of yulu generally avoid the inclusion of poetry and other genres of writing.7 Thus, my research aims to offer a broader perspective of the literary contours and genres of yulu collections. Furthermore, despite the frequent use of the term yulu to refer to the encounter dialogue form and its general description as iconoclastic and colloquial, there has been little sustained analysis of yulu as literature, and the yulu by Song masters have rarely been translated or been the focus of scholarly attention.8

Third, Hongzhi is renowned for coining the phrase “silent illumination” (mozhao 默照) that came to define Caodong 曹洞 meditative practice, and silence (mo 默) forms a central and recurring theme and image within his poetry. As a prolific writer who consistently affirms the Chan principle of “beyond words,” Hongzhi provides an ideal case study for exploring the interrelationship between wordless insight and literary practice. In addition, his writings problematize the view of recent historians that Song monks’ literary engagements were part of an oppositional movement known as “literary Chan” (wenzi Chan 文字禪) that rejected the authority and ineffability of meditative experience.

    The Chan practice of Silent Illumination (mozhao 默照) points the way to correcting this, by leading us to a mind in which the awareness is wide-open and all-seeing (clear, bright, awake, ‘Illuminated’) and yet the mind does not generate any commentary or other mental chatter (calm, peaceful, ‘Silent’). The fundamental problem is our innate tendency, which we have each developed and refined during the decades of our lives, to evaluate the world in terms of whether some circumstance or encounter may be beneficial or dangerous to ‘me’, in which case I give it a lot of attention, or whether it seems unimportant or irrelevant, in which case I ignore it. This splitting goes on all the time, sometimes consciously but often unconsciously. It is the process that the Buddha referred to in the second Noble Truth as the origin of ‘Dukkha’, the Sanskrit word for suffering or dissatisfaction – we are preoccupied with concern that we may not get what we want, and may lose what we have, and this leaves us wary and unsettled. It is natural and useful that we do that to some extent, or else we might fall prey to common dangers such as starvation or car accidents. But we are such complex social creatures with such powerful thinking minds that we overdo it. We can spend many hours thinking anxiously about some past situation and trying to rework it because we didn’t like the outcome, or planning future possibilities fearing an unfavourable result, and all this time our attention has been narrowed and we have overlooked opportunities and delights in the present moment. Practising Silent Illumination leads us to a balanced mind, one which indeed can function safely and effectively in response to common dangers and opportunities but which is not ‘narrow-minded’ and preoccupied with selfish concerns.

    The two aspects of the practice, Silence and Illumination, need to be cultivated together. If we over-emphasise one aspect and neglect the other then that is not Silent Illumination. For example, there are many meditation methods which emphasise calming and silencing the mind but often these include an element of suppression of the mind so as to reduce the tendency for the mind to wander. The common method of settling the mind by focusing on the breath (or some other object such as a mantra or an image) may be excellent for a meditator whose mind is very unsettled (and so we often recommend this as preparation for practising Silent Illumination). But by directing the mind to focus solely on the breath one is excluding the possibility of a wide open awareness. Silent Illumination takes a different approach.

    One meaning of the term ‘Silent Illumination’ is not a meditation method at all but is a state or a way of being. If you are in a state of wide open awareness with a silent mind then there is no need to apply any method of meditation. Indeed to do so would be inappropriate as you would be adding unnecessary activities and ambitions to a mind which is already bright and clear. This is the state of Silent Illumination, but the question is how might one discover or enter that state. It is possible that you might fall into that state spontaneously, and it is also possible that you might move to it from some other meditation method. For example, if well-practised at following the breath you may be able to maintain the same concentration and silence of mind whilst opening the awareness wider than just the breath. The traditional way to enter Silent Illumination is by settling the attention on awareness of your body, the experience of sitting, the sense of bodily presence.

    It may appear that focusing on body awareness could lead to the same problem as focusing on breath awareness, that you would exclude a wider awareness, but it turns out to be quite different. It is through the sense organs of the body that we hear sounds, we see light and objects, and we feel the touch of a breeze and perhaps smell the scent of incense or flowers. So in focusing on body awareness we are automatically cultivating awareness of our surroundings as well. And similarly we also include full awareness of our inner world, most directly as we experience emotional feelings being felt as part of the physical body sensation but also as we locate thoughts as arising ‘in’ the body or head. We discover that the act of sitting with full experience of our body sensation leads us to cultivate a full three-dimensional 360 degree awareness of physical body together with our inner and outer worlds. It can be a difficult practice to stabilise, and it is wise to check your practice with a teacher. As the awareness is open wide there is so much more material for the mind to comment about and so the silence may be lost. And in trying to suppress the tendency of the mind to wander the awareness can become reduced. In either case this is not yet Silent Illumination, but with guidance and practice one can taste the freedom and spaciousness and liveliness of this state.

    This is an ancient practice which derives from the teachings of the Buddha, from the Samatha-Vipassana practices of Indian Buddhism, from the early Chan Masters, and especially from Chan Master Hongzhi in 12th Century China. Subsequently it spread to other countries, notably to Japan where it is the basis of the Soto Zen practice of Shikantaza. It is an ancient Oriental practice with monastic origins, but one which is perfectly suited to modern Western lay people who can learn and cultivate the practice and naturally carry it through into their lives as an everyday mindfulness which is present, attentive, and open in all circumstances.

I argue that true to the idea of wenzi Chan, Chan masters like Hongzhi were not only highly literate but their literary and poetic skills were central to their functions as abbots: Hongzhi must have received a literary education within the monastery after he entered at the age of eleven; he was knowledgeable of both the Chinese literary tradition and Chan literary forms and expressions; and he was skilled at writing within a highly diverse range of literary genres, all of which played an integral role within the monastic context and in the promotion of Chan within his recorded sayings. Yet, I will also demonstrate that the Chan principle of “not dependent on words and letters” (buli wenzi) defines the character and form of his eloquent verses, producing a literature replete with Chan meaning. Chan yulu thus promote a paradoxical image of the Chan master as both literary adept and disparaging critic of words and letters.

I. Language and Silence: The Problem of Chan Poetry

Although relatively little scholarship exists on the poetry of Chan monks or their counterparts in Korea and Japan, the intersection of Chan/Buddhism and poetry has been an extremely popular topic among both East Asian and Western scholars and poets. This is not a new phenomenon. A direct relationship between Chan and Chinese poetry became strongly expressed in the Song dynasty, when, according to Richard Lynn, expressions of their interconnection and even identity became a common poetic motif and “one of the most common features of Song poetry criticism.”10 However, the definition of Chan as a “separate transmission outside the teachings, not dependent on words and letters” (教外別傳/不立文字),11 along with Buddhist warnings that language is essentially delusive in nature, would appear to preclude Chan involvement with poetry. Indeed, awareness of the incongruity between Chan Buddhist practice and poetic composition arose during the Tang, where Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846) poetically declared his attachment to words and the arts impeded his spiritual progress,12 and the poet-monk Jiaoran 皎 然 (ca. 734-ca. 799) is said to have at one point abandoned writing as he considered it deleterious to his religious practice.13 Nevertheless, the production of poetry by monks and laypersons never ceased but continued to flourish into the Song, as did the interest in Chan by the most distinguished of literati poets, such as Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101) and Huang Tingjian 黄庭堅 (1045-1105), and critics, most notably Yan Yu 嚴羽 (S. Song).

Despite a number of valuable studies on the subject of Buddhism and poetry, a comprehensive analysis of poetry produced by Chan monks as part of their religious occupation has not previously been attempted. Most studies to date have investigated the Chan influence on major poets or on the poetics of the Tang and Song.14 A number of exceptional studies have demonstrated the diverse ways in which Wang Wei 王維 (701-761) and Su Shi respectively employed poetics that challenged the limits of language and perception and illustrated the Buddhist principles of no self and emptiness.15 Scholarly work on the poetry of monks, however, is largely limited to translations and anthologies.16 The most comprehensive of these translations include Beata Grant’s Daughters of Emptiness, comprised of poetry written by Buddhist nuns from the Six Dynasties through the Qing, and Charles Egan’s Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China, which includes one hundred and ninety poems by Chan monks from the Tang through the Qing.17 These translations provide a broader perspective on the diversity of poetry coming from the Chan monastic tradition; however, their purpose is not to systematically address questions pertinent to the study of Chan poetry, such as how the problematic between Chan and language enters into the poetic language, what range of functions does poetic composition encompass within a Chan monastery, and what place it assumes in Chan literature. Other studies have discussed specific sub-genres of poetry written by monks18 or particular monks who achieved a degree of literary fame.19 The most inclusive treatment of the types of poetry written by Chan monks in both China and Japan is limited to Burton Watson’s brief, general introduction to “Zen Poetry.”20 On the whole, these monographs and articles identify key themes, images, and genres within Chan verse, yet they do not offer a systematic examination of the generic scope of Chan poetry and its formal characteristics nor a sustained investigation into the religious values that shaped Chan literary practice. Apart from literary studies, historical studies have critically examined Chan to demonstrate that it did not live up to its ideals of wordlessness, iconoclasm, and reclusion, but was actually literary, ritualized, and institutionalized. Buddhist historians Robert Gimello and George Keyworth have researched the literary involvements of Chan monks and masters who engaged in what they call “literary” or “lettered Chan” (wenzi Chan 文字禪), a term notably employed by the monk Juefan Huihong 覺範惠洪 (1071-1128).21 Both Gimello and Keyworth consider wenzi Chan to be a polemical term used by conservative Chan monks to challenge the definition of Chan as a separate teaching independent of words and letters (buli wenzi) and to criticize Chan monks who neglected literary activities in their sole pursuit of meditative insight. However, both scholars argue that literary study was common among Song Chan monks and admit there is no evidence of a radical Chan that completely rejected words and literature. Keyworth even argues that elite, literary monks were responsible for the antinomian and antiliterary pronouncements of their day. Thus, while their definitions of wenzi Chan emphasize its oppositional stance against a radical Chan faction or ideology, their own research suggests that if any kind of radical, anti-literary Chan actually existed, it must have been marginal and insignificant. Furthermore, they do not situate wenzi Chan within the tradition of Chan literature leading up to the Song. By the time the term wenzi Chan was used by Huihong, Chan monks had been writing poetry and producing Chan texts for four hundred years. Thus, it is difficult to determine what is novel or polemical about wenzi Chan. Huihong’s own explanations of the term are varied and ambiguous, and I have seen little evidence of other Song monks expressing adherence to wenzi Chan. Although Song Chan monks are recognized for their innovative and prolific literary output, they more often affirm the principle of buli wenzi, as does Huihong himself in numerous instances.24

The relationship between literature and Chan has been thoughtfully explored in a number of philosophical articles, many of which have pointed out that Chan doctrine and practice do not entail an abandonment of language but rather simultaneously accept and reject the function of words in a paradoxical engagement with language. This scholarship offers a useful philosophical foundation for reconciling Chan literary pursuits with its anti-literary claims, though more needs to be done in terms of distinguishing the literary qualities of Chan’s paradoxical mode of linguistic activity and understanding the philosophy of language embodied by Chan poetry—beyond merely the encounter dialogue form. In this regard, Victor Sōgen Hori has argued that gong’an (J. kōan) language resembles the Chinese literary game and utilizes many features of Chinese poetics, especially the preference for metaphorical and allusive language. Furthermore, Hori argues that literary practice and buli wenzi are not mutually exclusive and that literary training encompasses a major component of kōan training in contemporary Rinzai practice in Japan. Hori’s work does not examine poetry written by monks but does investigate how literature is used in gong’an practice, particularly in the form of capping phrases drawn from classical Chinese poetry and prose. Hori’s research and his “realization” thesis of Chan language are particularly relevant to my discussion of songgu 頌古, the poetic responses to Chan gong’an, in Chapter Three, and will be explained further there. In terms of Hongzhi’s own perspective on language, I would argue that while he criticizes the adequacy of linguistic formulations and privileges meditative insight, his notion of silence (mo 默) ultimately restores the function of language and may even be read to evoke the necessity of literary training and expertise as a vital component of Chan practice within the context of his yulu. The meaning of silence in Hongzhi’s yulu can be understood in a number of interrelated ways. First, in its literal and descriptive sense, it refers to the silence of meditation. Although at times Hongzhi explicitly describes the act of seated meditation, or sitting (zuo 坐), in terms of silence, for the most part, silence is used as a kind of metonym for the stillness of meditation and its wordless insight. Hongzhi, like other Chan masters, first and foremost urges his disciples to embody this stillness in order to realize the fundamentals of Chan for themselves, and in this sense, silent realization does not constitute an intellectual or discursive activity. There is an intellectual side to meditative practice, however, which lends a philosophical connotation to the notion of silence. In regard to practice, meditation can be understood to be a practice of nondiscrimination. In other words, the Chan practitioner cultivates a silence that does not indulge in the dualistic formulations of language and discriminating thought. This non-discrimination within practice can thus be linked to the Buddhist logic of emptiness (Skt. śūnyatā) and nonduality. Here is where it gets more interesting. According to the Buddhist notion of the “emptiness of emptiness” (Skt. śūnyatā śūnyatā), emptiness cannot be a permanent, substantial, and independent entity itself, as that would contradict the very definition of emptiness. Instead emptiness is identified with the world of form, not as a thing itself. Similarly, in the logic of nonduality, silence (non-duality) and language (duality) cannot be fundamentally different but rather must exist in a mutually dependent relationship. In other words, if we take Hongzhi’s notion of silence as a symbol of non-duality, then it does not simply refer to a dualistic and literal state of wordlessness but implies the very reconciliation of silence and language itself. Although Hongzhi certainly employs metaphors to refer to a state of profound stillness and silence, his poetic language does more than simply point to an ineffable spiritual experience. For Hongzhi, the ultimate aim of Chan is not to wallow in a literal state of wordlessness but to both attain insight into non-duality within meditation and actualize it within language and the everyday world. As the dualistic notion of silence precludes the intrusion of words, it remains within a conventional and readily comprehensible category of discriminating thought. In contrast, the non-duality of silence and language truly resists the ordinary classifications of language, while at the same time, implies that it may indeed be put into words. Although silence has often been a defining feature of Chinese poetry and poetics, unlike poets like Wang Wei or the many Tang poet-monks who so often create an atmosphere of tranquility through skilful play of images, Hongzhi rarely attempts to capture a particularly poetic moment of quietude or contemplation. Silence, for him, is evoked explicitly as a symbol of meditation and its non-dual wisdom that infuses his literary output as a whole.

II. Methodological Considerations: The Study of the Verse Genres in Chan Yulu as Poetry

In this dissertation, I analyze certain literary genres common to yulu that I have identified as verse forms. However, these include verses with irregular line lengths and minor verse genres that do not fit squarely into the realm of shi 詩, the quintessential, privileged type of verse most commonly written and exchanged among Song literati. Moreover, Chan yulu have their own literary classifications and organization schemes that do not match with individual literary collections (bieji 別集) or literary anthologies, such as the Wen xuan 文選 (ca. 520-520). Most significantly, many recognizable Chinese literary genres—including regulated verse (lüshi 律 詩), ancient style verse (gushi 古詩), inscriptions (ming 銘), songs (ge 歌), encomia (zan 讚) and song lyrics (ci 詞)—are grouped together within the category of jisong 偈頌 (Skt. gāthā), a general term for Buddhist verse. To add to the confusion, poetry that would be defined as shi in a bieji or other literati work will be labeled jisong 偈頌, ji 偈, or song 頌 within yulu. The use of the term song 頌 creates another level of generic ambiguity, since song, as “eulogy” or “hymn,” forms a distinct verse category of its own, as seen in the Shijing 詩經, Wen xuan, and Wenxin diaolong 文心彫龍 (late 5th c.). Yet, within yulu, it primarily refers to gāthā and is encountered far more often than ji or jisong.

Verse is also integrated into other genres of writing in Chan yulu, particularly the master-disciple dialogues that epitomize yulu, as found in the formal and informal sermons (shangtang 上堂 and xiaocan 小參). These verses are also sometimes labeled as gāthā (ji 偈 or song 頌) within the sermons or would be collected as jisong in anthologies like the Quan Song shi 全宋詩. The consistently irregular form of the verses in a master’s sermons contrasts greatly with the many shi-like regulated verse that fill out the distinct selections of jisong found in yulu. My research into a wide range of Chan verse forms thus raises the question: If these verse forms are not shi, should they be labeled and studied as poetry?

A. Wen and Bi: Rhymed and Unrhymed Literature

The writings within yulu can be roughly divided using the Six Dynasties’ distinction between wen 文 and bi 筆, where wen refers to literature that is rhymed and bi is defined as unrhymed, or “plain writing.”30 This formal distinction separates the verses that are the subject of my study, nearly all written in rhymed parallel couplets, from the more prose-like sermons, dialogues, records, biographies, talks, and letters, which are equally vital to yulu. Furthermore, the distinction between wen and bi highlights the rather obvious difference in literary form and style between the verses interspersed within a master’s sermons and their dialogical or prose-like context. The comingling of wen and bi in a master’s sermon exhibits the general tension at play between refined literature and vulgar, colloquial expression within yulu collections. It is within the context of a “recorded sayings” of a putatively spontaneous Chan master that the study of verse forms gains significance, because with verse, craft is manifest and the master’s authorship apparent. Even when verses appear to be delivered orally and spontaneously within a master’s sermons, they exhibit rhyme, parallelism, and figurative imagery that draw attention to literary form and technique and represent the expression of Chan in a refined manner. The tension between the vulgar and refined is similarly embodied in the verses themselves—with their irregular line lengths, loose rhymes, “empty” grammatical words (xuci 虛詞), and colloquial expressions. As I will argue, the literary significance of yulu collections taken as a whole is not the use of vernacular language and idiosyncratic expressions in themselves, which yulu have become known for, but their resistance to either a purely vernacular or totally refined literary style.

Due to the significance of verse in both constructing the master’s image as author and shaping the contours of the master’s writings, my research investigates all verse forms in Chan yulu. By verse forms, I primarily refer to all text written in rhymed parallel couplets (even when the rhyme scheme is loosely followed). This includes all verse forms within the categories of jisong, zhenzan 真讚 (portrait encomia), songgu 頌古 (verses on Chan gong’an), foshi 佛事 (funerary eulogies) and verses found within other literary genres within the yulu, primarily formal and informal sermons.32 Most importantly, I include these diverse verse types in my analysis because they fit under the rubric of jisong, a general term for Buddhist verse that is more inclusive of irregular forms than shi. While zhenzan and songgu, in particular, are often collected and categorized separately within a yulu, they are also found within jisong collections, often within subdivisions or under subheadings. My research into Buddhist verse is, thus, more precisely an investigation into jisong, rather than shi.

Nevertheless, the relationship between shi and jisong is of critical importance for understanding Chan literary activities. Many shi-type poems are included within jisong, especially poems on literati-type themes of parting, reclusions, and travel, yet shi are most often mixed with verses in irregular form, using ci-type meters or loose rhyme-prose type parallelism. The inclusion of irregular forms within jisong is significant for understanding its generic meaning and function within Chan yulu for two main reasons: First, jisong includes the forms of literati shi, yet extends beyond it, thus, distinguishing jisong as a discretely Buddhist counterpart to the literary practices of literati. For instance, even though Song literati were increasingly writing within the informal and irregular form of the song lyric (ci), which became the literary hallmark of the Song dynasty, ci were not integrated into authors’ individual collections and were rarely collected by the author due to the genre’s disrepute for engaging in sensual and erotic themes.35 Chan monks were certainly not publishing sensual lyrics, but many irregular verse forms were written, collected, and published in yulu and denglu.

Second, just as colloquialism and vernacular-type language condition the literary style of yulu sermons, the looseness and crafted naturalness of irregular verses are essential to the image of the Chan master as poet, at once cultivated and spontaneous. The combination of irregular and regulated forms, colloquial and high poetic language fits within the doctrinal premises of Chan, where the “crooked” (pian 偏)—the vulgar, common, and conventional—is fully intertwined with the “straight” (zheng 正), what is proper, orderly, and absolute. This logic, based in Mādhyamika Two Truths theory and underlying Hongzhi’s Caodong philosophy (see discussion in Ch. 2), valorizes the investigation of and participation in common and vulgar affairs as expressions of the ultimate.

B. Use of the Term “Poetry”

While the Six Dynasties’ distinction between wen and bi provides a useful framework for classifying the literary writings within Chan yulu and highlighting the interplay between the spontaneous and refined, the terminology of wen and bi had been replaced by the Song with the terms current in Chinese literary analysis today: wen and shi 詩. According to Pauline Yu, this new distinction arose during the Tang, where wen became associated with prose, particularly due to the influence of the guwen 古文 (ancient prose) movement initiated by Han Yu 韓愈 (768– 824), which advocated a return to an ancient style of prose writing.36 Jisong are clearly not wen in the guwen sense of unrhymed prose, yet, as mentioned, nor do they clearly fit into the category of shi. Despite the disjuncture between shi and jisong, however, I also use the term “poetry” to discuss jisong and associated verse forms found within yulu. In doing so, I do not wish to conflate the verse types in yulu with shi, “poetry” par excellence in the Song dynasty and the Chinese literary tradition in general but rather distinguish jisong as that which constitutes poetry in the Chan monastic context.

Shi encompasses a wide range of verse but does not absorb all that is “poetry” in the Chinese tradition. Like jisong, shi itself is a fluid and diversified category that encompasses many Chinese verse forms. In the bieji of Song literati, shi would primarily include regulated and non-regulated pentasyllabic and heptasyllabic verse that comprised the genres of lüshi (regulated verse), jueju 絕句 (quatrains), gushi (ancient style verse), and yuefu 樂府 (literally, “Music Bureau poems”). Large numbers of these shi genres, with the exception of yuefu, would also fill out a Chan master’s jisong. In the broader scope of Chinese literature, shi contains other verse forms, including four- and six-character line verse, and verses with irregular line length, including certain yuefu and gushi, and poetry from the Shijing and Chuci 楚辭, each of which is considered an original source for the shi tradition but represents a range of poetic genres that bear little formal resemblance to the shi of later eras.

Despite this wide range of verse, shi does not admit all verse forms, often excluding ci (song lyrics), fu 賦 (rhapsody or rhyme-prose), qu 曲 (song poem), as well as minor verse forms found in Chan yulu, such as ming (inscriptions), zan (encomia), and song (eulogy), not to mention jisong itself, which has no definite place within pre-modern Chinese literary criticism.37 However, it is often difficult to exclude these other verse types from the category of poetry in Western scholarship, and what is or is not included under the category of shi is often ambiguous and inconsistent, as the notion of shi has changed through time and has adopted various verse forms.

In light of these considerations, I justify the inclusion of jisong in the discussion of Chinese poetry, for the following reasons:

First, because of the ambiguity of what “poetry” is in the Chinese tradition and what the precise boundaries of shi are, I find no adequate reason for excluding jisong. I also follow in the tradition of secondary scholarship in Chinese literature, where the term “poetry” is used in the discussion of diverse verse forms, including ci, fu, qu, and sao. It nevertheless bears repeating that a Song literatus would most likely not consider many of the genres within a Chan yulu as shi.

Second, besides considerations of genre, the verse forms contained in yulu share a similar poetics that further justify their designation as poetry. Along with their formal features of parallelism and rhyme, the verses use a shared body of symbolic imagery, metaphors, and allusions My third argument concerns the understanding of jisong as a generic category in relation to shi. I have justified the division of my dissertation into genres, based on the idea that each genre fulfills certain expectations and performs its own literary function. Literary function is important to genre theory within Chinese literary criticism as seen in the Wenxuan and Wenxin diaolong, which both discuss each of their included genres in terms of their particular literary roles. While shi, especially within Song literary production, was produced within a range of formal and thematic restrictions, its definition in terms of function remained primary to the conception of shi. As the “Great Preface” to the Shijing states: “The Poem is that to which intention goes. In the mind it is intention; coming forth in language it is a Poem” 詩者志之所之 也. 在心為志, 發言為詩. 39 The notion that “poetry expresses intent” (shi yan zhi 詩言志),40 not only linked shi with the lyrical expression of emotions and thought but to the guiding principle that shi embodied the moral character of the poet, thus its importance within the imperial bureaucracy for judging the integrity of its officials as well as its significance as a gauge of selfcultivation within elite culture in general. In the Confucian tradition, the function of shi was didactic and morally edifying, thus, serving to rectify the ways of the world. While shi in the Song were restricted to a certain range of verse forms, it was also understood according to its moral function. As such, more than merely signifying a verse form, shi designated poetic writing that was deemed to be proper for elite literati to compose and study. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the rising popularity of the song lyric (ci) in the Song. While the song lyrics irregular metrical patterns set itself apart from contemporaneous shi forms, its distinction from shi was not primarily an issue of meter—only the meter’s implications in song and erotic entertainment that determined the imagistic and thematic scope of the song lyric and made it a frivolous and inappropriate literary art form. Its inappropriateness did not stop literati from indulging in the composition of song lyrics but did formally demarcate ci as a secondary literary pursuit outside the dignified realm of shi.

If shi is the highest form of literary production for literati, jisong is the privileged verse medium of Buddhist monks. Both terms are analogous for legitimizing certain verse forms, rather than standing for a distinguishable form themselves. For literati-officials working within a Confucian political and moral order, shi is the esteemed vehicle of poetic expression, true to the Confucian understanding of the function of shi to express one’s moral character and rectify society (even if this is done within Buddhist and Daoist themes). For monks, jisong offered instruction on Buddhist doctrine and ideals and manifested Buddhist wisdom and compassion. Since monks work within the same literary tradition, the function of poetry is still understood as manifesting one’s true character. In the Buddhist case, however, this amounts to the expression of the enlightened mind with its religious, moral, and metaphysical connotations. Thus, for Song Buddhist monks, jisong was poetry.42

Yulu are constructed in ways that re-conceptualize the categories and boundaries of Chinese literature on many levels. Rather than collecting shi, the focus of yulu is jisong, a privileged category of Buddhist verse that parallels shi in the literati realm. Just as Buddhism is ostensibly concerned with the realm beyond human affairs, jisong exists outside the ordinary realm of Chinese literature—not as something wholly different but as a literature that transforms Chinese literary genres and conventions into a textual tradition of its own. Its generic and poetic iconoclasm is part of the allure of jisong, which gains value and legitimacy as a poetic activity for its ability to both work within and transgress the boundaries of established literary genres in expressing religious meaning.

III. Methodology and Organization

In order to account for the significance of poetry produced by masters within the Chan monastic context, I have adopted a literary-historical approach in analyzing the poetic genres typical to yulu as represented in Hongzhi’s yulu.

By taking a literary-historical approach, my research focuses on a thematic and formal analysis of the dominant poetic genres within Hongzhi’s yulu, while contextualizing the significance of each genre, its poetics, and generic terminology within the publication history of Hongzhi’s yulu, the poetic practices prevalent in Chan literature during the Song, and compositional practices current among Song literati. Where relevant I also broaden my historical framework to account for the Chan adaptations of poetic genres, techniques, tropes, and images that have a long history within classical Chinese literature and/or Buddhist literary practices.

In recent literary theory, genres are broadly defined as distinct literary categories, each based on a set of conventions that create expectations for the reader.44 While each poetic genre within yulu expresses the principle of buli wenzi that governs the collection as a whole, each genre also follows a set of its own conventions which support its particular religious and literary role within the yulu. Thus, by contextualizing the use of poetic genres within a literary-historical perspective, I intend to make a comprehensive account of the significance of poetic composition in fulfilling diverse roles within the Chan monastery and demonstrate how Hongzhi, along with other Chan monks, simultaneously appropriated and transformed traditional literary activities in ways that delineate a distinctively Chan poetic practice. As the yulu of Chan masters are collections of their fundamental teachings of Buddhism, the poetry contained within yulu is particularly relevant for addressing questions concerning the significance of poetry in Chan pedagogy and monastic traditions. Just as the Chan master is seen to be the epitome of enlightenment in action, yulu putatively embody enlightenment in language as a transcription and record of the living words of an awakened Buddha. The poetry of various laypersons and poet-monks, on the other hand, may suggest Chan significance, but there are not always clear indications that the authors intend their poems to be presentations of the dharma. In the first chapter, I distinguish the standardized poetic genres and their general position within Song yulu in order to demonstrate how poetry occupies a significant position within the publication history of yulu and shapes its definition. The subsequent chapters (Chs. 2-5) will examine the literary and historical dimensions of the poetic genres prevalent in yulu, which are formally identified and separated within the organizational and classification scheme of the Hongzhi’s yulu. The poetic genres common to yulu can be roughly divided into five basic generic categories, which will be outlined in Chapter One and discussed further below:45

    1. Doctrinal verses (Ch. 2)
    2. Songgu (Ch. 3)
    3. Verses embedded within the master’s sermons (shangtang 上堂 and xiaocan 小參) (Ch. 3)
    4. Social and occasional verse (Ch. 4)
    5. Praise poetry, particularly zhenzan 真讚 (portrait encomia) (Ch. 5)

For each genre of verse, I provide a brief history of the genre’s use, its generic terminology, and associated poetic forms, as relevant, contextualizing each genre within Buddhist and nonBuddhist literature during the Song. I then analyze each genre in terms of its formal elements, thematic range, and poetic features that further its intersecting pedagogical, ritual, and social functions. The chapters reflect the generic divisions and organization of Hongzhi’s yulu as far as possible, as outlined below:

Chapter One. The Transmission of Words: Yulu and the Place of Poetry in Song Dynasty Chan

The first chapter will demonstrate how poetry plays a key role in shaping and defining yulu and how its composition formed an indispensible part of a Chan master’s vocation. In response to scholarly debate on the generic boundaries of yulu, I employ Morten Schlütter’s distinction between the “yulu proper” (consisting of the dialogical sermons that the term “recorded sayings” specifically refers to) and “yulu collection” (comprising the compilation of a wider range of literary genres), both of which include substantial amounts of poetry. As seen in the publication history of the roughly ninety extant yulu from the Song, poetry has remained a significant textual component since the first collections were printed at the beginning of the dynasty. I thus argue that the very presence of poetry—its genres, arrangement, and functions—is a determining factor in the definition of Chan yulu and the formation of its literary style. I further argue that Chan poetic activity and collections expanded and grew in significance throughout the course of the Song as illustrated both within the yulu of individual masters and the poetry selections included within Chan denglu (lamp records). While similarities exist in the poetic collections of literati and famous poet-monks, overall, the genres and sub-genres prevalent within yulu represent a distinct body of verse. In this chapter, I further examine the publication history and generic contents of the Song edition of the Hongzhi lu 宏智錄 in order to illuminate the manner in which poetry was incorporated as an integral feature of the text in comparison to the yulu of his putative rival, the equally famous Linji master Dahui Zonggao, and the extant yulu of Hongzhi’s Caodong predecessors, namely Touzi Yiqing 投子義青 (1032-1083) and his own teacher Danxia Zichun 丹霞子淳 (1066-1119). As the textual history of the Hongzhi lu is significantly related to the development of Hongzhi’s career as monk and abbot, I provide a short biography of the master here.

Chapter Two. The Poetics of Caodong Chan doctrine: Hongzhi’s octrinal Verses

Hongzhi’s doctrinal verses are a critical source for articulating a philosophical paradigm in which the seemingly contradictory practices of literary engagement and silent meditation can be seen as complementary aspects of a single process. Along with their philosophical import, these verses work to envision a distinct sectarian identity for Caodong Chan that is closely linked with specific metaphors and poetic practices. In this chapter, I first analyze Hongzhi’s famous “Inscription on Silent Illumination” (Mozhao ming 默照銘) as an assertion of the superlative practice methods of Caodong Chan and locate the verse’s significance in relation to other quintessential versifications of Chan doctrine in the form of long inscriptions (ming 銘) and songs (ge 歌). I then identify the doctrinal principles of “silent meditation” with the use and function of a set of metaphors frequently employed by Hongzhi and his Caodong predecessors to depict the stillness of meditation. Finally, I examine Hongzhi’s poetic exposition of doctrinal formulations key to both the Caodong and Linji sects as embodying philosophical ideas fundamental to Mahāyāna Buddhism, specifically Nāgārjuna’s (ca. 150-250) theory of Two Truths (i.e., ultimate and conventional truth). By focusing on a close reading of Hongzhi’s verses on Dongshan Liangjie’s 洞山良价 (807-869) Five Ranks (wuwei 五位), I argue that this doctrinal scheme provides a model in which the practitioner must both witness the integration of the ultimate (silence) and conventional (words) within meditation and express it within language.

Chapter Three. Songgu and the Emergence of Chan as a Literary Practice: The Poetry of Yulu Sermons and Gong’an (J. Kōan) Collections

After establishing a philosophical basis for reconciling poetry and silence in the previous chapter, Chapter Three delves deeper into the evidence for literary training as a vital aspect of Song Chan pedagogy and practice. In this chapter, I argue how the composition of songgu 頌古—poetic responses to selected Chan anecdotes, or gong’an 公案—was fundamental to the formation of gong’an practice and texts, and that the master’s songgu verse, rather than the gong’an case, was the literary focal point of what are commonly referred to as “kōan collections.” Following the model popularized by Xuedou Chongxian 雪竇重顯 (980-1052) whose songgu form the basis of the Biyan lu 碧巖錄 (Blue Cliff Record), Hongzhi’s songgu are highly allusive, displaying an expansive knowledge of Chan literature, Buddhist sūtras, and the classical Chinese tradition, while still emphasizing the transmission of wordless insight. As gong’an cases are themselves primarily drawn from dialogues found within Chan yulu and denglu, I demonstrate that the language of gong’an selections and Hongzhi’s own dialogical sermons resemble one another stylistically as a kind of written vernacular and are similarly infused with metaphorical and symbolic language. Not only do verses and metaphorical couplets pervade Hongzhi’s sermons, they are regularly presented in response to gong’an that form the topic of his discourses in the same manner as songgu collections. Following an argument previously made by Victor Sōgen Hori, I propose that the use of metaphor and allusion operates within a paradigm of wordless communication symbolized by the figure of the “true friend” zhiyin 知音 (literally, knower of sounds), itself drawn from the Chinese literary tradition and specifically mentioned numerous times in Hongzhi’s sermons. I conclude that songgu composition is a core feature of both the pedagogical role of the Chan abbot and the literary training of Chan adepts who were required to comprehend and memorize allusions as well as compose metaphorical couplets and verse in response to gong’an.

Chapter Four. The Secular as Sacred: Hongzhi’s Occasional Poetry as Buddhist Gāthā

The generic category jisong 偈頌 (Skt. gāthā), or “Buddhist verse,” previously reserved for versified elucidations of Buddhist doctrine, was expanded in the Song to include large numbers of social and occasional verse largely written according to the conventions of literati shi 詩 poetry. This chapter looks at how Hongzhi adapted poetic forms common to literati culture for Chan Buddhist ends. His social and occasional verse includes poetry on reclusion, verses written for ritual occasions and economic activities particular to the Buddhist monastery, and parting poems and epistolary verse exchanged with a sizeable literary community of monks and nuns, not to mention laymen and laywomen. At the same time that Hongzhi imbues his most secular occasional verses with underlying Buddhist meanings, he likewise utilizes highly poetic doctrinal verses for social exchanges with monks and laypersons alike. Within these verses, Hongzhi’s primary concern is the metaphorical transformation of everyday activities, including occasional poetry itself, into expressions of the Buddha-dharma.

Chapter Five. In Praise of o One: Hongzhi’s Portrait Encomia (Zhenzan)

During the Song, the established practice of writing encomia on portraits (zhenzan 真讚) of esteemed Buddhist figures broadened its scope to include influential Chan masters and patriarchs and the increasingly common practice of composing self-encomia (zizan 自讚). Hongzhi utilized the genre to craft and promote a selfless image of himself to be inscribed on portraits that were disseminated to hundreds of monks and laypersons. Along with the depiction of the master as fully embracing Buddhist emptiness, one of the central themes of the master’s encomia is the empty, illusory, and inadequate nature of words and images themselves, and within these verses Hongzhi frequently portrays himself as the embodiment of absolute silence. I argue that Hongzhi’s portrait encomia successfully integrate two opposing paradigms: the adequacy and inadequacy of both word and image in depicting the master as a manifestation of the dharma.

General Conclusion

I conclude that the range of poetic features prevalent in Hongzhi’s collection contribute to both an identifiable Chan poetics and to the creation of a paradoxical image of the Chan master: Ultimately, Hongzhi performs the role of a Chan master who simultaneously embodies both wordless insight and literary refinement—the synthesis of these dual factors being pivotal to the appeal of Chan in the Song. Furthermore, I locate Chan poetics within the literary developments of the Song, exhibiting key parallels with dominant features of Song poetry.

The Transmission of Words: Yulu and the Place of Poetry in Song Dynasty Chan


I. Defining Yulu

According to the traditional account of the origins of yulu, the disciples of Chan masters during the Tang began to surreptitiously record their masters’ sermons and activities against explicit injunctions not to do so. These Tang “recorded sayings,” like the Linji lu 臨濟錄 (Record of Linji), became classics of Chan literature, revered by monks and popular with literate laypersons in China and abroad as Chan spread through East Asia and eventually to the West. In current scholarship, the quintessential yulu of famous Tang masters are now seen as largely products of the Song when earlier textual materials were rewritten and expanded into the dynamic form familiar today, and the pre-Song origins of yulu remain murky at best.1 Regardless of the historical and literary origins of yulu, the principle of recording the words and actions of a Chan master as exemplifying the enlightened activity of a living Buddha has remained strong, and yulu have continued to flourish as central religious texts in China, Japan, and Korea, from the Song until modern times. Despite the mythological origins of yulu as encapsulating the spontaneous sayings of non-literate sages, writings beyond the recorded words and deeds of the masters have been regularly incorporated into yulu since their earliest publications, thus, resulting in the collection of a great number of compositions that are clearly authored by Chan masters. A debate has arisen in modern scholarship as to how to properly delineate yulu texts, in order to both accommodate its diverse assortment of textual materials, while distinguishing yulu and their particular literary traits from other forms of Chan writing. Some definitions encompass a wide range of literature under the category of yulu, including “lamp records” (denglu 燈錄) and other quintessential Chan texts, and others restrict yulu to the dialogue form of the master’s sermons.2

The basic problem underlying the definition of yulu is that it is commonly used in two distinct, yet interrelated senses: first, as a literary genre referring to the dialogical sermons of the master that are presented as a kind of oral transcription as its literal meaning, “recorded sayings,” implies; second, as a textual genre, or bibliographic category, that refers to the broader corpus of Chan master’s sermons and writings that is compiled, published, and catalogued under the heading of “yulu.” Along with oral discourses, these “yulu collections” record a variety of the master’s writings, including various genres of poetry, letters to lay followers, prosaic dharma talks, as well as biographical materials written by others about the master and appended to the text. There is still some attempt to fit the master’s authored works loosely within the rubric of “recorded sayings” in its most literal sense, as the master’s disciples are consistently given credit for collecting them, formally distancing the master from the process of compilation and publication. However, the master’s authorship and ongoing literary productivity remains undeniably evident within yulu, whether or not it was the master or the master’s disciples that published his/her writings.

The understanding of yulu in these two senses, as both a textual and literary genre, follows Morten Schlütter’s distinction between “yulu collections” and the “yulu proper.”3 According to Schlütter, the “yulu proper” refers to the master’s “recorded sermons or conversations,” while a “yulu collection” may include an assortment of other writings often composed by the master, as listed above. “Yulu collections”—usually titled yulu, or a closely related term, such as guanglu 廣錄, bielu 別錄, or simply lu 錄—are distinguished by fulfilling two basic criteria: they always contain a “yulu proper,” and they represent the writings and sayings of an individual Chan master.

These two defining characteristics distinguish yulu collections from other Chan texts, particularly its closest literary kin, “lamp records” texts (denglu 燈錄). Denglu are anthology-like genealogical records that compile anecdotes, encounter dialogues, and poetry from a great number of individual masters, who are grouped according to their respective Chan lineage. As Albert Welter has analyzed, factional politics often underlie the arrangement of denglu as one lineage is given priority over others in the order of the contents and the number of masters included per lineage; nevertheless, denglu present Chan as an independent and coherent system.

In contrast, yulu were most often published as independent collections attributed to a single master. Even in the case where many individual yulu are compiled in a single volume, such as the Sijia yulu 四家語錄 (Recorded Sayings of the Four Masters) or Guzunsu yulu 古尊宿語錄 (Recorded Sayings of the Ancient Worthies) which both privilege the Linji sect, the purpose of these texts is primarily to collect the teachings of individual masters rather than chart the genealogical development of their lineages. While there are discernible differences in the arrangement and intent of yulu and denglu, the literary differences in terms of both style and content are less apparent. The mutual influence between these two textual genres is strongly evident and often made explicit. A great deal of the denglu contents were derived, or at least claim to be derived, from yulu and similar records.

For instance, one of the earliest usages of the term yulu is found in the preface of the most famous denglu, the Jingde chuandenglu 景德傳燈錄 (compiled 1004; published 1011), which claims that the compiler used the yulu of the various masters as the source material for the collection. Likewise, denglu are the earliest source of many yulu attributed to Tang masters, blurring the stylistic and formal differences between denglu and yulu. Denglu and yulu also share literary conventions—principally the dialogic and anecdotal structure and the often unconventional and semi-vernacular language—that contributed to their mutual success. Despite their shared literary source, Yanagida Seizan contends that the writings of yulu and denglu are “qualitatively different,” as yulu sermons embody a more dynamic style of presentation.11 According to Yanagida, yulu dialogues exemplify a completely new attitude that is characterized by its “vigorous, innovative nature” in contrast to denglu which he describes as representing the “collective interest in biographical events.”12 Welter has convincingly demonstrated how editions of the Linji lu from the Five Dynasties and Song were re-edited with increasingly dynamic, colloquial, and colorful language, and Mario Poceski has shown the same process is evident in the Mazu yulu 馬祖語錄.

Nevertheless, even though subsequent versions of the Linji lu, for example, were made more dynamic with vivid imagery and vulgar language, the earliest fragments, as found in the Zutang ji 祖堂集 (952), are already colorfully and dramatically presented with its frequent hits, shouts, and sudden bursts of laughter.14 Yanagida does identify a crucial difference between denglu and yulu in their respective literary frameworks, however. Denglu are framed as biographical records which contain some semblance of narrative, even as they incorporate unconventional dialogues and stories which do not always fit within a chronological progression. In contrast, the “yulu proper” is set within the ritual context of the master’s sermons.

The precise stylistic relationship between yulu and denglu aside, Schlütter’s definition of a “yulu collection” adequately sets apart the group of texts designated as yulu from denglu and other Chan works, and its inclusiveness provides ground for a more comprehensive analysis of its contents beyond the “yulu proper.” By viewing yulu as collections, the term may encompass the various literary genres that are typical to a master’s yulu, which each operate according to their own generic conventions, even while sharing certain stylistic traits and literary functions between them. It is important to note, however, that the “yulu proper” and other material that comprise the “yulu collection” do not diverge greatly in terms of either style or content. Even though as a literary genre, the “yulu proper” is immediately recognizable due to its dialogic structure and semi-vernacular language, or, as Welter calls it, “written vernacular,”15 the “yulu proper” is still multi-faceted and variable in many respects. The master’s sayings are recorded within distinct ritual contexts, primarily formal sermons (shangtang 上堂, literally “ascending the hall”) and informal sermons (xiaocan 小參, literally “minor assembly”), that are formally separated within a yulu collection. At times, the master engages in dialogue with a student, though often the master digresses into long sermons. The master may raise a common case drawn from Chan literature as a topic of discussion and teaching, as is done in Chan gong’an 公 案 (J. kōan) practice, or may respond to a monk’s question or to an event at hand. As well, poetry and metaphorical language permeate the master’s discourses, whose more prosaic elaborations are often punctuated with a couplet or complete verse. Although a more in-depth analysis of the style and contents of yulu of both Tang and Song masters is still necessary, it is clear that these writings do not simply take the form of spontaneous actions and bizarre expressions that yulu are typically known for. Even though those characteristics are indeed apparent and important to these texts, there is another dimension to the “yulu proper” which is characterized by lengthy exposition, sophisticated poetic language, incisive commentary on established Chan/Buddhist topics, and eloquent verses displaying Chan insight. This “literary” dimension of Chan yulu should not be regarded as merely a characteristic of the Song. The “yulu proper” of Tang masters retain many of these same features, even when their rather conventional sermons were transformed into vibrant expositions of the dharma by Song monks who crafted a mythical image of Tang dynasty Chan. Similarly, the genres outside of the “yulu proper” do not consist of a hodge-podge of arbitrarily selected writings. While each genre functions within a set of particular literary conventions, religious aims, and contexts, they share common principles across the board: a questioning of linguistic adequacy, a synthesis of vernacular and classical expressions, a commitment to Chan and the lineage myth, and so forth. Thus, when regarding the generic contents of yulu collections as a whole, it is not merely the “yulu proper” that defines the yulu as a collection. In this chapter, I take the broader view of yulu as a collection in analyzing their generic contexts in order to demonstrate how poetry forms a critical component of yulu literature.16 While in many cases poetic content represents a smaller textual space compared to a master’s more prosaic dialogues, poetry is not a marginal portion of yulu collections appended as an afterthought to the “yulu proper.” Instead, poetry was consistently integrated into yulu collections, including the “yulu proper,” according to established conventions since their earliest publications in the Song, and their poetic genres, arrangement, and functions contribute to the definition of yulu as a textual genre and its literary style. Even while the “yulu proper” may be an essential component, other standardized genres of poetry and prose equally inform the literary qualities of the yulu collection. I will further illustrate how the yulu of Hongzhi Zhengjue 宏智正覺 (1091-1157), represents one of the most expansive collections of poetic genres that were well-established by the mid-eleventh century and signifies the remarkable extent to which poetic composition could pervade the affairs of the Chan monastery.

II. Yulu Poetry and its Publication History

The enlightenment verses of Huineng 惠能 (638-713), the Sixth Patriarch always stand at the forefront for understanding the relationship between Chan and poetry. According to the wellknown legend recorded in the Platform Sūtra, Huineng was an illiterate young man from the South who attained awakening upon hearing someone recite the iamond Sūtra. This experience led him to search for further instruction at the monastery of Hongren 弘忍 (602-675), the Fifth Patriarch, where he began to work as a menial laborer.17 Hongren, looking for a successor in the dharma, decided to hold a poetry contest to determine which of his monks could prove he had the most superior insight. All the monks were hesitant to submit a poem and expected the head monk Shenxiu 神秀 (729-779) to produce the “mind verse” (xinji 心偈) that would satisfy the master. Not wishing to implicate himself in selfish pursuit of the patriarch-ship, Shenxiu secretly wrote his verse on the monastery wall at night, which read:

    The body is like the Bodhi tree,
    The mind is like a clear mirror.
    At all times we must strive to polish it,
    And must not let the dust collect.

When Hongren saw the verse the next day, he praised the poem publicly but told Shenxiu that he had not yet realized true understanding and should work on presenting another poem, which Shenxiu failed to produce. Huineng, hearing about Shenxiu’s verse, went to see it, and since he could not read, asked another monk to recite the poem for him. Upon hearing it, Huineng understood its intent and decided to present his own original mind (cheng zi benxin 呈自本心) in verse, which he recited to another monk to write on the wall. Two verses follow; the first and most famous reads:

    Bodhi originally has no tree,
    The mirror also has no stand.
    Buddha nature is always clean and pure;
    Where is there room for dust?

The monks were astounded when they discovered Huineng’s verse, and Hongren recognized Huineng’s profound insight but claimed that he had also not yet reached full understanding. At midnight, he preached the iamond Sūtra to Huineng who immediately awakened and received the dharma from Hongren, who presented him with the robe and bowl that symbolized mind-tomind transmission.

This story, crucial to the foundation myth of master-disciple succession in Chan, encapsulates the tensions between wordless insight and literacy and offers the groundwork for the valorization of poetry as an effective literary medium of the dharma. Although Huineng is uneducated and illiterate, he is initially awakened in the context of language and Buddhist doctrine when overhearing the recitation of the iamond Sūtra, which was later taught to him again by Hongren, deepening his awakening. Moreover, he expresses his “original mind” in poetry, employing apophatic phrasing familiar to Mahāyāna scriptures like the iamond Sūtra itself. In the narrative of the Platform Sūtra, Huineng abandons the overt symbols of enlightenment, the robe and patriarchal lineage, while the sūtra itself is intended to become the new means of transmission. Instead, it was poetry that assumed the privileged medium of transmission, as embodied in the central narrative of the sūtra, and came to embody the proof of mind-to-mind transmission from master to disciple traced back to the Buddha, as a transmission verse became attributed to each of the six Chinese patriarchs and twenty-eight Indian patriarchs. Composition of an “enlightenment verse” is intended to be a one-time event presenting one’s sudden awakening to an authorized master. The vast amounts of poetry that monks wrote in the Tang and Song were certainly not all attempting to capture that transformative moment of awakening. Yet, the view that poetry could indeed transmit the dharma and embody the enlightened mind became a fundamental assumption underlying much of the poetic production of monastics and is key to the genres established within Chan yulu, even as these genres undertake their own religious and literary functions. Over time, many other influences contributed to the generic codification of poetry that eventually entered into yulu: the proliferation of a uniquely stylized poetry by well-known poet-monks, beginning in the Tang and continuing into the Five Dynasties and Song, the didactic and doctrinal verses of famous Chan monks and poets, the Buddhist musings of laypersons like Wang Wei 王維 (701-761) and Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846) in the Tang and later Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101) in the Song, and key developments in literary form and theme from the Tang to Song. Moreover, educated Chan monks, who occupied the top of the monastic hierarchy, participated in elite, literati society where poetic composition was not only prized but socially required. Monks thus adopted particular poetic practices suited for monastic life, including praise poems, funerary verses, and Buddhist inspired verses of exchange. The preferences and pressures of elite culture most likely provided the main impetus for the proliferation of poetry in Chan circles and yulu. Even so, the story of Huineng, as a central religious myth, secured an esteemed place for poetry in the Chan context that continued in the publication of Song yulu where it formed a key part of the enlightened words and deeds of the Chan master.

Outline of Genres

While the poetic content within yulu is diverse, only certain genres are admitted into a master’s record. In general, only verse that qualifies as jisong 偈頌 (Skt. gāthā) will be included in the master’s yulu. Jisong, much like shi 詩 poetry, does not refer to a particular poetic form; instead it indicates the presence of Buddhist content (see the Introduction for further discussion of jisong as a general term for Chan Buddhist poetry).20 The jisong poetry within yulu can be roughly divided into the following genres by which it is commonly organized, though none of them are mutually exclusive:

    1. Doctrinal verses
    2. Social and occasional verse (written in shi form)
    3. Songgu 頌古, versified responses to Chan gong’an (J. kōan)
    4. Verses included within the master’s sermons (shangtang and xiaocan)
    5. Praise poetry, particularly portrait encomia (zhenzan 真讚)

As the term jisong originally refers to verse summaries of Buddhist sūtras, jisong within Chan yulu are frequently doctrinal in nature, addressing numerous topics common to the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition in China as well as doctrinal formulations and concepts particular to Chan. These verses can be written in many different poetic forms, including inscriptions (ming 銘), songs (ge 歌), song lyrics (ci), and regulated verse (lüshi). As the poetry of Chan masters was increasingly collected and published during the Song, the generic category of jisong also came to include large numbers of social and occasional verse, including parting poems, poems on reclusion, epistolary verses, and a number of sub-genres specific to Chan. Despite the fact that these poems are very similar, if not identical, in form and theme to literati shi poetry, the occasional verse in yulu is consistently Buddhist in theme, language, and occasion, and they are primarily exchanged between monks. In general, only poetry that contains explicit, or strongly implicit, Buddhist significance will be included in the master’s yulu.

There is usually no formal division between doctrinal and social-occasional verse in Chan yulu. Sometimes they are separated informally according to topic or collected in separate juan, but in many cases, they are intermixed. Indeed, there is much continuity between them as socialoccasional verses often address doctrinal themes and doctrinal verses are frequently exchanged with monks and laypersons. Other verse, however, may be classified and collected by other generic terms, especially songgu and encomia (zan), either under a sub-heading within a jisong collection or as a separate collection.

Songgu 頌古, literally “gāthā on ancient [cases],” are versified responses to Chan gong’an (J. kōan, literally, “public cases”; or guze 古則, “ancient cases”), dialogues and anecdotes primarily selected from denglu and yulu. Songgu collections form the basis for what are now popularly known as “kōan collections.” The gong’an cases themselves, which form the focus of attention in Chan/Zen scholarship today, were not published on their own but provided the literary framework for the master’s poetic response. Most yulu include a selection of songgu, most often written as heptasyllabic quatrains but encompassing a range of both regulated and irregular verse forms. The largest songgu collections typically include about one hundred cases with verses and were often published independently as well as being included in the master’s yulu.

Similar to songgu are the verses (jisong) incorporated within the master’s “yulu proper,” namely his formal and informal sermons (shangtang and xiaocan). As with songgu, these verses are frequently delivered in response to Chan gong’an. However, they may also comprise the entire content of the master’s sermon or cap his/her more prosaic and doctrinal comments in poetic language. In addition, it is not unusual for a master to quote a couplet or entire poem from another master, or legendary poets like Hanshan 寒山 and Layman Pang 龐居士 of the Tang, within their sermons. To a lesser degree, other prose genres typical to yulu, such as dharma talks (fayu 法語), general sermons (pushuo 普說), and letters (shu 書), will contain poetry. Encomia (zan 讚, 贊, 賛) within yulu primarily refer to “portrait encomia” (zhenzan 真 讚), praise poems inscribed on portraits. During the Song, Chan monks expanded the tradition of writing encomia on portraits of buddhas and bodhisattvas to include Chan patriarchs and masters (zanfozu 讚佛祖). These portraits occupied a central place in funerary rites, Bodhisattva worship, and the commemoration of Chan lineages within the monastery. Additionally, Chan monks utilized them as a means of fundraising and patronage and initiated the practice of composing self-encomia (zizan 自讚), a custom which became increasingly prevalent among the literati class.22 Large numbers of encomia are recorded in Chan yulu, and their irregular and highly variable form, as well as eulogistic function, is extremely similar to funerary verses written for monks that can be broadly classified under the generic term foshi 佛事 (literaly “Buddhist matters”).

Beyond these five main genres of verse authored by the master, there are also poems included as part of the paratextual materials that frame the yulu collection. Yulu often contain a “pagoda inscription” (taming 塔銘) written by either a monk or literatus, which praises the religious achievements of illustrious masters in a form identical to Chan doctrinal inscriptions.

Encomia in praise of the master may also be appended to the collection, such as those by Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163) and the famous Song poet Lu You 陸游 (1125-1210) appended to Hongzhi’s yulu. Songgu concerning the master can also be appended, as at the end of Layman Pang’s yulu.

The Place of Poetry in the Publication History of Yulu

From this mere description of the poetic genres found within yulu, it is evident how poetic composition pervaded yulu and was integral to the pedagogical functions, ritual life, and social exchanges within and without the monastery. More than just impromptu dialogues, yulu are multi-layered texts illustrating the many facets of Chan monastic life and embodying a distinctive symbiosis of spontaneous oral performance and cultivated literary skill. Furthermore, looking at the history of yulu publication, it is evident that these poetic genres were regularly included since yulu first began to be printed and circulated as independent works in the early eleventh century.

Great numbers of yulu were published in the Song, and many are still extant. There are roughly ninety monks from the Song whose yulu are preserved in modern editions of the Buddhist canon and elsewhere, some having more than one version. In addition, yulu are recorded for about fifty more monks and nuns that are no longer extant.27 Before texts began to be formally published as “yulu” in the early Song, the term yulu and similar designations were mentioned within Chan denglu to refer to the records of masters’ sayings which circulated among their disciples and served as the source for their respective denglu entries.28 While yulu may have circulated as manuscripts in the Tang and Five Dynasties, the earliest work published independently as a yulu appears to be that of Linji master Fenyang Shanzhao 汾陽善昭 (947- 1024).29 His yulu was first compiled in 1004, the same year as the Jingde chuandenglu. The Jingde chuandenglu was later printed with imperial sanction in 1011 with a preface by literatus Yang Yi 楊億 (974-1020), who also wrote a preface for Shanzhao’s yulu, illustrating the simultaneous development of these two innovative and interrelated genres as well as the interest and involvement of literati and the imperial government. If indeed reflective of the content of the 1004 yulu collection, Fenyang Shanzhao’s yulu set crucial precedents for the poetic contents of Song yulu.

Though there is little social and occasional verse, his yulu contains several hundred poems, including one hundred and one songgu, twenty imitations of Hanshan, and various songs (ge) and doctrinal poems. Most of the extant yulu for Tang and Song masters who lived before the second half of the eleventh century are preserved in the 1267 yulu compendium, Guzunsu yulu 古尊宿語錄 (Recorded Sayings of the Esteemed Worthies).32 The Guzunsu yulu is an expansion of an earlier collection of twenty yulu, entitled Guzunsu yuyao 古尊宿語要 (The Essential Sayings of Ancient Worthies) that is no longer extant.33 The Guzunsu yulu is the earliest source for many yulu, and it collects the recorded sayings of thirty-seven masters, ranging from famous Tang monks like Linji Yixuan 臨濟義玄 (d. 866) and Zhaozhou Congshen 趙州從諗 (778-897) to Song masters who flourished in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, particularly the descendents of Fenyang Shanzhao whose own yulu is also included in abridged form. Some of these yulu, like those of Yunmen Wenyan 雲門文偃 (862/4-949) and the later descendants of Fenyang Shanzhao, contain several juan of material, but most are limited to one juan. The poetic contents of the yulu in Guzunsu yulu are variable but follow a certain chronological progression. The yulu of the earliest Chan masters from the Tang are comprised of long sermons, very terse encounter dialogue, or a mixture of the two, and most either contain no poems or perhaps include a single verse. The yulu of Zhaozhou is exceptional in this regard, containing about eleven poems, including his well-known version of the “Song of the Twelve Hours” (Shi’er shige 十二時歌) and even one portrait encomium. The situation changes for monks from the Five Dynasties onward, beginning with master Yunmen who has about two dozen jisong within his yulu. The Song yulu all have poetry included in some number. Within them, poems are no longer merely found scattered through the master’s sermons and dialogues, but groups of poems are included together, often at the end of the yulu and usually categorized under the heading of jisong. Even though about half of the yulu of Chan masters from the Song have less than a dozen poems, nearly all of these yulu have a distinct selection of jisong that becomes standard to yulu. The numbers also tend to increase dramatically over time, with the most extensive yulu, those of Baofeng Kewen 寳峰克文 (1025-1102) and Longmen Qingyuan 龍門清遠 (1067-1120), each containing over two hundred verses. Furthermore, the compendium’s poetry collections represent the full range of genres that became typical of yulu: songgu, parting verses, doctrinal verses, encomia, and long songs. The Guzunsu yulu includes a songgu collection within it, entitled Donglin heshang Yunmen anzhu songgu 東林和尚雲門庵主 頌古 (The Songgu of the Venerable Donglin and Abbot Dahui), which pairs the verses of Dahui Zonggao (aka Abbot Yunmen) with those of his dharma-heir Donglin Daoyan 東林道顏 (1094- 1164).

The proliferation of poetic genres particular to Chan is also reflected in the yulu of over seventy Song Chan monks that are still extant as independent collections. Except for cases in which a continuation of the recorded sayings of a master is published, I have only found one Song yulu which has no distinct section of poetry: the very short yulu of Linji master Fangshan Wenbao 方山文寳 (fl. 13th C.), who lived at the end of the Southern Song and into the Yuan. The others all have distinct sections of poetry included in their yulu that are classified under the headings of jisong, songgu, zan, or variations of these terms. These verse collections are always positioned after a “yulu proper,” generally the master’s formal sermons (shangtang) and are usually found at the end of the yulu. In larger yulu, there may be a complete juan or more than one juan of poems, and in a some cases poetry takes up half, or even more than half, of the content of a yulu collection. Because poems are often embedded within other writings in the yulu, especially the formal and informal sermons where they are not immediately identifiable, I have not made an accurate count of the entire poetic production contained within Song yulu. However, the consistent inclusion of selections of the master’s poetry and their substantial numbers illustrates the importance of collecting the master’s poetic work as well as the continuity of poetic production. Most yulu include at least fifty of the master’s verses, and at least twentyseven of these yulu have more than a hundred verses, while Hongzhi’s exceeds one thousand poems. Only about a dozen Song yulu include less than twenty-five poems. Even small numbers of verse are nearly always set apart in distinct sections of verse that constituted part of the generic expectations of yulu, and for shorter yulu, fifteen to twenty poems could occupy significant textual space. The wide variation in numbers of verse can be due to many factors: length of the yulu, proclivity of the master, decisions by the editors, efforts to preserve the text, and so forth. The length of more extensive yulu, like those of Hongzhi or Dahui, demonstrates not only the literary production of the master but also the interests of monks and laypersons in preserving the sayings and writings of masters who had attained significant renown. More telling than the quantity of poetry is the ubiquity of the generic types of poetry found throughout Song yulu that indicate that the composition of established genres of verse constituted a key activity for Chan monks and comprised an essential component of their yulu. The collection of poems in yulu, especially under the headings of jisong, zan, and songgu, continued into the Yuan and subsequent dynasties and spread to Japan, where monks like Dōgen Kigen 道元希玄 (1200-1253) produced yulu with very similar poetic content and organization. Even for Song monks and nuns who do not have a yulu on record or whose yulu has been lost, many of their songgu, jisong, and zan were recorded in Chan denglu and other sources.40 Even though most of the poetry and yulu extant today derives from monks, nuns also became Chan masters in the Song, produced yulu, and participated in Chan poetic production. Although yulu are no longer extant from Song dynasty nuns, select verses have been preserved from the Tang dynasty onward within the Xu biqiuni zhuan 續比丘尼傳 (Further Biographies of Buddhist Nuns),41 and songgu by nuns are included within the massive songgu anthology, Chanzong songgu lianzhu tongji 禪宗頌古聯珠通集.

Scholars have recently noted that yulu were produced by Neo-Confucian thinkers and certain Daoist sects. For instance, there are yulu attributed to most of the major Neo-Confucian writers, including Zhang Zai 張載 (1020-1077), Cheng Yi 程頤 (1032-1107), Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085), Xie Liangzuo 謝良佐 (1050-1103), Yang Shi 楊時 (1053-1135), Lu Xiangshan 陸 象山 (1139-1193), and Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200).43 A bibliographical record from the year 1250 lists twenty-five titles by Neo-Confucians under the heading of “recorded sayings” (yulu lei 語錄 類), though this group is loosely defined, with only fourteen of the titles containing the terms yulu 語錄, yu 語, or lu 錄.

As examined by Gardner, Hymes, and Welter, these texts bear a similarity to Chan yulu in dialogic form and the use of semi-vernacular writing.45 However, there are marked differences in style, organization, and content. Outside of the monastic context, the element of verbal exchange is less significant as well as the iconoclasm that characterizes Chan dialogue. Instead Neo-Confucian yulu most often focus on commentary to passages in the Confucian classics, similar to the Chan method of raising a gong’an case for commentary but without the poetic songgu response typical of Chan. Furthermore, Neo-Confucian yulu lack the other prose and poetic genres that fill out the record of a Chan master, emphasizing instead the “yulu proper” dialogical form.

Daoists produced many dialogical texts and certain yulu closely resemble those of Chan, particularly those of the Quanzhen school, a monastic order founded in the mid-twelfth century. Although the Quanzhen school did produce a great deal of poetry, most were song lyrics (ci 詞) designed to be sung or chanted and composed on alchemical themes.

Therefore, although Daoist and Neo-Confucian yulu shared in the dialogical form and semi-vernacular language characteristic of Chan yulu, their yulu reflected interests and stylistic preferences particular to their affiliations, and the poetic genres and practices typical of Chan were not transmitted. In sum, Chan yulu are a unique group of texts, which represent the most dominant form of yulu and which include a distinctive body of verse.

III. Denglu and the Evolution of Chan Poetry from the Tang to Song

In examining the Guzunsu yulu and the independent yulu preserved in modern editions of the Buddhist canon, it is evident that poetry became a regular component of yulu beginning in the Five Dynasties and progressing into the Song, where large quantities of poetry were collected and their poetic genres became standardized. It is more difficult to ascertain whether the textual record reflects a change in poetic practice in Chan monasteries from the Tang to Song. Much has been written in recent years about the creation and recreation of Tang yulu and the image of Tang Chan in the Song. In the Song creation of the Tang as the golden age of Chan Buddhism, the ideal Chan monk was an iconoclastic figure who disregarded ritual and literature. Thus, the interest in preserving the poetry of a Tang monk in their yulu would be assumed to be slight. There is evidence in Chan denglu, however, that poetic composition was important to Chan monks in the Tang and even to the imagining of those Tang monks in the Song. Not only do early denglu illustrate key precedents of the poetic genres and practices typical to yulu, later denglu continued to preserve the poetry common to yulu printed in the Song. Poetry occupies a principal place within denglu in the form of transmission verses of the seven Buddhas of the past, twenty seven patriarchs, and six Chinese patriarchs, whose records begin most denglu, including the Zutang ji, the earliest extant denglu that was printed during the Five Dynasties in 952. The transmission verse, a quatrain in five or seven character lines, is central to the brief entries for each Buddha and patriarch and symbolizes the mind-to-mind transmission from master to disciple from Śākyamuni until the Sixth Patriarch.47 Not only are these verses symbolically similar to Huineng’s enlightenment verse, the Platform Sūtra is the source for the transmission verses of the first five Chinese Patriarchs, to which Huineng’s two verses are added.48 As in the Zutang ji, the transmission verses of the Buddhas and Patriarchs occupy the starting point of the Jingde chuandeng lu, Tiansheng guangdenglu 天聖廣燈錄 (Extensive Lamp Record of the Tiansheng Era),49 Xudenglu 續燈錄 (Continuation of the Lamp Record), and Liandeng huiyao 聯燈會要 (Essentials of the Successive Lamp Records), establishing poetry as a privileged medium for expressing the dharma at the outset of each text and as an emblem of the authenticity of transmission within an unbroken lineage traced back to the Buddha.

Despite the symbolic importance of transmission verses, the centrality of poetry in the records of monks varies considerable following Huineng’s own record. In the Zutang ji, gāthā (song or ji) and encomia (zan) regularly appear as part of the records of the Chan masters included, and longer poems are found integrated within the masters’ records.51 In the Jingde chuandenglu (compiled 1004), the records for Chan monks consistently contain verse up until the many generations of disciples of Nanyue Huairang 南嶽懷讓 (677-744) and Qingyuan Xingsi 青原行思 (671-741), whose records are characterized by the terse dialogue that serve as the basis of yulu and a general absence of poetry, with some notable exceptions. However, the final two juan of the Jingde chuandenglu, juan 29-30, collect the verse of notable Chan masters. Juan 29 is titled “Encomia, Gāthā, and Poetry” 讚頌偈詩 (zan song ji shi) and juan 30 “Inscriptions, Records, Admonitions, and Songs” 銘記箴歌 (ming ji zhen ge). Juan 29 contains selections of religious verse from many of the famous Tang masters, including a number of doctrinal poems on non-duality, “The Song of the Twelve Hours” (Shi’er shi song 十二時頌) attributed to the legendary Six Dynasties monk Baozhi 寳誌 (418-515), and even eight verses by the famous Tang poet Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846), the only layperson whose poems are included.52 The following juan (30) contains inscriptions and songs that are pivotal to the expression of Chan doctrine and attributed to eminent, and often legendary, Tang and pre-Tang masters, including: “Inscription on Faith in Mind” (Xin xin ming 信心銘) by the Third Patriarch Sengcan 僧璨 (?-606), Shitou Xiqian’s 石頭希遷 (700-790) “Merging of Difference and Unity” (Cantong qi 參同契) and “Song of My Grass Hermitage” (Cao’an ge 草庵歌), “Song of Enlightenment” (Zhengdao ge 証道歌) by master Yongjia Xuanjue 永嘉玄覺 (665-713), and many others.53 These poems predominantly address the nature of the mind, particularly in terms of the non-duality of subject and object, and instructions on proper methods of meditation. As seen in these early denglu, by the Five Dynasties and early Song, a large body of verse was already preserved for Chan masters and their predecessors, and, despite the fact that their authorship remains uncertain, it is likely that many verses had been composed during the Tang, including transmission verses, inscriptions, and doctrinal poems. Thus, by the early Song poetic composition already constituted an important aspect of the image of the enlightened Chan master who must be able to certify his/her enlightenment in verse, as well as produce gāthā on Chan themes, compose encomia in praise of those who transmit the Buddhist tradition, and elaborate on Chan doctrine and practice in lengthy inscriptions and songs. Furthermore, most of the basic generic categories and poetic practices common with yulu were already present in denglu. Within Song yulu, however, the nature of Chan verse evolved and diversified: social and occasional verse began to be collected in great numbers, encomia were increasingly written for the portraits of Chan masters, and the practice of composing songgu arose, which directly responded to the dialogues and anecdotes preserved in denglu.

The poetic developments within yulu are reflected in later Song dynasty publications of denglu, which continued to preserve Chan poetry produced by Song masters, as did earlier denglu for masters of the Tang and Five Dynasties. In the Xudenglu 續燈錄 (1103), intended to be a continuation of the Jingde chuandenglu and Tiansheng guangdenglu, songgu composed by various masters are included for the first time and comprise an entire juan (28). Additionally, there are two juan (29 and 30) of doctrinal poems. The Southern Song Jiatai pudenglu 嘉泰普燈錄 (1202)55 presents the full range of the Chan poetic genres that had become standard in Song yulu and signifies the generic expansion of poetry accepted into Chan publications. The Jiatai pudenglu, considered to be the last of the major “Five Records of the Lamp,” focuses on monks from the Northern and Southern Song, including both their recorded sermons and literary works. Along with two juan of songgu (27-28) selected from sixty-nine monks,56 there is a substantial juan of jisong (29), which beyond the doctrinal poems on key Chan concepts typical of the previous denglu, is also replete with impromptu poetry, parting verses, “dwelling in the mountains” poems (shanju 山居), imitations of Hanshan, self-encomia, and encomia for famous Chan masters. Another juan (30) of miscellaneous writings (zazhu 雜著) contains lengthy songs (ge) and inscriptions (ming), written according to the models of their Tang predecessors. Even poems by six Song emperors are included at the beginning of the section on laypersons (juan 22). The organization of the Jiatai pudenglu mirrors that of yulu: sayings and dialogues take up the principal portion of the text but a very substantial amount of authored works, particularly in verse form, are included in the final five juan.

Poetry by Chan masters was collected in other Chan works as well. As previously mentioned, the most important poetic collections printed as independent texts were songgu collections, which in some cases became known as the essential Chan gong’an (Jap. kōan) collections, or selected as part of the songgu compendium Chanzong songgu lianzhu ji. In addition, an anthology of Chan verse Chanmen zhuzushi jisong 禪門諸祖師偈頌 (The Gāthā of Various Chan Patriarchs and Masters) was printed in the Song.57 The Chanmen zhuzushi jisong collects verse by Tang and Song masters found within denglu and yulu: the transmission verses of the Buddhas and patriarchs and the most influential inscriptions (ming), songs (ge), and gāthā (jisong)—the latter including key doctrinal verses as well as imitations of Hanshan and “dwelling in the mountains” poems. As evident within the discussion above, poetry held great significance in the Chan tradition both within and without yulu, and poetic composition remained an indispensible activity of the Chan master from the Tang to the Song, during which time poetic practices both diversified and coalesced as part of normative monastic functions

IV. The Influence of Poet-Monks and Literati

Along with the poetry written by, or at least attributed to, Chan monks in the Tang and Five Dynasties as collected in denglu, the other context out of which the poetry of yulu emerged was the work of so-called “poet-monks” (詩僧 shiseng)—monks who were known for their significant engagements in literati shi poetry, rather than the doctrinal verses, inscriptions, and exchanges particular to a working Chan abbot. Poet-monks such as Jiaoran 皎然 (ca. 734-ca. 799), Guanxiu 貫休 (832-912), and Qiji 齊己 (863?-937?) produced important shi collections in the Tang and Five Dynasties and the tradition was carried on in the Song by monks including Qisong 契嵩 (1007-1072), Canliao 參廖 (or Daoqian 道潛; 1043-?), and Juefan Huihong 覺範惠 洪 (1071-1128).58 The shi poetry of poet-monks was also anthologized in Chen Qi’s 陳起 (13th C.) Sheng Song gaoseng shixuan 聖宋高僧詩選 (Selected Poetry of Eminent Monks from the Song), which included poetry by sixty-one monks. A supplement to this anthology published during the Yuan, Songseng shixuanbu 宋僧詩選補 (Supplement to the Selected Poetry of Eminent Monks), added selected poems from an additional thirty-three monks.59 While at times infused with Buddhist ideas, themes, and sensibilities, for the most part, the verse of poet-monks from the Tang to the Song is difficult to distinguish from that of literati, but it is quite different from the collections of verse found in Chan yulu.

These poet-monk

collections contain verses written on temporal occasions (autumn and spring evenings, summer days, during rain or snow) and spatial settings (on lakes and rivers) that go beyond matters pertinent for a typical Chan master and are also far more varied, including poems on reading— especially the Confucian classics, historical works, other literary collections and poets—and verses on literati topics such as “Contemplating the Past” (huaigu 懷古) that would rarely be found in yulu. These poet-monks, like Jiaoran, Guanxiu, Qiji, Canliao, and Qisong, do exchange verses with Buddhist monks and masters, visit Buddhist temples, and write on meditation, though the same can be said for literati collections, and their collections preserve far more poetic exchanges with literati than do Chan yulu. Furthermore, the collections of these poet-monks contain few or no encomia, inscriptions, songgu, doctrinal poems, or poems identified as gāthā (jisong).

Despite the overall dissimilarities in the literary collections of poet-monks and the verses of Chan yulu, there are crucial areas of commonality. First, while only a handful of poet-monks achieved literary fame, it is evident that numerous monks participated in the literary arts. It is likely that many monks came from elite families and received a solid education before entering the monastery where their literary training continued. Both Juefan Huihong and Hongzhi Zhengjue, the most prolific poets among Song Chan monks, entered the monastery as adolescents: Huihong at fourteen and Hongzhi at eleven. They must have already been educated when they became monks but would have also needed to study the breadth of Chan literature and learn to compose verse and prose required of Chan abbots and senior monks. In addition, besides the most famous poet-monks, numerous others produced literati-like collections or poetry and prose (waiji 外集 “outer collection;” wenji 文集, “literary collection;” or shiji 詩集, “poetry collection”), though many are no longer extant.61 In some cases a Chan master produced both a yulu and a separate collection of shi poetry.62 The role of abbot required the composition of particular genres of verse, and only certain verses would be deemed appropriate for a master’s yulu. Nevertheless, it would be reasonable to assume that many Chan masters wrote other kinds of poetry. After all, an abbot or aspiring monk would need to exchange verses with literati to gain patronage and support, and many literary relationships between monks and literati became well-known, such as Jiaoran and Wei Yingwu 韋應物 (741-830) in the Tang, and Canliao and Su Shi in the Song.

Second, although a monk’s verse could be divided into inner works (neiji 内集) included as part of their Chan sayings and doings and outer works on more worldly matters that would fill a waiji 外集, certain sub-genres of poetry first exploited and developed by both poet-monks and literati became an accepted and expected part of Chan yulu. As seen in the description of jisong above, one set of common verses are those in the reclusive mode, including “dwelling in the mountains” poems, impromptu verses, fisherman verses, and imitations of Hanshan—the legendary Tang dynasty lay Buddhist poet and recluse who is frequently the subject of praise and admiration in Chan yulu. Along with reclusion, there are poems on visits to and travels between temples, common to themes in literati verse since the Six Dynasties. The other area of similarity is the large numbers of parting verses that formed a major part of a Chan master’s recorded verse, as it did for literati and poet-monks from the Tang to the Song. Whether or not this was the case in the Five Dynasties or Tang, the textual record in yulu indicates that composition of occasional, parting verses was a part of the job of Chan abbot in the Song. As noted by Watson, the parting verses between Tang poet-monks are the only poems that are consistently religious in tone and imagery.64 Similarly, the parting verses in yulu are not simply secular musings but were transformed into explicitly religious verse, categorized under the heading of jisong and imbued with Buddhist language and imagery.

The one major exception to the division between the poetic content of yulu and the works of poet-monks is Juefan Huihong’s Shimen wenzi chan 石門文字禪 (The Literary Chan of Shimen). Huihong was by far the most prolific poet-monk in the Song and also produced a number of prose works, including the Chan history, Chanlin sengbao zhuan 禪林僧寳傳 (The Chronicle of the Chan Grove’s Sangha Jewel), and the collection of anecdotes, Linjian lu 林間錄 (Record within the Grove). He is also credited for coining the term “literary Chan” (wenzi Chan 文字禪) which is used to title his collection, explicitly marking its Chan intent.65 The thirty-juan Shimen wenzi chan is arranged by literary genre, beginning with eight juan of ancient-style verse (gushi 古詩), followed by regulated verse and quatrains in five, six, and seven character lines. Huihong’s collection also includes genres typical to yulu, including jisong (juan 17), encomia (juan 18-19) and inscriptions (juan 20). Songgu are notably absent. His extensive selection of encomia include verses on each of the twenty-eight Indian patriarchs and six Chan patriarchs in two separate series, many on the portrait of Guanyin, as well as Śākyamuni and various Chan masters. Despite its literati-like demeanor, Shimen wenzi chan is very similar in content to the poetry and prose found in Chan yulu. His regulated verse and quatrains are predominantly Buddhist in theme and occasion and are more often exchanged with Buddhist monks than literati, including parting verses and numerous matching-rhymes poems. Even the prose genres that make up the latter part of the collection, such as prefaces, postfaces, biographies, and pagoda inscriptions, are those typically written for yulu, as indeed many were. In comparison to the poetic practices represented in Chan yulu and denglu, Huihong’s literary collection is novel primarily for its magnitude, as he continued to work within genres already developed and well-established in Chan by the time he was writing, and which continued to flourish after his time. Huihong does intensify the literary quality of his poetic works, however, compared with most yulu, by using longer titles that describe the context of composition, the inclusion of prefaces, and a preference for extensive gushi over regulated verse more common within yulu. The most contrasting feature in this regard is his attention to the literati poets, particularly Su Shi and Huang Tingjian 黄庭堅 (1045-1105), who appear again and again in his collection, through matching rhymes with their verses, in numerous postfaces for their literary works and calligraphy, through poetic exchanges in the case of Huang Tingjian, and even within encomia written in praise of each of the poets. Yet again, Huihong singles out these literati as they were well-known for their support of Buddhism and often wrote on Buddhist themes. For Huihong, Su Shi and Huang Tingjian epitomize the integration of letters and Chan, true to his own religio-cultural ideal. Moreover, the admiration of Buddhist laypersons through the medium of poetic exchange is in no way foreign to yulu.

While Huihong expands the literary contours

of this admiration to a greater level than normally found in yulu, his attention to literati Buddhist adepts is consistent with the aim of embodying Chan in letters, fundamental to both yulu and Shimen wenzi chan.

Besides monks, there were laypersons, most notably Wang Fanzhi 王梵志, Hanshan, and Layman Pang of the Tang dynasty, who composed great numbers of didactic verses, often in colloquial language, which remain, albeit in somewhat different form and content, a significant part of Song yulu. Layman Pang is a particularly interesting case, since he is a rare example of a Buddhist layperson with a yulu. Layman Pang’s yulu primarily consists of poetry, containing over one hundred verses, and it is likely that the dialogues attributed to him were taken from anecdotes in denglu and appended to what was originally a collection of poems in order to form a yulu that was first printed in the Song. In fact, the earliest record of Layman Pang’s writings is Pang Jushi jisong ji 龐居士偈頌集 (Collected Gāthā of Layman Pang), as found in the Tang dynasty catalogues of the Japanese monk Enchin 圓珍.

Layman Pang is a frequent and popular figure in Chan yulu as representative of someone who achieved the ideal of Chan in lay life, and his poetic activities were likely an integral part of this image that would appeal to Song literatiofficials. In fact, Dahui often incorporated Layman Pang’s poems into his letters to laypersons.68 Of course, the work of both poet-monks and Chan masters existed within the larger literati poetic tradition where they shared many of the same poetic genres, particularly parting verses and other occasional verse, and, like Su Shi and Huang Tingjian in the Song, there were other prominent lay Buddhist poets from the Tang, particularly Wang Wei and Bai Juyi, whose literary efforts shaped the ways in which Chan Buddhism could be poetically expressed. A great number of studies have been done on the influence of Buddhism on these poets’ secular verse. More relevant to this study, however, is the composition of the poetic genres particular to yulu by Song laypersons. Su Shi, for example, is well-known for engaging in Chan topics and themes in his poetry and for exchanging verse with monks, especially poet-monks like Canliao. Studies of Su Shi’s relationship to Buddhism have focused on themes of naturalness, tranquility, blandness (pingdan), and equanimity primarily within his “ancient style verse” (gushi 古詩), given their fame and centrality within his poetic work.69 In addition to these verses, a collection of Su Shi’s Chan poetry, Dongpo chanxi ji 東坡禪喜集, published in the Ming reveals that he wrote many poems similar to those found in yulu, including gāthā (ji and song), several pagoda inscriptions (taming), and encomia for Buddhist figures like Śākyamuni, Guanyin, Amitabha, the eighteen arhats, and the Sixth Patriarch.70 This not only illustrates the literary correspondences between Song monks and literati but the significance of the poetic genres of Chan yulu in Song culture. While yulu were most influential for their dialogical form as utilized by Neo-Confucians and Daoists, their poetic content also resonated with persons outside of the monastery.

V. Poetry in the Hongzhi lu

Introduction to Hongzhi and the Hongzhi lu

The yulu of Caodong master Hongzhi Zhengjue, the Hongzhi lu, is one of the best examples of how significant poetic work could be within the contents and publication history of yulu. While many yulu contain one hundred verses or more, its over-one thousand are by far the greatest number among Song yulu. Although exceptional in terms of quantity, the Hongzhi lu is at the same time fully representative of the poetic genres and organization established during the eleventh century and largely abides by the literary practices customary within yulu at the time. Its abundance of poetry is indeed partly accounted for by the fact that the Hongzhi lu is one of the most extensive yulu in the Song. The other major factor, however, is certainly Hongzhi’s evident literary skill and prolific production. Other famous Chan masters who produced extensive yulu, such as Dahui Zonggao and Yuanwu Keqin, often have several hundred poems to their name but do not rival Hongzhi’s poetic output. Hongzhi’s literary talents facilitated his rise to fame as well as the revitalization of the Caodong school which required the support of literati-officials and lay patrons. As his fame grew and the Caodong school became more and more popular, eventually becoming established in Japan as the Sōtō school, the motives to collect and preserve his writings would have significantly increased.

Since literary composition was integral to the role of Chan abbot, the Hongzhi lu, its poetic contents, and publication history must be seen in the context of Hongzhi’s life and monastic career. The circumstances of Hongzhi’s early life and the reasons he became a monk are unclear in the biographical sources,71 and one suspects, given his young age at entering religious life, it had little to do with personal choice. Yet, true to Buddhist hagiography, auspicious signs of his Buddhist destiny surround the story of his birth. Hongzhi’s family name was Li 李, and he came from present day Shanxi. His father is said to have studied Buddhism, and his mother is reported to have been shown a circular sign by a Buddhist monk in a dream that later appeared on Hongzhi’s arm at birth. His Buddhist inclinations as a youth are coupled with anecdotal facts about his literary precocity. His pagoda inscription recounts his perception of impermanence and his ability and penchant for reading at a young age: “When he was barely seven sui, his keen awareness surpassed others, and daily he recited thousands of words.”72 He left home to become a novice at age eleven when he was given the religious name Zhengjue 正 覺. At fourteen, he was ordained a monk, and by eighteen he had gone to study with Caodong master Kumu Facheng 枯木法成 (n.d.) in modern day Henan. A few years later, he went to study with another Caodong master, Danxia Zichun 丹霞子淳 (1066-1119) living at Mount Danxia, also in Henan. Hongzhi received the seal of transmission from Danxia before his master’s death Between 1124 and 1129, Hongzhi held monastic offices in a number of different monasteries, which is reflected in the organization of the Hongzhi lu. The tendency in yulu is to separate the master’s sermons by place of abbacy, thus creating a separate collection of sayings for each monastery. After serving as head monk at Mount Changlu (in Zhenzhou, north of present day Nanjing) under his dharma-brother Zhenxie Qingliao, another prominent Caodong monk, Hongzhi served as abbot at five different Chan monasteries in the areas of: Sizhou 泗州 (Anhui), Shuzhou 舒州 (Jiangxi), Jiangzhou 江州 (Jiangxi; two monasteries), and Zhenzhou 真 州 (Jiangsu).73 His yulu contains “formal sermons” (shangtang) recorded at each monastery. In 1129, at the fall of the Northern Song, he became abbot at Jingde 景德 Temple on Mount Tiantong 天童 in Mingzhou 明州, present day Zhejiang, where he remained until his death in 1157. Upon his death he was given the name Hongzhi, a posthumous title conferred upon him by Emperor Gaozong. Hongzhi is given credit for reconstructing Jingde Temple, transforming it from a small, dilapidated temple to a vast monastic complex able to accommodate twelve hundred students. Even if the scale of the reconstruction is exaggerated, it is clear that Hongzhi served in a prestigious position as abbot of a large monastery that housed a major congregation of monks situated in the mountainous outskirts of the Southern Song capital. His biographies also note that after becoming abbot at Tiantong, Hongzhi was ordered by imperial command in 1138 to go to Lingyin Temple 靈隱寺 in Hangzhou, another very prestigious position. It is unclear why Hongzhi returned to Tiantong but for some reason, he seems to have been reluctant to remain in Hangzhou. According to the biographical accounts, Hongzhi had presaged his return to Tiantong in a dream, suggesting that it was his destiny to serve there as master. Both the tension between, and integration of, literary pursuits and Chan practice is embodied in his final acts. After writing the customary death poem, Hongzhi tossed away his brush and died, symbolizing the final completion of his engagements in the dusty world of delusive language.74 As a Song edition of the Hongzhi lu has been preserved in Japan, it offers an invaluable glimpse into the possible arrangement and publication history of poetic material in yulu during the Song.75 The precise publication date of the Song edition is not clear, and it is possible that other editions could have also circulated at the time. Nevertheless, it appears to have been compiled sometime after Hongzhi’s death in the late twelfth century and is composed of material from a number of independent publications, often internally dated in prefaces and postfaces. These dates, as well as variations in the appearance of the woodblock prints, reveal that various portions of Hongzhi’s yulu were published throughout his career and that the Song edition itself is not the product of a single, sustained literary effort. The Hongzhi lu thus provides evidence that the compilation and publication of yulu could be multi-faceted and untidy affairs. The Song edition is the source for the 1708 publication of the Hongzhi chanshi guanglu 宏智禪師廣錄 (The Extensive Record of Chan Master Hongzhi) in Japan,76 which preserved the original content but rearranged its six volumes (ce 冊) into nine juan 卷, establishing the basic structure of the text as now found in the Taishō canon.77 Overall, the Song edition of the Hongzhi lu demonstrates that the basic arrangement and classification of genres in modern publications reflect the appearance of the text in the Song. The major textual change between the Song and Taishō editions is the order of the sections of poetic works: two sections of jisong in the Song edition were combined to form one juan in the Taishō version (juan 8), and two sections of portrait encomia (zhenzan)—one including funerary verses (xiahuo)—were repositioned in the order of the text.

The differences in arrangement have some relevance to the publication history of Hongzhi’s poetic work, as discussed below, but do not significantly alter our overall understanding of the text’s organization. Most significantly, the same generic classifications of Hongzhi’s poetry, broadly divided into jisong, zhenzan, songgu, and xiahuo, as seen above, are the same in both the Song and Taishō editions.78 As this terminology represents the major generic divisions found throughout Song yulu, it provides concrete evidence that these terms reflect how poetic works were conceptualized, organized, and published in the Song rather than being concepts later applied through subsequent editing and re-organization.

Poetic Contents

An analysis of the Song edition of the Hongzhi lu reveals that poetry permeates the collection, as well as Hongzhi’s monastic career, fulfilling various functions within the monastery and yulu genre. Table (1.1) lists the number of poems within the yulu’s major textual divisions, excluding paratextual materials. The only genre completely devoid of poetic content is the niangu, as it is the prose complement to songgu, already showcased in the same volume

Below, I briefly describe the six primary collections of verse, their generic categories, and their position within the Hongzhi lu and its publication history:

1. Jisong (I)

The first discrete selection of poetry in the Hongzhi lu is a jisong collection appended at the end of a series of five separate yulu, each consisting of sermons from the monasteries where Hongzhi first served as abbot. The five yulu were printed together as Changlu Jue heshang yulu 長蘆覺和 尚語錄 (The Recorded Sayings of the Venerable [Zheng]jue of Changlu), whose preface is dated 1131. The jisong collection comprises the major portion of Hongzhi’s specifically doctrinal poems, including his famous “Inscription on Silent Illumination” (Mozhao ming 默照銘).79 Besides being appended to the end of Hongzhi’s first yulu compilation, the fact that these jisong were likely printed along with it in 1131 is suggested by the fact that Dahui began his attacks on the “silent illumination” (mozhao 默照) meditative practices of the Caodong sect in 1134.80 The term “silent illumination” does not figure prominently in Hongzhi’s other writings.

2. Songgu

The significance of songgu collection and publication during the Song is evident in the Hongzhi lu by the fact that his songgu comprise the next volume of writings after his early sermons and doctrinal poems. They may also represent his earliest publication. His songgu are printed alongside his niangu in volume two of the Hongzhi lu, entitled Changlu Jue heshang songgu niangu ji 長蘆覺和尚頌古拈古集 (The Collected Songgu and Niangu of the Venerable [Zheng]jue of Changlu). As mentioned, both genres are responses to Chan gong’an, the former in poetic form and the latter in dialogical prose, and each address one hundred cases. As with Hongzhi’s first yulu compilation, this volume appears to have circulated independently at the beginning of his career as abbot. A preface to the Changlu Jue heshang songgu niangu ji is dated 1129, the earliest publication date found in his yulu. The individual titles of the songgu and niangu sections, Sizhou Puzhao Jue heshang songgu 泗州普照覺和尚頌古 and Zhenzhou Changlu Jue heshang niangu 真州長蘆覺和尚拈古, indicate that they had been compiled early on: the songgu written during his residency as abbot at Puzhao Temple in Sizhou (ca. 1126-1127) and the niangu at Changlu temple in Zhenzhou (ca. 1128-1129).

3. Zhenzan

Hongzhi’s portrait encomia (zhenzan) comprise all of volume five and part of volume six of the Hongzhi lu and make up the largest generic group of poems. While encomia are a regular component in Song yulu, the number here far exceeds other collections. The vast majority of Hongzhi’s encomia were written on his own portrait and, given their numbers, evidently held a significant function in disseminating his image, both pictorially and poetically. Volume five, Tiantong Jue heshang zhenzan 天童覺和尚真賛 (Portrait Encomia of the Venerable [Zheng]jue of Tiantong) appears to have been produced at the end of Hongzhi’s career when he was well-established as a prominent Chan abbot, as it contains a self-preface, signed in Hongzhi’s own calligraphic script and dated May 26, 1157, a few months before his death. The date of publication of the smaller collection of portrait encomia in volume six is unknown, though one verse can be dated to 1136,81 corresponding to the period in which Hongzhi had already published versions of his yulu and songgu and secured himself as abbot at Tiantong, having resided there for at least six years.

4. Xiahuo

The portrait encomia in volume six, Mingzhou Tiantongshan Jue heshang zhenzan jisong 明州天 童山覺和尚真賛偈頌 (Portrait Encomia and Gāthā of the Venerable [Zheng]jue of Tiantong), are followed by a collection of thirty-seven funerary eulogies (xiahuo 下火, literally “lighting the fire”) for deceased monks and another selection of jisong, that I will refer to as Jisong (II). Funerary eulogies are not necessarily written in verse, though as elsewhere Hongzhi prefers to be poetic. As verses, they are written in rhymed parallel couplets of irregular line lengths, extremely similar in form and function to portrait encomia.

5. Jisong (II)

Unlike Jisong (I), these verses are primarily social and occasional poems written in regulated verse that are more secular on the surface than the label jisong would suggest. Despite outward appearances, they are mostly written to other Chan monks and consistently integrate Chan themes and imagery into poetic forms adopted from the literati shi tradition. It is unclear when this volume was published, or even whether it was ever published as an independent collection before its inclusion in the Hongzhi lu. Internal evidence suggests that they span the course of a good portion of Hongzhi’s monastic career, from the time of his departure from the monastery where he studied with Danxia until his abbacy at Mount Tiantong.

6. Verses in shangtang and other genres

Finally, outside of the designated collections of poetic works above, poetry is included throughout the other parts of the Hongzhi lu that most often comprise the “yulu proper.” The Hongzhi lu contains nearly three hundred poems within his formal sermons (shangtang), twenty within his informal sermons (xiaocan), as well as two within his “dharma talks” (fayu 法語).82 As mentioned, these consist primarily of versified sermons or songgu-type poems written in response to gong’an. Their large numbers indicate that Hongzhi’s sermons did not follow an idealized model of terse and abrupt verbal exclamations, and it is unlikely that the master improvised all of these poems on the spot while delivering his sermons and responding to students questions. As Morten Schlütter has suggested, yulu were likely delivered from notes, and these notes would probably be available to disciples responsible for recording Hongzhi’s sermons and compiling his yulu.

Overall, the contents of the Hongzhi lu indicate that the composition and publication of poetry was fundamental to Hongzhi’s prominence as Chan master and essential to his role as abbot. Poetic commentary formed an integral aspect of delivering sermons, one of Hongzhi’s primary duties as abbot and one which only the master could fulfill. Similarly, composition of social verse, portrait encomia, doctrinal verses, and funerary eulogies all occupied part of the regular activities of his religious occupation. The early publication of Hongzhi’s doctrinal verses and songgu collection, furthermore, served as a testament to both the master’s insight into the fundamentals of Chan and his literary abilities and erudition, and these verse collections were key to articulating his approach to Chan practice.

Comparison with Other Chan Yulu

The prevalence of poetry within yulu and the ubiquity of certain poetic practices and genres are further evident upon examining the works of other masters. Perhaps the greatest contrast to the poetic output of Hongzhi can be seen in the yulu of his Linji rival and friend Dahui Zonggao. More than half of Dahui’s yulu is comprised of prose genres, including general sermons (pushuo 普說), letters (shu 書), and dharma talks (fayu 法語). Dahui was a pioneer in the use of letters and general sermons in his communications with laypersons, and these genres are not found in the yulu of previous masters. Despite his anecdotal reputation for burning the Biyan lu 碧巖錄 (Blue Cliff Record), Dahui represents another side of the literary activity of a Chan monk, a sustained engagement with prose, which in the Hongzhi lu is largely restricted to a small portion of dharma talks (fayu). Dahui’s yulu also contains poetry within the standard genres, however. Like his master Yuanwu Keqin, Dahui has a substantial songgu collection of over one hundred verses, positioned after the formal verses and dialogues that comprise his “yulu proper.” Even though his songgu collection did not achieve the fame of Hongzhi’s, one of his disciples added his own songgu to Dahui’s verses to create the Donglin heshang Yunmen anzhu songgu 東林和 尚雲門庵主頌古 (The Songgu of the Venerable Donglin and Abbot Dahui), collected in the Guzunsu yulu. His collection of jisong and encomia are modest, however. Dahui’s encomia are divided equally into “encomia for the Buddhas and Patriarchs” (zanfozu) and “self-encomia” (zizan), a more typical arrangement for Song yulu, compared to Hongzhi’s large numbers of encomia on his own portrait. His formal sermons contain a substantial amount of verse, also in irregular meters.

Poetry was also a critical component to Hongzhi’s Caodong predecessors whose yulu are still extant, notably Touzi Yiqing and Hongzhi’s own master, Danxia Zichun. Both of these masters’ yulu are modest in size, each consisting of two juan, a length more typical for the Song than Hongzhi’s and Dahui’s expansive collections. Yet, each contains over two hundred verses of jisong, zhenzan, songgu, and verses found within their formal sermons (shangtang) (Tables 1.4 and 1.5). Touzi’s yulu stands out as one where poetic content comprises more than half of the text. Like Dahui and Hongzhi, Touzi and Danxia each published collections of approximately one hundred songgu, which circulated independently and make up the most significant poetic material in their yulu. Touzi’s and Danxia’s doctrinal and devotional poems are similar to Hongzhi’s, including series on Caodong founder Dongshan Liangjie’s 洞山良价 (807-869) “Five Ranks” (wuwei 五位) (see Ch. 2).

As can be seen in the Hongzhi lu and the examples above, poetry comprises a significant portion of yulu collections and its composition fulfilled key functions in the monastic context. Although Honghzi’s yulu stands apart in terms of the large number of poems, all four yulu contain a similar range of poetic genres typical to Song Chan yulu. According to Morten Schlütter, writing poetry was necessary to both securing and performing the job of abbot, and this thesis is well-supported in the evidence above.86 A Chan master needed to be able to write in a variety of poetic genres and sub-genres, including social verse exchanged with monks and literati, poetic commemorations of monastic activities and events, encomia for portraits, funeral eulogies for deceased monks, and, most significantly, doctrinal verses and songgu that expressed the master’s profound comprehension of Chan. In sum, the role of abbot required a sustained literary practice, and literary training must have occupied a considerable part of the formation of elite monks.

As seen in this overview, poetry comprises an integral place within Song Chan yulu, both as distinct selections of poems collected within codified genres and as verses interwoven into the “yulu proper.” Selections of poetry were not later additions to yulu collections; they form a critical component in the earliest yulu publications in the Song and correspond to poetic practices already common among Chan monks from the Tang and Five Dynasties as seen in denglu and the shi poetry of poet-monks. Furthermore, the importance of poetic composition and content is illustrated by the fact that jisong and songgu collections were often published as independent collections and anthologies, either showcasing the literary achievements of a single master or the major poetic contributions of illustrious Chan patriarchs and masters. Although a certain amount of yulu poetry bears resemblance to the verse of poet-monks and literati in the Tang through Song, overall the poetry within yulu represents a specific set of genres that do not correspond to other literary collections. In this manner, their particular generic and stylistic qualities contribute to defining Chan yulu.

On the surface, the poetic content of yulu affirms the traditional perception of Song Chan as a conservative literary and institutional entity that marks a degeneration of its original antiliterary and iconoclastic spirit. The following chapters, however, will examine how Chan poetry participated in the ideal of “not dependent on words and letters” (buli wenzi) that governed yulu as a textual genre, and how Hongzhi, in particular, synthesized his vision of silence and silent illumination with literary composition. Not only do the generic types contribute to defining the character of Chan yulu, their poetics engage with and shape the literary conventions of yulu, embracing the central Chan tenet of wordlessness as their principal theme and dominant aesthetic, true to the generic codes and organizing myth of yulu as a whole.

The Poetics of Caodong Chan Doctrine: Hongzhi’s Doctrinal Verses


I. Introduction

The expression of Buddhist doctrine in verse is one of the key aspects of Chan writings emerging from the Tang (618-907) which continued to play a vital role within Chan yulu 語錄 (recorded sayings) and denglu 燈錄 (lamp records) during the Song (960-1279).1 While jisong 偈頌 (Skt. gāthā), originated as verse summaries appended at the end of the chapters of Indian Buddhist sūtras, the use of the term expanded to include independent verses written by monks on Buddhist doctrine.2 As such, jisong as a generic term creates the expectation of formal Buddhist content. In the Chan tradition, the earliest collections of jisong, as found in the most influential lamp record, Jingde chuandenglu 景德傳燈錄 (juan 29), fully accord with this paradigm, where Chan masters composed verses on concepts pertaining to their religious interests: non-duality (bu’er 不 二), no mind (wuxin 無心), mind-only (weixin 唯心), awakening (jue 覺), and numerous other topics largely drawn from Mahāyāna Buddhism and Daoism. Certain themes, such as the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West, as well as the form and character of the poetic responses, are often particular to Chan or take on a distinctive character within the Chan context.

In this same vein, Hongzhi’s earliest collection of jisong is primarily doctrinal in nature. In the Song edition of his yulu, these jisong are appended at the end of his first yulu collection Changlu Jue heshang yulu 長蘆覺和尚語錄 (The Recorded Sayings of the Venerable [Zheng]jue of Changlu) dated to 1131.3 Here, Hongzhi establishes himself as a prominent Chan master within the Caodong 曹洞 lineage by inscribing authoritative verses on doctrinal frameworks attributed to the putative founders of both the Caodong and rival Linji schools, Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价 (807-869) and Linji Yixuan 臨濟義玄 (d. 866) respectively. Furthermore, he elucidates the distinctive and superlative character of the Caodong school’s meditative practice in his most famous work, “Inscription on Silent Illumination” (Mozhao ming 默照銘). Honghzi’s yulu contains a second collection of jisong, which I will refer to as Jisong (II), of a different nature, as it consists of large numbers of occasional verses most often addressed to individuals (see Ch. 4).4

In this first collection, Jisong (I), however, there are no occasional poems or poems written in exchange with other monks or literati. Instead, Hongzhi lays out his poetic vision of Caodong Chan doctrine and practice for an unspecified audience. In this chapter, I argue that the principle of silence is central to Hongzhi’s doctrinal formulations, conception of meditative practice, and poetic language, all of which contribute to establishing a distinct sectarian identity for the Caodong school. In doing so, his verses draw from and expand upon precedents from his Caodong ancestors, who are similarly adept at composing verse on Chan doctrine. First, I analyze Hongzhi’s “Inscription of Silent Illumination” (Mozhao ming) and its bold assertion that “silent illumination” (mozhao 默照) is the most superior meditative practice and locate its significance in relation to other lengthy inscriptions (ming 銘) and songs (ge 歌) that stand as authoritative statements on Chan doctrine. Second, I demonstrate that the logic and imagery contained within the “Mozhao ming,” as well as a similar inscription penned by Hongzhi, are related to a set of metaphors frequently employed by Hongzhi and his predecessors that came to epitomize the Caodong lineage. Third, I examine Hongzhi’s poetic expositions of doctrinal schemes attributed to Dongshan Liangjie and Linji Yixuan. In particular, I argue that the Caodong doctrine of the Five Ranks (wuwei 五位)—itself expressed in verse—offers a paradigm in which the seemingly divergent and contradictory practices of silent meditation and poetic composition form two sides of a single process. I conclude that poetic composition was an integral component of Caodong identity, its doctrine and practice, as well as a medium used to distinguish the lineage.

II. Engraving Silence: Silent Illumination and Chan Inscriptions (ming)

Hongzhi’s “Inscription on Silent Illumination” (Mozhao ming, 默照銘 "Method of No-Method", that is also known as the "Silent Illumination") is his most well-known composition, and the locus classicus for defining Caodong meditative practice. Recently, Morten Schlütter has raised the question of whether the concept of “silent illumination” is truly indicative of Hongzhi’s style of meditative practice, as the term only appears four other times within his yulu, or whether the term “silent illumination” merely became attached to him due to Dahui Zonggao’s 大慧宗杲 (1089-1163) vehement criticism of the practice. Schlütter argues that Hongzhi and other Caodong masters of the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries did advocate a style of meditation that could be described by the term “silent illumination,” even though the expression was rarely used.5

Indeed, the “Mozhao ming” itself strongly affirms a meditative practice of stilling the mind as the epitome of Chan practice and, as I will argue, represents an authoritative doctrinal and poetic statement of Hongzhi’s religious views. It was composed early in his monastic career and influenced the thematic direction of his subsequent writings.

From its opening words, the “Mozhao ming” evokes the necessity of abandoning language and discriminating thinking in order for the true nature of the mind to naturally reveal itself to the Chan practitioner. The inscription then proceeds to affirm that a wordless state of silent illumination is the necessary condition for the eradication of delusion and the attainment of awakening, as seen within the first twenty lines of the seventy-two line inscription (l. 1-20):

    In total silence, words are forgotten; 默默忘言
    bright and clear, it’s right before you. 昭昭現前
    When reflected in its vastness, 鑒時廓爾
    your body is awakened. 體處靈然
    Awakened, you shine alone, 靈然獨照
    returning to the miraculous within illumination— 照中還妙
    [Like] the misty moon in the river of stars,8 露月星河
    snow-covered pines on a cloudy peak. 雪松雲嶠
    The darker it is, the brighter it gets; 晦而彌明
    the more it’s hidden, the more it’s exposed. 隱而愈顯
    The crane dreams in the cold mist— 鶴夢煙寒
    where the river embraces the distant autumn. 水含秋遠
    Within the emptiness of the vast kalpa,9 浩劫空空
    all things are identical. 相與雷同
    The miraculous dwells in the place of silence; 妙存默處
    Merit is forgotten within illumination. 功忘照中
    Where does the miraculous exist? 妙存何存
    In alertly eliminating confusion. 惺惺破昏
    The way of silent illumination 默照之道
    is the root of subtlety and transcendence.10 離微之根

The “Mozhao ming” is a superb example of how Hongzhi blends discursive language with poetic imagery in crafting his teaching of Chan’s wordless insight. It frequently employs “empty words” (xuci 虛詞), grammatical terms that create explicit connections between the often repeated elements within the inscription, as it describes the Chan mind and its benefits through the assistance of elegant imagery. Misty moons, dreaming cranes, and snow-laden pines suddenly intrude into Hongzhi’s exposition like the non-sequiturs of Chan gong’an. As I will illustrate below, however, these images perform a vital function in challenging the dualistic assumptions of language—such as the dichotomies of light and dark or hidden and exposed alluded to in the verse—to reveal a world of mutual interpenetration. Along with affirming the silent illumination approach as the grounds of enlightenment, Hongzhi uses unequivocal language to state that silent illumination is the one supreme path, exclusive to the Caodong school (l. 55-62):

    Silent illumination is the ultimate attainment 默照至得
    transmitted by our school [of Chan]. 輸我宗家
    Our school’s silent illumination 宗家默照
    ascends to the peaks and penetrates to the depths. 透頂透底
    Śūnyatā is its body; 舜若多身
    Mudra is its arm. 母陀羅臂
    From beginning to end, this one path 始終一揆
    transforms the myriad faults. 變態萬差

Hongzhi refers to “our” school (wo jia 我家) of the Chan tradition (chanzong 禪宗) as the sole transmitter of the unparalleled practice of silent illumination which completely eliminates delusion. As such, Hongzhi defines silent illumination as the basis of the Caodong school and as the superior method of practice for the entire Chan tradition. Along with his claims for the superiority of Caodong silent illumination, Hongzhi’s choice of the poetic vehicle of inscription (ming 銘) is essential for understanding the significance of his statement on Chan practice. By writing an inscription, Hongzhi follows a tradition of Chan masters writing lengthy verses, either four-character inscriptions (ming) like this one, or long songs (ge 歌), whose forms are more variable, that set out to comment on Chan practice and the Chan understanding of mind (xin 心), both discursively and metaphorically. These long inscriptions and songs, attributed to famous and legendary masters from the Tang and earlier eras, are collected in a single juan of the Jingde chuandenglu 景德傳燈錄 as well as in other Song denglu and the Song dynasty Chan poetry collection Chanmen zhuzushi jisong 禪門 諸祖師偈頌 (The Gāthā of Various Chan Patriarchs and Masters).12 These verses have become distinguished as a major source of Chan doctrine by masters who were otherwise reluctant to explicate Buddhist matters in expository writing. While ge have a superficial sense of ease and informality, ming are formal verses in strict four-character rhymed couplets written to be engraved on solid matter, giving ming a sense of gravity and importance. The generic form, thus, indicates that “Mozhao ming” was intended to be read as a major statement on Chan practice, and indeed it has assumed this stature.

In addition, some of these long doctrinal poems have strong associations with the Caodong school and describe a meditative practice similar to the one Hongzhi espouses. These include the “Inscription on Faith in Mind” (Xinxin ming 信心銘), the primary text attributed to Third Patriarch Sengcan 僧璨 (?-606),14 and “Merging of Difference and Unity” (Cantong qi 參 同契) by Shitou Xiqian 石頭希遷 (700-790). The “Xinxin ming” contains typical directives on Chan meditation, which, like the “Mozhao ming,” encourages the practitioner to cease activity and relinquish discriminating thought in order to attain non-dual (bu’er 不二) insight: “Cut off words and thoughts; everything will be understood” 絶言絶慮 / 無處不通, and “If the mind does not discriminate, the myriad dharmas are one thusness” 心若不異 / 萬法一如. The “Xinxin ming” systematically works through the dualities to be discarded: like and dislike, easy and difficult, lack and excess, large and small, stillness and activity, right and wrong, self and other, one and two, and so on. Similar to the “Mozhao ming,” it describes the mind as “naturally bright and empty” (xuming ziran 虛明自然). Shitou Xiqian’s “Cantong qi” emphasizes the transmission of the clear luminous mind and, as the title would suggest, the realization of the mutual dependence of opposites, especially light and darkness, as also seen in the opening lines of the “Mozhao ming” above. Shitou’s poem states, for example: “In the midst of darkness, there is brightness; / Don’t take brightness as brightness” 當暗中有明 / 勿以明相睹.

Most importantly, Dongshan (807-869), the putative founder of the Caodong lineage, is credited with writing the “Song of the Jeweled Mirror Samādhi” (Baojing sanmei ge 寳鏡三昧 歌).17 As the title suggests, the “Baojing sanmei ge” promotes the quieting meditation of samādhi in order to cultivate an awareness of the shining jewel of the mind, which is ultimately beyond description. In samādhi, one realizes the mind’s mirror-like function, reflecting all without judgment. Despite being attributed to Dongshan, the earliest reference to and complete citation of the “Baojing sanmei ge” is in the Chanlin sengbao zhuan 禪林僧寳傳 (1123), a Chan history by Linji monk Juefan Huihong 覺範惠洪 (1071-1128), who championed the idea of “literary Chan” (wenzi Chan 文字禪) and was active just before the time Hongzhi became an abbot.18 Not only is this publication more than two hundred years after Dongshan’s own time, Huihong notes that Dongshan was only responsible for transmitting the poem and that the author was actually Dongshan’s master Yunyan Tansheng 雲巖曇晟 (782-841). Moreover, Huihong claims that the poem previously remained hidden and that he only came across the poem after an unknown monk presented a copy to the literatus Zhu Yan 朱彥 (jinshi 1076), who then showed it to Huihong. While the circumstances behind the composition of the “Baojing sanmei ge” are suspect, its connection to the Caodong lineage is certain, and the common attribution of this poem to Dongshan strengthens his image as a monk willing and able to express the dharma in verse. Dongshan is credited with several other poems, including his poetic exposition of the Five Ranks discussed below, which forms the doctrinal foundation of the Caodong school. The Caodong masters of the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries drew on the image of Dongshan as poet in fashioning themselves as masters skilled in crafting Chan verses.20 “Mozhao ming” is not Hongzhi’s only inscription which builds upon his predecessor’s ventures into the poetic expression of the methods and attainments of silent meditation. Within his yulu, the “Mozhao ming” is immediately followed by another inscription, entitled “Inscription on the Chamber of Pure Bliss” (Jingleshi ming 淨樂室銘).21 The title of the “Jingleshi ming” more explicitly locates the verse as a physical inscription on a chamber, presumably within the monastic compound. But like the “Mozhao ming” and other Chan inscriptions, it takes the form of a well-elaborated doctrinal statement. In the “Jingleshi ming,” Hongzhi expands on his conception of Chan practice and avows that a state of bliss will naturally arise out of the purity of silent illumination. If this verse was indeed inscribed on one of the monastic halls, it would symbolically define the practice of Hongzhi’s monastic community and be displayed publically as an enduring emblem of Hongzhi’s teaching. The last ten lines (l. 51-60) of the sixty line verse demonstrate how Hongzhi symbolically links silence, bliss, and nonduality:

    Bliss within purity, 淨中之樂
    illumination within silence; 默中之照
    The house of silent illumination; 默照之家
    the chamber of pure bliss. 淨樂之室
    Reside in peace, forgetting all effort; 居安忘勞
    Remove the flowers, and obtain the fruit. 去華取實
    The inscription of obtaining the fruit 取實之銘
    cannot be spoken. 無得而言
    Great is Vimalakīrti 善哉摩詰
    who enters the gate of non-duality! 入不二門

Hongzhi’s designation of “silent illumination” as the “house” (jia 家) where “pure bliss” exists as a chamber (shi 室), suggests the encompassing nature of silent illumination. The inscription affirms that the goal of practice is to enter the ineffable realm of non-duality (bu’er), reached only within stillness and effortless purity. The final couplet invokes the name of layman Vimalakīrti, the matchless personification of non-duality, who is best known for his “thunderous silence” in the sūtra that bears his name.22 As in the “Mozhao ming,” “Baojing sanmei ge,” and “Xinxin ming,” genuine silence and its insights are only obtained once the discriminating mind is put to rest:

    When thinking does not arise— 思惟不涉
    the reed blossoms shine like snow. 蘆花照雪
    A single ray of light 一段光明
    illuminating the vast emptiness. 廓然瑩徹

The image of white reed flowers shining like snow is similar to other images where various white objects are merged together to become barely distinguishable. Caodong masters often employ such images, as seen in the “Mozhao ming” above: “Like the misty moon in the river of stars, snow-covered pines on a cloudy peak.” Dongshan’s “Baojing sanmei ge” is similarly a source for this type of image and includes a terse explanation of its import:

    Like snow within a silver bowl, 銀碗盛雪
    an egret hidden by the bright moon; 明月藏鷺
    similar but not the same; 類之弗齊
    intermingled, yet still apparent.23 混則知處

As Dongshan states, the point of these poetic images is not that reality is one blank undiffentiated haze. Rather, while the myriad things remain distinguishable, they are equally empty and illuminated—neither similar, nor the same; neither one, nor two. These inchoate visual depictions thus function as vivid images of the merging of difference and unity. They are not only metaphors of the emptiness of form but perceptible illustrations of non-duality in the real world.

The inclusion of the “Mozhao ming” and “Jingleshi ming” within the Changlu Jue heshang yulu published at the beginning of Hongzhi’s career as Chan abbot suggests their vital role in the initial efforts to establish Hongzhi as an important master of the Caodong school and to assert a distinctive vision of the Caodong school and its meditation style.24 The first of Dahui’s scathing attacks on “silent illumination” appeared in 1134, a few years after the publication of Hongzhi’s inscriptions (discussed below). Although there is no evidence that Hongzhi responded to Dahui’s criticisms, the term “silent illumination” rarely appears in the rest of his writings. Nevertheless, there is no apparent shift in Hongzhi’s approach to meditation or conceptualization of Chan practice. To the contrary, the word silence and themes of silence abound in his yulu, along with the term illumination (zhao 照) and other imagery for radiance and light, at times poetically linked with silence. Silence (mo 默) is not only Hongzhi’s favorite word, the reduplicative (momo 默默) that begins the “Mozhao ming” occurs frequently, especially within the portrait encomia (zhenzan 真贊) Hongzhi inscribed on his own portrait to be discussed in Chapter Five. Thus, Hongzhi’s vision of Caodong practice as defined and elaborated upon within these two early inscriptions is sustained through his subsequent writings and corresponds with analogous conceptions of meditation in the Caodong lineage, as I will further explicate in the discussion below.

III. Caodong Metaphors for Meditation

In the same manner that silence serves as a central poetic trope in Hongzhi’s doctrinal inscriptions, the ideal of silent meditation is also embodied within a metaphorical repertoire that characterizes the Caodong lineage. Caodong masters, including Hongzhi, frequently use a series of metaphors, such as the “withered tree” (kumu 枯木) and “cold ashes” (hanhui 寒灰), to depict the total stillness of the mind of no thought. Although neither these metaphors nor meditation form an explicit topic within Hongzhi’s Jisong (I), they are essential for understanding the principles of Caodong meditative practice and further indicate an intimate relationship between poetic expression and silence. The images of the withered tree and cold ashes, like so many other Chan images and terms, derive from the Zhuangzi 莊子, where the question appears: “Can you really make the body like a withered tree (gaomu 槁木) and the mind like dead ashes (sihui 死 灰)?”26 The images of the withered tree and cold ashes as symbols of meditation appear in Buddhist texts as early as the seventh century27 and were picked up by Chan masters in the Tang, particularly within the lineages following Shitou Xiqian (700-790), which includes the Caodong school.28 In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, the images became strongly associated with Caodong masters and their style of meditation. Hongzhi even initially trained under a Caodong master known as Kumu (“Withered tree”) Facheng 枯木法成 (n.d.), before he became a disciple of Danxia Zichun 丹霞子淳 (1066-1119).

Unlike the term, “silent illumination” (mozhao), these images are used often by both Hongzhi and his Caodong predecessors. Following the sense of the phrase found in the Zhuangzi, in the Buddhist context, the withered tree and cold ashes are used as technical terms for a meditative state characterized by the cessation of thought and activity. The seven maxims on meditation by Shishuang Qingzhu 石霜慶諸 (807-888), who was a third generation heir of Shitou Xiqian, is traditionally considered to be the source of these images as a medium of Chan meditative instruction. The seven maxims are found in a dialogue concerning Shishuang’s disciple Jiufeng Daoqian 九峰道虔 (n.d.), who states: “The late teacher [Shishuang] said, ‘Cease, desist; spend ten thousand years in one thought;30 be cold ashes, dead trees (hanhui kumu qu 寒灰枯木去); be a censer in an ancient shrine; be cold and barren ground; be a strip of pure white silk.’”31 While the earliest extant source of all seven maxims is the lamp record Liandeng huiyao 聯燈會要 (1183), they appear in partial form in earlier sources.32 Furthermore, in the tenth century, Shishuang Qingzhu had become known for his “withered tree congregation” (kumu zhong 枯木眾),33 as well as comments he made on the meaning of the “withered tree,” as found in the Jingde chuandenglu.

Shishuang Qingzhu was not a Caodong monk, but his name and associated teachings appear frequently in the writings of later Caodong masters, who were fond of nurturing associations with the broader lineage tree of Shitou Xiqian to which he belonged, and his connection to the Caodong lineage is strengthened by the fact that his records include dialogues with his contemporary Dongshan Liangjie, who is said to have sought Shishuang Qingzhu out from reclusion.35 All of the images within the seven maxims are found in the writings of Caodong masters. Used as guidelines for Chan practice, these terms provide part of the evidence that Caodong masters did indeed promote a model of meditation that can be described as “silent illumination,” as argued by Schlütter.36 Hongzhi includes Jiufeng Daoqian’s dialogue on Shishuang Qingzhu’s maxims as a gong’an case in his songgu collection (1129),37 and in a preface to Hongzhi’s informal sermons dated to 1137, the literatus Feng Wenshu 馮溫舒 describes Hongzhi’s instructions for meditation in the manner of Shishuang Qingzhu’s directives: “The master instructs the congregation to practice stillness and to sit erect like withered trees (kuzhu 枯株).”38 These images became even more definitely linked with the Caodong school as Dahui criticized monks who used these terms in their instructions on meditation. For example, in one of his sermons to laypersons, Dahui states: “Literati often have [the problem of] busy minds. So today, in many places, there is a kind of heretical silent illumination Chan. [The people who teach this] see that literati are obstructed by worldly concerns and their hearts are not at peace, and accordingly they teach them to be like ‘cold ashes and dry wood,’ or like ‘a strip of white silk,’ or like ‘an incense pot in an old shrine,’ or ‘cold and somber.’”39 Thus, it was these meditative images at the basis of Dahui’s critique which effectively differentiated his Linji practice from the unnamed target of his condemnation, the Caodong school.

Caodong Chan masters did not only use these images as technical terms for meditative instruction, however; they also employed them as poetic images in both their sermons and verse, as evident within the extant yulu of Hongzhi’s dharma brother Zhenxie Qingliao 真歇清了 (1090-1151), their master Danxia Zichun (1066-1119), and Touzi Yiqing 投子義青 (1032-1083), responsible for initiating the Caodong revitalization in the eleventh century.40 While as technical terms, these images merely stress the cultivation of absolute stillness and silence, as poetic images, they are transformed into the source from which phenomena naturally and dynamically emerge. The withered tree, in particular, is instructive as to how Caodong masters envisioned a paradoxical relationship between profound stillness and vibrant activity and is more frequently used as a poetic image than the other terms. The withered tree is often evoked in conjunction with images of spring and the fragrance of flowers, symbolizing the abundance that arises from lifeless winter trees. For example, within Hongzhi’s Jisong (I), he connects Touzi Yiqing to the image of the withered tree in a praise poem dedicated to his Caodong ancestor: “Spring appears within the pot and fragrant flowers blossom on the withered tree” 壺春在而花芳枯木. The withered tree and its connection with spring is mentioned numerous times in Touzi Yiqing’s yulu, and Hongzhi’s line echoes a passage in a sermon by Touzi Yiqing’s most prominent disciple, Furong Daokai 芙容道楷 (1043-1118), which parallels the withered tree with the images of the wooden maiden and stone man: “The path to entering the Way is to be empty inside and tranquil outside, like water still and frozen….if you can be like this, then the withered tree facing the cliff will flower in the middle of the night, and the woman of wood carries a basket, while in the fresh breeze under the moon, the stone man will dance with floating sleeves.”42 The images of the wooden maiden and stone man mentioned by Furong Daokai allude to one of the central metaphors of Dongshan’s “Baojing sanmei ge,” which similarly depicts these lifeless figures—albeit their genders reversed—springing into activity: “The wooden man begins to sing; / the stone maiden rises to dance. / Since this cannot be reached through feelings or knowledge, / how could it involve thinking?” 木人方歌 / 石女起舞 / 非情識到 / 寧容思慮.

The wooden man and stone maiden represent selfless persons who act effortlessly without premeditation, and the spontaneous actions of these figures, along with those of other inanimate objects such as stone horses and mud oxen, occur repeatedly within Hongzhi’s poems and sermons and those of his Caodong predecessors. In the “Baojing sanmei ge” and elsewhere, the movements of the wooden man and stone maiden challenge conceptions of life and death, and, as Dongshan informs us, their activity thus transcends the bounds of ordinary thought. Although it is unlikely that Dongshan’s song is the source of these images, the emergence of the “Baojing sanmei ge” in the early twelfth century did link Dongshan, and the Caodong school by extension, with suggestive metaphors of selflessness that had become prevalent in Chan literature. The metaphors of the stone man and wooden maiden, and their associates, share a common semantic parallelism with the “withered tree.” Within these poetic imaginations, just as the lifeless dance, the “withered tree” is the locus and precondition for the flowering of spring. In other words, in a state of meditative absorption where one’s mind becomes like a dead tree, the world of color naturally re-emerges. Within silent contemplation, objects in the phenomenal world are no longer seen as real, permanent or independent, however; instead, the phenomenal world arises out of dead stillness as a manifestation of emptiness itself, not bounded by the dualistic notions we ordinarily ascribe to the world.

Another context in which the image of the withered tree commonly appears derives from a dialogue by Xiangyan Zhixian 香嚴智閑 (799-898), a disciple of Guishan Lingyou 溈山靈祐 (771-853). A monk asked Zhixian “What is the Dao?” and Zhixian responded, “A dragon moans within the withered tree” (kumu longyin 枯木龍吟). The monk replied “I do not understand.” Xiangyan said, “Eyeballs within the skull” (dulou li yanqing 髑髏裏眼睛).44 Xiangyan’s response appears to be the earliest metaphorical use of the withered tree within Chan writings. Xiangyan is a monk within the Guishan lineage, which, like the Linji school, is traced back to Mazu Daoyi, not Shitou Xiqian. However, both Shishuang Qingzhu and the co-founder of the Caodong lineage, Caoshan Benji 曹山本寂 (840-901), became known for their statements on this dialogue, as recorded in the Jingde chuandenglu.

Later [i.e., after the dialogue with Zhixian], the monk asked Shishuang, “What are ‘dragon murmurings in a dead tree’?” Shishuang said, “Still having joy” (you dai xi zai 猶帶喜在). The monk asked, “What are ‘eyeballs in a skull?” Shishuang said, “Still having consciousness” (you dai shi zai 猶帶識在). Caoshan’s own answers to the two questions are respectively: “The blood line is not cut off” (xuemai buduan 血脈不斷) and “Not dried up” (gan bujin 乾不盡),47 and he offers this verse:

    When the dragon moans within the withered tree, one truly sees the Dao. 枯木龍吟真見道
    In a skull without consciousness, the eyes begin to brighten. 髑髏無識眼初明
    When joy and consciousness are exhausted, extinction is not. 喜識盡時消不盡
    How could such a person discriminate the clear within the muddy? 當人那辨濁中清

Caoshan’s verse strengthens the paradox between a deathlike state of stillness and the awakening of wisdom. While on the one hand he stresses the lack of discriminating consciousness (wushi 無 識) and the cessation of the pleasure or joy (xi 喜) concomitant with delusive passions, at the same time, he follows Shishuang Qingzhu’s interpretation that consciousness and passions are not ultimately eradicated. After subduing the discriminating mind and delusive passions, the practitioner is not only still alive—i.e., the skull has “not dried up”—she or he must now reawaken and attain an enlightened eye that allows them to perceive the purity of the conventional world. Without this re-awakening, “extinction is not exhausted,” or “not complete” (xiao bujin 消不盡); one must also root out and extinguish the dualities of life and death, thought and nothought, for true insight to appear. This perception would not be possible if one merely cut off all thinking and feeling, and Caoshan clarifies that the point is not to wallow in a realm of nondiscrimination. Rather, wisdom appears within the functions of the discriminating mind and consists of making non-dual distinctions: “discriminating the clear within the muddy” (bian zhuo zhong qing 辨濁中清). In this statement, Caoshan is not referring to the recognition of isolated aspects of purity within the world but to realizing the mutual dependence of the pure and impure, as consistent with the Five Ranks terminology and doctrine discussed below. In the final rhetorical question, Caoshan is saying that if you are a person who cannot distinguish the purity of the muddy world, then your realization remains incomplete. In order to recognize this fact, one must first hear the dragon (long 龍) who is moaning, or chanting or singing (yin 吟)—the ultimate whose voice is only heard when the mind becomes like a withered tree. The moaning dragon is often associated with the emergence of clouds, an idea derived from the Huainanzi 淮 南子 that was employed by Tang dynasty scholar Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574-648) in his interpretations of the Yijing 易經 (Book of Changes).48 Hongzhi often alludes to this metaphor in his verse, as in this poetic line from one of his sermons: “The sleeping dragon moans in the clouds of the withered trees” 蟄龍吟枯木之雲. As clouds often symbolize the training monks, Hongzhi could be suggesting that the voice of the ultimate buddha-nature, dormant in everyone, will speak to and awaken the monks when they sit in dead silence. While the dragon may not sound its voice using language, just as absolute stillness is the source for the arising of phenomena, silence can equally be the ground for the blossoming of words and constitute a reorientation towards language to be embodied poetically, as it is within the Caodong repertoire of metaphors. Hongzhi directly indicates the intimate connection between silent illumination and language a number of times. The “Mozhao ming,” for instance, states: “Only silence is the supreme speech, only illumination is the universal response” 默唯至言 / 照 唯普應 (l. 33-34).50 Furthermore, his poetic instructions on Chan practice, “Admonitions for Seated Meditation” (Zuochan zhen 坐禪箴), present a standpoint on meditation in imagistic language similar to that represented by the poetic expressions of the “withered tree.” In the verse, Hongzhi reiterates that illumination must be attained through non-discrimination, as he repeats the line—“Never engage in discriminating thinking” (曾無分別之思)—twice within the eighteen line poem.51 The verse ends with an image of the quieted mind, however, which suggests that conceptualization is never completely eradicated:

    Through the perfectly clear water, 水清徹底兮
    fish swim slowly on; 魚行遲遲
    within the vast, boundless sky, 空闊莫涯兮
    birds fly far away.52 鳥飛杳杳

Although Chan insight is not the product of conceptual thinking or intellectualization according to Caodong rhetoric, that does not mean insight occurs outside of the discriminating function of the mind and its use of language. The image of water evokes the standard Chan description of meditation as quieting the waves of delusive thoughts in order to reach a state of tranquility and clarity. Yet, this is an image of stillness where activity (swimming, flying) still takes place and distinct objects (fish, birds) are still apparent. It is not that discriminations disappear, but that discrete phenomena are now seen flowing freely within emptiness (kong 空), which also designates the “sky” in the poem. As with the images where white objects like the snow, clouds, and moon are interwoven, Hongzhi does not depict a completely undifferentiated sky or sea, but rather the interdependent movements of finite objects rising and disappearing within the infinite. These objects are not merely operating within emptiness; they are manifestations of emptiness themselves, able to move easily through the world only because they are neither permanent nor substantial. Overall, Hongzhi’s conception of meditation exemplifies a mode of discipline in which silence and language are deeply intertwined, and its metaphorical representations in the Caodong tradition function as striking yet effectively imaginable illustrations of both its stillness and paradoxical insights—far more evocative than flat discursive statements on the non-duality of life and death.

IV. Caodong Doctrine: Weaving Together the Relative and Absolute

The relationship between silence and words can be further elucidated by examining the Caodong doctrine of the Five Ranks, which offers a paradigm for viewing literary composition and wordless meditation as equally embodying a single mode of practice. The Five Ranks are attributed to Caodong lineage founder Dongshan Liangjie and comprise five possible perspectives of the interaction between the “straight” (zheng 正) and “crooked” (pian 偏):

The Five Ranks 五位53

    1. The Crooked within the Straight (zheng zhong pian 正中偏)
    2. The Straight within the Crooked (pian zhong zheng 偏中正)
    3. Coming from within the Straight (zheng zhong lai 正中來)
    4. Arriving amidst Both (jian zhong zhi 兼中至)
    5. Unity Attained (jian zhong dao 兼中到)

The term “straight” refers to that which is absolute, real, and ultimate, while “crooked” refers to the particular, what is conventional and relative. As explained by Caoshan Benji in his yulu, “The rank of the straight is the realm of emptiness, where originally there is not a thing. The rank of the crooked is the realm of form where the myriad shapes and objects exist.”54 I follow Victor Sōgen Hori’s translation of the terms as “straight” and “crooked,” since, although an array of abstract philosophical ideas are associated with the terms, these are quite literal translations that provide a concrete visual image of what they represent—a quality valued in relation to Chan’s general suspicion of philosophical terminology.55 Hori justifies his translation of the terms in this way to indicate that within the Five Ranks one side is not privileged over the other. The whole point of the Five Ranks is that the relative and the absolute are mutually dependent; neither can exist without the other, and it is essential to see the significance of both sides. At the same time, precisely because the Five Ranks dismantles the respective inferiority and superiority of the relative and absolute, I consider it necessary to analyze these verses using hierarchical terms, such as absolute versus relative, and ultimate versus conventional. Although the Five Ranks have an air of originality about them, they are obviously rooted in the Two Truths theory of Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist thought and its Chinese Buddhist articulations, particularly the Huayan Buddhist concepts of principle (li 理) and phenomena (shi 事), which similarly influenced Daoxue thinkers in the Song.

Within the Chan tradition, Dongshan’s poetic verses on the Five Ranks are deemed to be the original and foremost expression of the doctrinal scheme. Dongshan offers a verse on each rank, conveying their import through imagery and metaphor, rather than discursive analysis, and these verses were frequently imitated by Caodong masters, such as Hongzhi, Touzi Yiqing and Danxia Zichun, as well as monks from other lineages.57 Although there are also discursive commentaries on the Five Ranks, they are presented as secondary and derivative to Dongshan’s verses, which represent the kernel of Five Ranks doctrine. For instance, the primary source for Five Ranks exegesis, including an explanation by Dongshan himself, is the yulu of his most prominent disciple Caoshan Benji. The yulu of Caoshan Benji includes his interlinear commentary on “Dongshan’s Exposition of the Five Ranks” (Dongshan wuwei xianjue 洞山五 位顯訣); Caoshan’s annotations of Dongshan’s Five Ranks verses, “Annotated Explanation of Dongshan’s Gāthā on the Five Ranks” (Zhushi Dongshan wuwei song 註釋洞山五位頌); and his own exposition: “The Meaning of the Five Ranks” (Wuwei zhijue 五位旨訣.)58 In addition, his dialogical sermons include further clarification on “The Meaning of the Five Positions of Lord and Vassal” (Wuwei junchen zhijue 五位君臣旨訣, where the relationship between lord (jun 君) and vassal (chen 臣) is used to illustrate the interactions between the straight and crooked. The discussion of lord and vassal in his sermon is followed by a series of verses, where each rank is also pictorially represented through a set of circular diagrams.59 In sum, Caoshan, being second in line to Dongshan, is largely responsible for explaining his master’s original insight and poetic elucidation through interlineal commentary, discursive exegesis, and the formation of analogous models.

The earliest record of Five Ranks verses is not found within the records of Caodong monks, however, but within the yulu of Linji master Fenyang Shanzhao 汾陽善昭 (947-1024). There is no mention of the Five Ranks in Dongshan’s record in the Jingde chuandenglu or Song gaosheng zhuan. Fenyang Shanzhao’s yulu, Fenyang Wude chanshi yulu 汾陽無德禪師語錄 (1004), includes a preface to the Five Ranks, one summary verse on the Five Ranks in its entirety, metaphorical answers to questions on each individual rank, and a series of Five Ranks verses, following the model attributed to Dongshan.61 Fenyang Shanzhao is not included in the Jingde chuandenglu since he was still active as a master at the time of its compilation, but his writings on the Five Ranks, as well as the Five Ranks verses of his most prominent disciple Shishuang Chuyuan 石霜楚圓 (986-1039) (not to be confused with Shishuang Qingzhu who was formerly the abbot of the same temple), are found in the Tiansheng guangdenglu 天聖廣燈錄 (1039).62 Despite the early appearance of the Five Ranks within the records of these Linji masters, the texts identify Dongshan Liangjie as the progenitor of the doctrinal scheme and associate the Five Ranks with the Caodong lineage. As with the “Baojing sanmei ge,” the work of Juefan Huihong appears to be the earliest extant source of Dongshan’s verses. Huihong, who clearly showed interest in the Caodong school, included them in both the Linjian lu 林間錄 (1107) and Chanlin sengbao zhuan (1123).

Hongzhi’s own verses on the Five Ranks are at the forefront of his Jisong (I) collection, and the Five Ranks system pervades the doctrinal verses that follow, many of which are alternative formulations of the scheme, including: “The Five Princes” (Wu wangzi 五王子), the provisional (jie 借) relationships between merit (gong 功) and rank (wei 位),65 and two verses in which Caoshan’s pictorial representations of the Five Ranks are assigned to the couplets.66 In Hongzhi’s informal sermons (xiaocan 小參) collected within the Changlu Jue heshang yulu, he offers metaphorical responses to the meaning of each rank in the style of Fenyang Shanzhao.67 In addition, Hongzhi makes frequent reference to the terms straight and crooked in his poems and sermons, along with figurative expressions of their mutual dependence.

In contrast to his inscriptions, Hongzhi’s doctrinal series are more constrained in content and form as they comment on pre-determined conceptual frameworks and are written within the formal parameters set by his predecessors. Even though inscriptions, like the “Mozhao ming,” follow formal and thematic conventions within Chan literature, they provide a space where a Chan master can elaborate on a unique set of terminology and ideas, just as Hongzhi uses the form as an opportunity to expound his vision of silent illumination as the pinnacle of Chan practice. Within the doctrinal poems, on the other hand, creativity hinges on the master’s choice and use of metaphor to display individual insight into established philosophical positions. Hongzhi’s Five Ranks verses are prime examples of how the mutual dependence of the straight and crooked can be effectively expressed in poetic language. As with Dongshan’s and other Five Ranks verses, Hongzhi’s verses follow the metrical pattern of 3-7-7-7 characters per line, where the name of the respective rank makes up the first line, which is then followed by a series of interrelated images.68 First is Hongzhi’s presentation of how the relative exists within the absolute:

    The crooked within the straight: 正中偏
    As the blue sky clears, the cold river of stars floods the heavens. 霽碧星河冷浸乾
    At midnight, the wooden boy knocks at the door of the moon, 半夜木童敲月戶
    And in the darkness, startles the jade maiden from her sleep. 暗中驚破玉人眠

In this verse, the river of stars surging forth from the clear sky represents the myriad things emerging from within emptiness. The sky at midnight further alludes to the darkness of nondiscrimination where no thing can be discerned. But it is within this place of darkness, where activity, illumination, and particularity naturally appear. Hongzhi once again uses inanimate figures, the wooden boy and jade maiden, to encapsulate the paradox of stillness and movement. Here the wooden boy strikes upon the moon—symbolizing the luminosity of the mind—and causes the jade maiden to suddenly awake from the sleep of delusion. Dahui’s most virulent criticism of the Caodong school was their quietistic practice of meditation which focused on cultivating awareness of one’s original buddha-nature rather than triggering a breakthrough experience of enlightenment that Dahui considered essential.70 In spite of Dahui’s critique, there are many examples within Hongzhi’s poetic language, like this verse, where he portrays enlightenment as a sudden and temporal event, similar to spring flowers blooming forth from a withered tree branch. The principle of this first rank further indicates that silence is not a state of stagnation. Instead, the “straight”—the undifferentiated darkness, stillness, and silence—is the foundation of the “crooked”: diversity, light, activity, and awakening. The sudden illumination of the first rank is only the starting point—a first glimpse into the non-duality of straight and crooked which is investigated in further depth through the rest of the series. The next poem, for instance, looks at the relationship between the straight and crooked from the opposite, yet complementary perspective:

    The straight within the crooked: 偏中正
    A sea of clouds indistinct on the peak of the spirit mountain. 海雲依約神山頂
    The woman returns—white hair on her temples hanging down like silk; 歸人鬢髮白垂絲
    Ashamed, she faces the mirror of Qin, coldly reflecting her image. 羞對秦臺寒照影

The standpoint of this poem is similarly the vast, boundless realm of nondiscrimination exemplified by the sea of clouds on the mountain peak. Out of the mountain clouds, the old woman returns—the discrete, conventional self, affected by time, old age, and suffering. Here the conventional self looks into the mirror, which, as in the “Baojing sanmei ge,” represents the mind of samādhi, the original mind that is not divided into subject and object. However, Hongzhi is also making an allusion to the mirror of the Qin Emperor (Qin tai 秦臺, literally, “the [mirror] stand of [Emperor] Qin), which could reflect the good and evil in a person’s heart.73 The mirror of samādhi does not divide the world into good and evil; it completely absorbs the phenomenal world before it. But in doing so, all distinctions, including good and evil, are contained within. When the conventional person looks into the mirror of the ultimate, the conventional world is merely reflected back, coldly, without feeling or judgment. Not only are the distinctive marks of old age fully exposed, so are the delusive passions and defects of the conventional person ashamed at her appearance. When the abolute is realized to exist within the conventional, old age and delusive passions are not eliminated, but they are only illusions in the mirror of samādhi. Viewing the relative within the absolute and the absolute within the relative in this manner provides a model for understanding the relationship between silence and language and the two poles of Caodong practice. Moving in one direction is the meditative practice of silent illumination where thinking is cut off. Silence does not appear as silence, however; it contains within it all the dynamic aspects of the phenomenal world, including words and thoughts that arise out of emptiness. Thus, within silent meditation, one witnesses the relative within the absolute. Caodong practice also moves in the other direction: the mastery of words. The Caodong project is not only to attain silent illumination but to manifest the emptiness of language, or present silence in words. In the play of Hongzhi’s writings, words themselves appear empty of any fixed substantial nature, as he poetically displays a non-dual perspective by blending images of opposite qualities, employing metaphors that bind together the absolute and relative, and making discursive comments that deny inherent oppositions. As such, the poetic activity of Chan masters like Hongzhi is in itself a realization of the interdependence of the straight and crooked. The aptness of the analogy between the “straight” and “crooked” and the status of language within Chan is confirmed by Dongshan’s “Exposition of the Five Ranks” (Wu wei xianjue 五位顯訣), as found in the yulu of Caoshan, which begins its explanation in terms of the interrelationship between words and silence:

The rank of the straight is actually relative (pian 偏). When [the straight is] distinguished as relative, then it completely contains both meanings.74 Although the rank of the crooked is relative, it also completely contains both meanings. If one discriminates accordingly, it is the wordless within words (you yu zhong wuyu 有語中無語). If one comes within the straight, it is having words within the wordless. If one comes within the crooked, it is having the wordless within words. If one comes within both bound together, here we do not speak of either words or wordlessness.

As evident in the final line in the quote above, an additional step within the process of the Five Ranks is to view the relationship between the ultimate and conventional as fully integrated at all moments, instead of representing their relationship as movement from one to the other. This integrative perspective is associated with the logic of “both/and” or “neither/nor.” On the one hand, both the straight and crooked can be seen arising together; on the other hand, the two concepts ultimately fail to map onto reality and are forgotten. Like the first two ranks, in the next two—ranks three and four—the first priveleges the perspective of the “straight” and the second the “crooked” in considering the relationship between them. While the first two ranks establish the basic, first order interelationship between the two sides, the next two represent a higher order of insight. Instead of connecting one side to the other, these ranks examine the already established interrelationship of straight and crooked, first from the perspective of the absolute, and then the relative. Thus, the third rank, “Coming from within the Straight” 正中來, represents an all-encompassing standpoint where neither straight nor crooked can be properly distinguished. Hongzhi’s verse on this rank captures the boundlessness of emptiness through the image of the mythical fish Kun 鯤, an allusion to the opening passage of the Zhuangzi in the chapter, “Free and Easy Wandering” (Xiaoyao you 逍遥遊).76 In Hongzhi’s verse, the immeasurable Kun sheds its enormous shell, enveloping the entire world, with its back rubbing the heavens and the clouds becoming its wings:

    Coming from within the straight: 正中來
    On a moonlit night, the great Kun casts off its shell. 月夜長鯤蛻甲開
    Its great back rubs against the heavens, as it flaps its wings of clouds, 大背摩天振雲羽
    And soars down the bird paths—a kind of thing difficult to complete.77 翔游鳥道類難該

Even with its massive, immeasurable size, the Kun is able to soar through the narrow “bird paths” (niaodao 鳥道), one of Dongshan’s metaphors for Chan practice.78 In other words, not only does emptiness subsume the entire realm of straight and crooked as a whole, it also penetrates the tiny and discrete, yet invisible and fleeting, paths of birds—distinct manifestations of emptiness within the realm of particularity. Its the simultaneous vastness and minuteness, along with the fusion of absolute and relative at both levels, that is beyond words—impossible to comprehend in terms of ordinary logic or dualistic language. Hongzhi’s allusion to the Zhuangzi, with its relativism and contradictory language is very fitting, as the term kun 鯤, used to refer to the enormous fish, literally means fish roe. As Burton Watson explains, “The tiniest fish imaginable is also the largest fish imaginable.” The fourth rank, most often referred to as “Arrival amidst Both” (Jianzhong zhi 兼中至) is also found alternatively as “Arriving in the Crooked” (Pianzhong zhi 偏中至). In fact, while Hongzhi’s Five Ranks verses contain the title “Arriving Amidst Both” 兼中至, the rank appears as “Arriving in the Crooked” 偏中至 within his informal sermons where he responds to questions about the meaning of each rank in metaphor.80 “Arriving in the Crooked” 偏中至 fits logically within the progression of the Five Ranks, after “Coming from within the Straight” 正中 來, and more effectively distinguishes this stage from the final rank. The fourth rank employs the logic of “both/and,” returning to the duality between straight and crooked that was dissolved within the preceding ranks. Here, both the straight and crooked are seen as equals; both are fully present, even while interpenetrating each other without obstruction.

    Arriving amidst both: 兼中至
    Facing each other, it is not necessary to avoid taboo names. 覿面不須相忌諱
    Transformation does not harm the mystery of the true meaning.81 風化無傷的意玄
    Within the light, there is a path that is naturally different.82 光中有路天然異

Even with its symbolic language, this is the most prosaic of Hongzhi’s Five Ranks verses, where he quite clearly states that the distinction between straight and crooked need not be abandoned. Even though they are interrelated—meeting each other face to face—one can still speak of both aspects. In addition, the presence of the relative—even the conventional distinction between straight and crooked—in no way corrupts the absolute. The “path” (lu 路) in the final line could be read either in the plural or singular, offering two distinct meanings. In the plural, Hongzhi would simply be making a normative statement that plurality and difference exist within unity and emptiness: In the radiance of nondiscrimination, there are naturally many paths. But Hongzhi seems to suggest that there is a single path that can be discerned within the practice of nondiscrimination: the path where one distinguishes the mutual dependence of the straight and crooked. The final rank, “Unity Attained,” presents a final integrated perspective that privileges the logic of “neither/nor” where the straight and crooked are equally identifiable and indistinguishable—the nature of their relationship ultimately impossible to pin down, as they are neither one, nor two.

    Unity attained: 兼中到
    When the handle of the dipper slants in the sky before dawn, 斗柄橫斜天未曉
    The crane awakens from its dream amidst the cold dewy air 鶴夢初醒露氣寒
    And flies out of its old nest—the clouds and pines turned upside down. 舊巢飛出雲松倒

Hongzhi begins this poem by referring back to the starry night imagery of the first verse, but now the tilted handle of the Big Dipper hangs in a sky that is between night and day, darkness and illumination. As the rotating movements of the Big Dipper’s handle indicate time like a clock in the sky, the liminal period between day and night is also represented as a discrete moment when the crane awakens. Hongzhi has a special liking for the image of the crane (he 鶴) , typically representing Daoist immortality. Even in this final rank, the crane, as the ultimate self, is just awakening from its dream amidst the cold dew and air (qi 氣) of the relative world. The crane is effective as an image since, though it is an ordinary being in the world, it is also one that carries Daoist immortals into the sky, mediating between the mundane and transcendent. As such, it is a prime example of the significance of metaphor in expressing the non-dual perspective of Chan. As the crane returns to the ordinary world and flies out of its old nest (jiu chao 舊巢)—which could equally be its former, conventional way of thinking and/or its original home of buddhanature—the natural world itself embodies paradox and mystery. It is significant that Hongzhi steers clear of the seemingly otherworldly vitality of stone or wooden objects or the mystifying behavior of mythical creatures in this verse. Instead, the final image is simply one of the crane flying amid the clouds and pines; only now the pines and clouds are turned upside down. There is nothing truly out of the ordinary about the scene—the pines and clouds are just the same as before. Their unconventional nature is merely one of perspective, flipped around just as the assumptions of conventional and ultimate have been turned inside out. While each verse of the Five Ranks clearly presents the integration of straight and crooked through metaphor, the differences in perspective between each rank are relative and often subtle. Although I have attempted to tease out a logical progression, attempts at schematic representation of the Five Ranks are wrought with frustration. The ranks are in no way mutually exclusive, and within them, the relationships of identity and difference become compounded in such a rich vortex of interpenetration that the scheme disintegrates into itself and falls apart. This is precisely the point. The terms of “straight” and “crooked” and the multiple ways of viewing their relationship are valuable heuristically but cannot ultimately define the character of ineffable reality. This is not to say that we return to silence and view the verses and ranks as merely derivative expressions to be discarded. Such a viewpoint would violate the understanding of “straight” and “crooked” developed within the scheme. On the contrary, the world which cannot be logically or discursively confined is exemplified in the language of the verses themselves— metaphorically speaking, each embodies silence within language.

Thus, as an analogy for the relationship between meditation and literary composition, the Five Ranks do not signal a simplistic linear movement from silence to words, nor do the two poles of practice represent separate modes of engagement that move in completely opposite directions, as suggested in the analogy I first made above concerning the first two ranks. Since both meditation and literature can equally actualize the integration of the straight and crooked, they represent two aspects of a single process of religious activity. The Five Ranks scheme and verses are the perfect illustration of the interconnection of meditation and literature and their mutual value in Chan practice. In the context of Chan practice, the Five Ranks each represent an insight cultivated within meditation. In fact, the Rinzai (Ch. Linji) master Hakuin 白隠 (1686-1768) incorporated the Five Ranks into his revitalized kōan (Ch. gong’an) curriculum. Not only does he use the Five Ranks to classify all of the kōan investigated by the monks in meditation, he discusses each rank in terms of progressive meditative attainments.85 At the same time, the numerous examples of Five Ranks verses composed by various Chan masters demonstrate how poetic language can effectively display the logic-defying standpoints of each rank. The Five Ranks are neither the sole property of meditation nor literature; both are essential to Chan practice, and like the “straight” and “crooked,” neither is subordinate to the other.

V. Linji Doctrine: Poetry without Self or Other

Although Caodong doctrine occupies a preeminent place in Hongzhi’s Jisong (I), his writings are not limited to Caodong concepts and schemes. Hongzhi’s verses on the Five Ranks and Five Princes are followed by verses on two sets of doctrinal formulations attributed to the founder of the Linji-school, Linji Yixuan: the Four Relationships between Guest and Host (Si binzhu 四賓 主) and the Four Examinations (Si liaojian 四料簡).86 Both of these schemes are found within Linji’s yulu and deal with the relationship between subject and object, designated respectively as host (zhu 主) and guest (bin 賓), and person (ren 人) and scene (jing 境). Hongzhi’s verses on Linji’s doctrinal schemes further indicate how the silence that permeates his writings can apply to other Chan contexts and terms, especially the crucial relationship between self and other at the heart of Buddhist practice. I will not provide a close reading of each of these verses but will outline their salient conceptual and poetic characteristics and offer a close reading of two poems which are instructive in terms of poetics and the Chan understanding of language. Furthermore, I will demonstrate how these schemes correspond to the Five Ranks, and altogether represent the broader context of Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist thought and a common philosophy of language. In the Linji lu 臨濟錄 (The Record of Linji), Linji’s statements that later become labeled as the Four Relationships between Guest and Host (Si binzhu 四賓主) concern the various modes of interaction between disciple and master. The sermon actually uses the term ke 客 as guest, rather than bin 賓, and describes the four relationships in terms of guest and host “examining” or “seeing” (kan 看) one another. For example, “the guest examines the host” (ke kan zhu 客看主), refers to the disciple examining the master, or seeing through the master’s enlightened antics.87

Elsewhere, Linji often uses the terms guest and host (bin zhu 賓主) to refer to subject and object, and for Linji, the matter of self and other is at the crux of Chan realization and the masterdisciple relationship. Linji’s discussion of the Four Relationships between Guest and Host is as cryptic and iconoclastic in depicting the master-disciple relationship as the rest of his sayings, but it is not poetry. Metaphorical responses and complete verses on the meaning of each relationship were later supplied by other masters, however,88 and Caodong masters took the scheme in a different symbolic direction in accord with the Five Ranks, beginning with a series of verses by Touzi Yiqing.89 The Rentian yanmu 人天眼目 (1188), a compilation of the principal teachings of the Five Schools of Chan, compares the Four Relationships between Guest and Host to the Five Ranks and states within a description of the Caodong school that: “The Four Relationships between Guest and Host [in the Caodong lineage] are not the same as in the Linji [lineage].”90 In Hongzhi’s verses, the scheme represents sequential and hierarchical stages of progress within Chan practice.91 They consist of:

    1. Guest within Guest (bin zhong bin 賓中賓)
    2. Host within Guest (bin zhong zhu 賓中主)
    3. Guest within Host (zhu zhong bin 主中賓)
    4. Host within Host (zhu zhong zhu 主中主)

The first stage “Guest within Guest” 賓中賓 alludes to the ordinary, deluded view of the world where self and other are seen as distinct and independent. In other words, one behaves like an object among objects. Hongzhi portrays this stage as the life of suffering, the path of poverty and worry, where one constantly knits one’s brows (jie meitou 結眉頭) over the affairs of the world. Realizing this is a mistaken path, one proceeds to the next stage, “Host within Guest” 賓中主 where one perceives that the self is also found within the objects of the phenomenal world. In this stage, one is no longer attached (bulian 不戀) to the selfish desire for profit (li 利) and obtains a first glimpse of the original home (jia 家) of buddha-nature. In the third stage, “Guest within Host” 主中賓, the self is seen to comprise the entire objective world and its distinctions. As common within Chan verses, Hongzhi uses the metaphor of the imperial to depict this realm, where finally the six senses—the six imperial avenues (liujie 六街)—are purified and illuminated, and the pure subject comes forth from the ultimate to transform the conventional world—like a general on a golden horse leaving the imperial palace and pacifying the land. In doing so, the dualistic nature of the objective world is not disturbed in creating a unified realm: The general “does not harm the landscape [or, customs] in bringing about great peace” 不傷風物 致昇平. The final stage is the “Host within Host” 主中主, where the mutual dependence of subject and object comprises the true self. This stage is presented in the logic of “neither/nor” that eradicates all distinctions between self and other:

    Before the golden wheel even moves, ten thousand virtues are perfected. 不動金輪萬德全
    The palace moss takes in the moonlight, without divisions of grade or rank. 宸苔含月未排班
    Above all, speaking the taboo name is prohibited throughout the domain.當頭諱字寰中禁
    Who dares to even vaguely offend the sagely countenance?92 誰敢依俙犯聖顏

At this stage, one perceives that all things are originally, naturally, and effortlessly empty and illuminated without division. The correspondence between the Four Relationships between Guest and Host and the Five Ranks is particularly apparent in this verse, where images of the ultimate and conventional are intertwined: The myriad virtues (wande 萬德) are perfected under the sun—the golden wheel (jinlun 金輪) that does not move (budong 不動)—and the pure moonlight shines over the common moss (tai 苔) of the imperial palace. Linji’s entire scheme could be read by replacing the terms of host and guest with the language of straight and crooked:93

    1. The crooked within the crooked
    2. The straight within the crooked
    3. The crooked within the straight
    4. The straight within the straight

While the Five Ranks does not include a rank on ordinary delusive thinking, the rank of “Arriving amidst Both” 兼中至 does reaffirm the world of duality, and the other relationships in Linji’s system clearly parallel the first three ranks. In Hongzhi’s series, host and guest do not merely represent subject and object, but the absolute versus the relative, or the ultimate self versus the conventional self. The verse above, however, states that such concepts of ultimate and conventional, subject and object, should not be spoken, as they corrupt the true face of reality: “Above all, speaking the taboo name is prohibited throughout the domain.” The notion of the taboo name is, of course, the name of the current Emperor which is taboo to use during his reign and dynasty and symbolizes that the ultimate should not be talked about, as it is not a reified entity that can be divided from the conventional. This neither/nor standpoint that excludes talk of the ultimate or of enlightenment is most often privileged as epitomizing the Chan ideal. In its final lines, Dongshan’s “Baojing sanmei ge,” for example, evokes Linji’s concept of the “host within the host” 主中主 as the ultimate practice, in which one expels any trace of enlightenment or attainment and acts like a fool—someone who is no longer able to properly discriminate between things.

The metaphorical relationships within the symbolic language of Hongzhi’s Four Relationships between Guest and Host series are more straightforward than in his Five Ranks verses. Instead of the inconceivable qualities of mythical creatures or the paradoxical play of the inanimate, Hongzhi works within simpler analogies of the dusty marketplace and imperial palace, conveniently associating the Emperor and the court with the absolute. In a similar manner, Hongzhi focuses on natural imagery to express his insights into Linji’s Four Examinations (Si liaojian 四料簡), where each position is symbolized by the activities of the cultivated literatus recluse who, though he drinks wine, appreciates bird songs and spring flowers, and enjoys the music of bamboo flutes, is not stained by worldly desire. Unlike the Four Relationships of Guest and Host, Linji poetically expresses each standpoint of the Four Examinations through imagery and metaphor, as did Dongshan in his Five Ranks verses.95 While Linji’s responses are limited to one couplet each, Hongzhi’s verses, and Touzi Yiqing’s before him, are written in heptasyllabic quatrains (jueju 絕句) that demonstrate their own ability to present poetic and authoritative responses on Linji doctrines, making the inheritance of the Linji school their own.96 In contrast, major Linji figures of this time like Dahui and Yuanwu Keqin 圓悟克勤 (1063-1135) do not have doctrinal verses within their jisong collections in their yulu.

The Four Examinations also deal with the relationship between subject and object but in a manner in which hierarchy of attainment is deemphasized. They consist of the following categories:

    1. Snatching away the person, but not the scene (duo ren bu duo jing 奪人不奪境)
    2. Snatching away the scene, but not the person (duo jing bu duo ren 奪境不奪人)
    3. Both person and scene snatched away (ren jing liang ju duo 人境兩俱奪)
    4. Neither person nor scene snatched away (ren jing ju bu duo 人境俱不奪)

Once again, there are obvious parallels with the Five Ranks and Linji’s Four Relationships of Guest and Host in the way that these relationships are configured.98 Moreover, the Four Examinations most conspicuously indicate the underlying presence of Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy as they mimic the logical structure of Nāgârjuna’s tetralemma, the four logical propositions that are possible to assert about the relationship between any two objects:99

    1. A and not B
    2. B and not A
    3. Both A and B
    4. Neither A nor B.

Although the Five Ranks are more complex and intricate than Nāgârjuna’s tetralemma, they can be parsed in a similar pattern, as follows, where the final rank indicates the non-exclusiveness of ranks three and four:

    1. Straight (A)
    2. Crooked (B)
    3. Neither straight (A) nor crooked (B)
    4. Both straight (A) and crooked (B)
    5. “Neither/nor” and “both/and” straight (A) and crooked (B).

As in Nāgârjuna’s thought, all of these views can function as a conventional truth about ordinary experience but no logical proposition can be upheld as absolute, since as he demonstrates, each will lead to unwanted conclusions and self-contradictions.100 Similarly, in Linji’s Four Examinations, each perspective should be brought into consideration, but none should be deemed as the ultimate perspective of reality. In spite of this, there is often preference given to the perspective where oppositional terms are forgotten and subject and object disappear as the most profound insight and most fertile grounds for Buddhist activity, as seen in Hongzhi’s “Host within Host” 主中主 verse above. Because of the similar logical structure of Dongshan’s and Linji’s schemes, I will restrict my analysis to the last stage of Linji’s Four Examinations, as it is the most significant in terms of Chan doctrine and language, in presenting a standpoint where the distinction between subject and object is preserved, rather than eliminated. The title of the last discernment, “ Neither Person Nor Object Snatched Away” 人境俱不 奪, itself illustrates the blurring of logical statements through its negation of the category of both (ju 俱). Literally, the title translates awkwardly as “Person and Scene Both Not Snatched Away,” but it reads more fluidly in the language of “neither/nor.” This ambiguity in translation is a good indicator of how the logic of “both/and” and “neither/nor” are not mutually exclusive but rather entail the existence of the other. Despite the translation of the title, the purpose of the last discernment is to express the perspective of both/and—both subject and object mixing freely. Hongzhi offers the following poetic description:

    Neither Person Nor Object Snatched Away 人境俱不奪
    When flowers are in full bloom, I join the singing voices 十分花事屬歌喉
    And enter the fragrant dust, laughing and playing at ease. 笑入芳塵爛漫游
    In the great peace of the Imperial Way, nothing is taboo: 皇道太平無忌諱
    Whichever way, where am I not charming? 101 縱橫何處不風流

As common to Chinese verse, an explicit signifier for the self, or “I”, is not used, and the first line almost sounds as if all the myriad things in the world suddenly bloom and break out into song. But there is obviously a person present here who freely and blissfully joins in the dusty world of things. As Hongzhi does elsewhere, he evokes Zhuangzi’s notion of free roaming or “play” (you 游)—in this case, freedom found within the realm of delusion. Beyond the commonplace “returning to the marketplace” trope, Hongzhi adopts the persona of a dandy entering the sensual world of color and uses the language of erotic song lyrics (ci 詞), popular among Song literati, where the flowers (huashi 花事) signify singing girls or courtesans who offer musical entertainment. The persona and language of the poem are truly unconventional for a monk, who is supposed to transcend the vulgar and mundane; yet, Hongzhi claims that fundamentally, no actions can be excluded from the ultimate: nothing is taboo in the great peace of the Imperial way.

The final couplet is particularly evocative in terms of the Chan understanding of language. As seen above in Hongzhi’s “Host within Host” 主中主 verse, the taboo name of the Emperor most often symbolizes that the ultimate should not be talked about. This is a clue about the function of poetry. Since the ultimate only appears within the conventional, one should avoid speaking about it as a discrete object and, instead, convey the ultimate indirectly—using conventional images as metaphorical representations. This is the poetic paradigm of talking about it without talking about it, as we have seen in numerous examples of Hongzhi’s metaphors for the absolute and relative and their mutual dependence. But in this verse, Hongzhi expresses a different perspective: when one truly realizes the ultimate—when the rule of the Emperor attains great peace—there is really nothing that needs to be excluded from speech or behavior; the ultimate exists within the full range of conventional language. On the one hand, this standpoint implies the dharma may be displayed within an endless array of metaphorical possibilities. As in this series, not only is the life of the literatus envisioned in terms of the straight and crooked, even a love lyric by a dandy manifests the ultimate principle. On the other hand, as similarly indicated in Hongzhi’s “Arriving amidst Both” 兼中至 verse, the Chan master does not need to shy away from dualistic technical terms—they too have their place and function. Buddhist terminology frequently appears in Chan yulu, in dialogues and verse, and even the straight and crooked function as poetic terms. As seen in the final line above, Hongzhi often uses the phrase “whichever way” (zongheng 縱橫) to allude to the unbridled freedom of Chan realization. Conveniently, the term is itself a pair of opposites, literally meaning “vertical” and “horizontal,” which also refer to the crisscrossing motions of weaving, the “warp” and “weft.” In the “Mozhao ming” (l. 21-24), Hongzhi uses the metaphor of the jade loom: the loom of non-duality that, instead of dispensing with discriminations, weaves opposites, like the straight and crooked, together:

    Seeing into transcendence and subtlety, 徹見離微
    [like] the gold shuttle on the jade loom: 金梭玉機
    Straight and crooked wound round each other, 正偏宛轉
    illumination and darkness, mutually dependent.102 明暗因依

VI. Conclusion: Caodong Lineage, Doctrine, and Poetic Language

In this chapter, I have demonstrated how Hongzhi followed precedents within the Chan tradition to use poetry and metaphor to convey the doctrine and practice particular to his Caodong lineage. He drew on the tradition of inscriptions written on meditation and mind to strongly assert the singular perfection of the Caodong practice of silent illumination; he employed the Caodong metaphors of the withered tree, stone man, wooden maiden, and others to depict the vivid dynamism emerging out of contemplative stillness; and he offered his own imagistic interpretations of the Caodong Five Ranks doctrine, which I argue provides a model where silent meditation and literary composition form two mutually valuable aspects of a single mode of Chan practice. Within these verses, both Hongzhi’s poetics and his views on doctrine and practice are deeply entwined with his sectarian commitments.

At the same time, I have provided numerous examples which demonstrate that key aspects of Caodong identity, such as the Five Ranks and prominent Caodong metaphors, were not exclusive to the Caodong school and may have originated outside of it. Moreover, as typically seen within the writings of Chan history, the beginnings of the Caodong lineage were often the product of later revision, as with Dongshan’s “Baojing sanmei ge,” which retrospectively became the first expression of the Five Ranks and the source of the wooden man and stone maiden imagery.103 There are numerous instances of Chan monks from the Linji school and other affiliations engaging in Caodong doctrine and metaphor, and, as seen in Hongzhi’s engagement with Linji’s conceptual formulations, Chan monks worked within a shared context of poetic forms, imagery, technical terms and philosophical conceptions that were never limited to a single school. In that vein, I have also shown how Chan doctrinal expressions emerged from the tradition of Indian Mahāyāna thought and Chinese Buddhist philosophy. Taking this trajectory even further, Hongzhi’s Chan philosophy and poetic language is clearly indebted to terminology, allusions, and ideas drawn from Daoist texts, the Confucian classics, the Chinese poetic tradition, and other sources—the full extent of which is impossible to draw out here due to its magnitude and complexity.

Despite the evidence of key Caodong ideas within the broader Chan tradition and the question of origins, the Caodong school was strongly associated with a particular set of concepts and metaphors at least by the end of the eleventh century, and, while not yet assuming the more developed form they took later, these associations can be seen quite early on within Chan literature. When monks of other lineages comment on the Five Ranks, for example, there is always an explicit awareness of its association with the Caodong lineage. The Five Ranks is easier to set apart as a Caodong formulation than the metaphorical repertoire of the withered tree, stone man, jade woman, etc., whose images could readily be employed by any Chan monk, and certainly they were. What is striking, however, is how often these types of metaphors are found within a Caodong context or, before the twelfth century, the broader Shitou lineage from which they derive. Within the Jingde chuandenglu (1004), references to the stone and wooden men, maidens, oxen, and horses, are most frequent among Shitou lineage monks, including disciples of Dongshan. Within the verses collected in juan 29 and 30, these metaphors are solely limited to monks in the Shitou tradition. Of particular note is the series of verses entitled “Discourse on the Ten Mysteries” (Shixuan tan 十玄談) by Tong’an Changcha 同安常察 (n.d.), a second generation heir of Shishuang Qingzhu. These ten verses address formal topics such as “The Patriarch’s Intent” (Zuyi 祖意) and “The Mind Seal” (Xinyin 心印), pertaining to the meaning of Buddhist practice and the nature of mind, and make a number of references to the images of inanimate figures, including what is probably the most well-known wooden man and stone maiden couplet and a superb illustration of the Chan interest in yin/yang complementarity: “The wooden man puts on his boots and departs at midnight. / The stone maiden puts on her cap and returns at dawn” 木人夜半穿靴去 / 石女天明戴帽歸. 104 I have already discussed the earliest statement concerning the withered tree by Guishan monk Xiangyan Zhixian and the comments by Shishuang Qingzhu and Caoshan Benji, within the Jingde chuandenglu. The image is used in a different sense in Tong’an Changcha’s verse “One Color” (Yi se 一色) but with a similar metaphorical resonance, implying the relationship between the one and many that is further elucidated by the images of interfused white objects in the same manner as the “Baojing sanmei ge”:

    In front of the withered tree grotto, the divergent paths are many; 枯木巖前差路多
    Travelers who arrive there have completely wasted their time. 行人到此盡蹉跎
    The egret and simurgh standing in the snow are not the same color; 鷺鸞立雪非同色
    The moonlight and reed flowers do not resemble each other….105 明月蘆華不似他…

More telling than these scattered references to the records of Caodong and Shitou lineage monks is the evidence for how the Caodong lineage was imagined within Chan writings. Not only were Chan lamp records (denglu) arranged by lineage, distinguishing one branch from another, there were concerted attempts to delineate the characteristic styles of the respective schools, including poetic depictions of the five main schools. In Linji master Jinshan Tanying’s 金山曇頴 (989-1060) poetic series “Five Schools of the [Chan] Tradition” (Zongmen wupai 宗 門五派) preserved within the early twelfth century Xudenglu 續燈錄 (1103),106 his description of the Caodong lineage condenses the recurring metaphors and themes that I have been discussing in a single verse, with reference to the straight and crooked, bird paths, the stone maiden, and the withered tree:

    The crooked and straight mutually interwoven, 偏正互縱橫
    completely avoiding one-sidedness.107 迢然忌十成
    [Although] the dragon gates must be penetrated, 龍門須要透
    the bird paths cannot be travelled. 鳥道不堪行
    The stone maiden weaves in the frost; 石女霜中織
    the clay ox plows within the fire. 泥牛火裏耕
    If both sides are completely shed off, 兩頭如脫得
    a single branch will flourish on the withered tree. 枯木一枝榮

As previously mentioned, the image of the withered tree and associated metaphors became even more strongly associated with the Caodong school due to Dahui’s criticism of these terms beginning around 1134, which likely reflects the development of increased sectarian rivalry during the transition into the Southern Song when Chan abbots vied for local support among literati officials.108 The conceived differences between schools should not be exaggerated—the point of their practices remained largely if not wholly the same. For instance, despite Dahui’s criticisms of the Caodong objective to become like a withered tree, within one of his general sermons (pushuo 普說) Dahui offers very similar instructions: “The main thing is to shut off all your sense-organs and make your consciousness like a block of wood (mutou 木頭).”109 At the same time, even while different conceptions of practice could be insubstantial and superficial, their particularities cannot be ignored either in creating an image of a certain style of doctrine and practice. Whether or not they had significant bearing on actual praxis is difficult to determine and is beyond the scope of this study. But we can see that in the case of Dahui competing models of practice had an impact on his pedagogical approach, as he developed the kanhua 看話 meditation method, which changed the direction of Linji and Japanese Rinzai gongan practice in a manner that is difficult to reduce to mere rhetoric.110 The formulation of a distinct Caodong identity is primarily significant in the context of patronage, where both poetry and the practice of silent illumination play an essential role. As Morten Schlütter has argued, since literati began to control the appointment of Chan abbots, Chan masters needed to demonstrate their skill in the poetic arts in order to obtain support from officials and secure position within the state regulated monastic system.111 Along with Caodong’s literary proclivities, its meditative style can also be seen as part of the environment of patronage: the practice of silent sitting was attractive to literati for its apparent simplicity and accessibility. One did not need to progress through a curriculum of gong’an or reside as a monk in the monastery.112 Silent meditation offered a counterpart to the officials’ bureaucratic and literary responsibilities on the one hand, and on the other, suggested that full realization of the Caodong path resulted in the mastery of language and the blossoming of silence in letters, the literati’s domain of expertise.

As with Chan denglu and yulu as a whole, Hongzhi’s first jisong collection is imbued with a strong consciousness of lineage that equally shapes his poetic language as much as his doctrinal perspectives. In sum, Hongzhi employed the meditative concepts, doctrinal formulations, and poetic activities of his predecessors to depict a particular image of the Caodong school—one which coupled the practice of silent meditation with the literary practice of poetic composition, and ultimately, envisioned these two opposing fields of engagement as a single, complementary process that fully integrated the absolute and relative. These two sides of practice were not unique to the Caodong school, but common to the Chan tradition as a whole. After all, during the Song, the majority of yulu collections were attributed to masters of the dominant Linji school and were similarly comprised of various prose and poetic genres inspired by meditative practice and the maxim that Chan is “not dependent on words and letters” (buli wenzi 不立文字). However, Caodong masters of the eleventh and twelfth centuries drew on paradigms within the Shitou tradition in placing greater stress on a meditative practice whose expressed goal was complete stillness and silence, while at the same time symbolizing the attainment of silence in literature through a series of metaphors. Furthermore, by composing series of doctrinal verses on systematic formulations of Chan practice, Hongzhi and his Caodong predecessors stressed the investigation into, and poetic expression of, Chan doctrinal positions. As did Touzi Yiqing before him, Hongzhi demonstrated his authority on doctrines derived from both the Dongshan and Linji school—in effect, proving the efficacy of his distinctive meditative style and his ability to both penetrate Linji doctrine and go beyond it.

Songgu and the Emergence of Chan as a Literary Practice: The Poetry of Yulu Sermons and Gong’an (J. Kōan) Collections


I. Introduction

Within the Song edition of Hongzhi’s yulu, his selection of doctrinal poems, Jisong (I), appended to the end of his earliest yulu compilation (dated 1131), is followed by a collection of onehundred songgu 頌古. According to the dating of the preface, this collection had already circulated independently in 1129 and had been originally compiled as Sizhou Puzhao Jue heshang songgu 泗州普照覺和尚頌古 (Songgu of Monk Jue of Puzhao temple in Sizhou).

Songgu comprise one of the most distinctive literary genres within Chan literature and one of primary importance within Chan practice. The term songgu literally means “gāthā on the ancients,” or even “in praise of the ancients” according to the traditional use of song as eulogy in Chinese literature and its associated meanings with praise. Although they often contain elements of praise, songgu are not praise poems per se but versified responses to Chan dialogues, popularly known by the Japanese term kōan (Ch. gong’an 公案, literally “public cases”).2 These dialogues are primarily selected from Chan denglu and yulu as embodying the quintessential expression of Buddhist wisdom. As such, Hongzhi’s songgu represent one hundred authoritative responses to the fundamental teachings of Chan. These verses have been esteemed within the Chan tradition, especially in the Caodong/Sōtō (J.) lineage, and their publication likely contributed to the high regard he received early in his career. Even before encountering Hongzhi’s songgu, however, his yulu already presents numerous verses and metaphorical couplets in response to gong’an that are incorporated within the master’s formal and informal sermons (shangtang 上堂 and xiaocan 小參).3 These verses are similar in form to songgu, perform identical functions, and overall represent a continuity in literary practice. His sermons take the practice a step further, however, by advancing his own dialogues (or monologues—as is quite often the case!) as models of insight and cases of study. Not only does Hongzhi frequently cap his dharma talks with a verse or couplet, a single verse will regularly comprise the entirety of his sermon, simply offered by itself to the assembly for contemplation, or at times, punctuated with the single word directive: “Investigate” (can 參). Altogether, his sermons address over one hundred and eighty gong’an and contain nearly three hundred verses. When his metaphorical couplets are added to the picture, it is rare that Hongzhi’s sermons are without poetic content.

In this chapter, I will first demonstrate how songgu occupy a singular place within Song Chan literature and then argue how their composition signifies an essential component of praxis within both the training of the adept Chan monk and the pedagogical role of the Chan abbot. I next examine the metaphorical character of Chan dialogues as represented within Hongzhi’s sermons and the gong’an cases he selects, as it is here where the significance of poetry within Chan discourse and instruction is most clearly evident. Songgu are written in response to, and as part of, both of these closely intertwined forms of Chan dialogue, and they must be understood in relation to their dialogical framework and how it operates. Drawing on ideas proposed within Victor Sōgen Hori’s analysis of kōan language and practice, I argue that the metaphorical and symbolic nature of Chan dialogues explains a great deal of their apparently illogical and nonsensical character and that their use of allusion can be seen to operate within a paradigm of wordless communication in which metaphor functions to indirectly refer to the firsthand realization of emptiness. According to the model of instruction present in Hongzhi’s yulu, his disciples are called upon to both master Chan’s metaphorical language and comprehend the insight on which it is based.

Finally, I provide a close reading of two cases and verses from Hongzhi’s songgu collection in order to dissect their strategies for fusing language and silence together within the context of literary study. At the same time that the gong’an cases Hongzhi selects frequently uphold silence as the ultimate expression of the dharma in contradistinction to the Buddhist sūtras, his songgu contain the greatest literary density among all his verses, encompassing concepts and literary allusions from a wide range of sources, including Chan lore, Buddhist sūtras, and classical Chinese literature. At its heart, the message of the songgu is not to transcend language and escape from the world but engage with it from the standpoint of non-duality, obtaining one’s freedom through the mastery of its language and literature. True to this philosophical standpoint of integrating wordless Chan insight with literary study, songgu composition thus represents both a curriculum of literary-religious training for the Chan adept and the literary materialization of the master’s religious maturation as continually articulated within his sermons.

II. The Significance of Songgu in Chan Literature

The earliest collection of songgu is found in the yulu of Linji master Fenyang Shanzhao (947- 1024), which is also the earliest yulu from a Song dynasty master.4 As songgu consciously reflect on the dialogues of past Chan masters—or the “ancients” (gu 古) as the name of the genre indicates—an established body of Chan literature was necessary for the literary practice to arise. The publication of the immensely influential transmission record, the Jingde chuandenglu, officially printed in 1101, the same year as Fenyang Shanzhao’s yulu, is clearly the most significant publication for propelling the development of songgu composition and gong’an selection. Although in a few cases songgu written by Song masters are appended to the yulu of the Tang master whose dialogues they pertain to, there are no examples of this practice evident from the Tang, and Fenyang Shanzhao must have been one of its innovators. Albeit this early association with a prominent Linji master and the fact that gong’an practice is typically equated with the Linji school and Japanese Rinzai kōan training, songgu composition was popularized by Yunmen monk Xuedou Chongxian (980-1052), who created a collection of one hundred songgu that included interlinear commentaries on fifteen of the gong’an cases. The preface to Hongzhi’s songgu collection itself makes specific reference to Xuedou as the master of the verse form and the “one hundred years” that has passed since he completed his work. Furthermore, Xuedou’s songgu, couplets, and prose comments on gong’an are quoted numerous times within Hongzhi’s yulu. The significance of Xuedou and his songgu collection has been overshadowed, however, by its appropriation within the Linji tradition, after Yuanwu Keqin added his own commentaries to both the cases and verses of Xuedou’s songgu collection to form the famous Biyan lu 碧巖錄 (Blue cliff record; J. Hekigan-roku). Thus, on the one hand, Yuanwu Keqin, or Foguo Yuanwu 佛果圜悟 as he is also known, is typically credited as the author of this influential collection, officially titled Foguo Yuanwu chanshi biyan lu 佛果 圜悟禪師碧巖錄. 6 Xuedou’s original songgu collection, on the other hand, is neither found as an independent text within extant editions of the Buddhist canon nor contained within the modern edition of his yulu.

Even though Xuedou is often recognized for his poetic contribution, the importance of his work is often overlooked due to the fact that songgu have been treated as secondary appendages to the “kōan collection” in twentieth-century scholarship, rather than the literary centerpiece, as I will explain below.

After Xuedou, most Song yulu contain a distinct selection of songgu verses. The fact that songgu would be embedded within a master’s sermons, or sometimes collected under the general heading of jisong rather than an individual sub-heading, makes an accurate assessment of the scope of songgu composition difficult. Nevertheless, it is common to find a clearly identified selection of songgu within a master’s yulu. While some yulu contain only a small selection of five to ten verses, most collections will have at least twenty songgu, with the largest collections containing around one hundred verses. There are nine Song masters who produced collections of one hundred songgu or more, which include in chronological order: Fenyang Shanzhao (947- 1024), Xuedou Chongxian (980-1052), Baiyun Shouduan 白雲守端 (1025-1072), Touzi Yiqing (1032-1083), Danxia Zichun (1064-1117), Dahui Zonggao (1089-1163), Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157), Donglin Daoyan 東林道顏 (1094-1164), and Xutang Zhiyu 虛堂智愚 (1185-1269). As with Xuedou’s verses, the songgu collections of Caodong masters Touzi, Danxia, and Hongzhi circulated independently from their yulu. Other independent songgu collections include thirty-eight verses by Xue’an Congjin (1117-1200) and the forty-eight songgu found in Wumen Huikai’s (1183-1260) famous Wumenguan 無門關 (The Gateless Barrier; J. Mumonkan).10 Dahui Zonggao’s one-hundred and fourteen verses, the largest Song collection, were also collected alongside the songgu of his disciple Donglin Daoyan as found in the Guzunsu yulu 古 尊宿語錄.

Other independent songgu collections were lost, as were those by two laymen, including one by Zhang Shangying 張商英 (1043-1122), evidence of the participation of certain literati in songgu composition. The preeminence of songgu in Chan literature during the Song is further attested to by the publication of the Chanzong songgu lianzhu ji 禪宗頌古聯珠集 (1175), which compiled thousands of songgu verses written by over one hundred individual Song masters. The Chanzong songgu lianzhu ji was expanded in the Yuan to become the Chanzong songgu lianzhu tongji 禪 宗頌古聯珠通集 (1318), which arranged the masters’ songgu by gong’an case, of which there are several hundred.13 The Chanzong songgu lianzhu tongji contains twenty of Hongzhi’s own songgu and includes the work of nuns, such as the forty-three verses by Dahui’s prominent dharma heir Miaozong 妙總 (1095-1170). 14 In addition, the last of the major Song denglu, Jiatai pudenglu 嘉泰普燈錄 (compiled 1202), contains two juan of songgu (27-28) selected from sixty nine monks, including Hongzhi.

The popularity of songgu composition also spread outside of China, where it was adopted in Japan by monks like Dōgen, whose yulu includes one hundred and two songgu verses.16 Although Korean Son monks wrote verse in classical Chinese in the manner of their Chan counterparts, I have not yet seen evidence that they composed songgu. Their own gong’an collections, however, feature selections of songgu by prominent Chan masters, including Xuedou, Hongzhi, Danxia Zichun, Touzi Yiqing, Dahui Zonggao, Yuanwu Keqin, and many others. As can be seen from the details above, songgu are critically important and prevalent within Song dynasty Chan literature. Yet, they have received very little scholarly attention, and their significance has been largely obscured due to the nature of modern kōan scholarship, which has primarily focused on the language and use of the kōan within the Japanese Rinzai establishment and its history. The singular attention to the kōan case has distorted our understanding of the beginnings of kōan practice and its literature in numerous ways: First and foremost, one of the most obvious and surprising facts is that in a strict and technical sense, there are no Song dynasty “kōan collections.” What we have instead are songgu collections, in addition to other works—generally of lesser stature—that are defined by the type of commentary they provide.19 I know of no Song text that is defined as a gong’an collection or that appears as merely a collection of gong’an cases.20 All of the famous Song “kōan collections” are, at their core, songgu collections, and, with the exception of the Wumenguan (which I explain below), all of them were initially entitled songgu collections before further commentary was added. This is not just to quibble over names but is a matter significant to how we understand the practice and function of gong’an in the Song. The gong’an cases themselves and the various selections by different masters are by all means crucially important, and the proliferation of songgu collections indeed underlines this fact. But whether published independently or within Chan yulu and denglu, the Chan master’s songgu verse is the literary focal point of the collection, not the gong’an case. Part of the reason the master’s songgu is highlighted is because the gong’an case is a literary selection that is most often already familiar to Chan monks and adept laypersons. Although gong’an may be altered through transmission, they are rarely original literary creations themselves but belong to the larger scope of Chan literature and constituted part of well-known Chan lore. Familiarity with these cases, as well as the primary significance of the songgu, is attested to by the fact that in the songgu selections of most yulu the gong’an case is merely indicated by an abbreviated title without recounting the entire dialogue. The abbreviation of cases began early on in the history of songgu composition as seen in many examples of the eleventh century collections of Baiyun Shouduan and Touzi Yiqing.21 A practitioner’s familiarity with Chan dialogues and anecdotes would be due in part to the study of texts, but more importantly, the reason that they would be immediately recognizable is because Chan masters constantly raised these cases in their sermons.

The Wumenguan is the only “kōan collection” that stands out as not being designated as a songgu collection. In fact, unusual for the conventions of the time, it does not use the term songgu at all, and the preface describes its intent to present the “gong’an of the ancients” (guren gong’an 古人公案) for the purpose of religious realization.23 Perhaps Wumen Huikai was dissatisfied with songgu practice, as indicated in a passage from his yulu. In response to the verses (song 頌) written by various masters on Zhaozhou’s famous gong’an on whether a dog has Buddha-nature or not, Wumen writes: “This old fart also has a gāthā (ji 偈) to raise similar to [those of] various other [masters]. It is not concerned with speaking about reason. If you have faith, you will be able to reach it; if you raise it, it will ripen. On the banks of life and death, you will obtain great liberation:”

    wu wu wu wu wu 無無無無無
    wu wu wu wu wu 無無無無無
    wu wu wu wu wu 無無無無無
    wu wu wu wu wu 無無無無無

One of the poetic idiosyncrasies often seen in Chan verse is the repetition of a single word, such as kong 空 (emptiness) or yi 一 (one), throughout a line of verse. Wumen takes this device to an extreme here by repeating Zhaozhou’s famous answer to the gong’an—wu 無 (no, without, nonbeing)—through the entire poem. It deserves to remain un-translated. Instead of offering a literary response, Wumen’s “verse” is suggestive of the kanhua 看話 (observing the phrase) meditative practice devised by Dahui in which the practitioner focuses on a single word or phrase of the gong’an case. Besides his iconoclastic verse and offhand remarks, Wumen’s yulu contains no songgu, even though there are approximately seventy jisong and encomia (zan). Wumen certainly did not dispense with the esteemed tradition of composing songgu, however, as he does provide a verse to every case after his prose commentary in the Wumenguan. His use of prose commentary follows the model of Xuedou and the Biyan lu, while at the same time, his work signals a simplification of the Biyan lu’s allusive and erudite literary style and its extensive, multi-layered commentary and explanations. In this regard, Wumen’s songgu are known to be terse, simple, and direct. He sticks to the quatrain, as do most songgu collections, but favors four-character, and even extremely brief three-character lines.25 Thus, two centuries after Fenyang Shanzhao’s time, the Wumenguan signifies a shift in literary style and gong’an/songgu practice, which evidently brought it great success. Whether it changed the course and character of songgu composition, however, needs further research.

In contrast to the impression given by earlier scholarship and popular accounts, it is evident that gong’an practice was not strictly a Linji enterprise and that Caodong and Yunmen monks were extremely influential in the creation of songgu collections.27 Although great numbers of Linji masters certainly wrote and collected songgu, surprisingly their verses never seem to have received the same critical attention as those by Yunmen master Xuedou and the preeminent Caodong masters, Touzi Yiqing, Danxia Zichun, and Hongzhi.28 Following Yuanwu Keqin’s model of “commenting on and praising” (pingchang 評唱) Xuedou’s songgu in the Biyan lu, the eminent Jin dynasty master, Wansong Xingxiu 萬松行秀 (1166-1246), did the same with Hongzhi’s songgu to form the Congrong lu 從容錄. 30 Wansong’s disciple, Conglun 從倫 (1223-1281, or Linquan 林泉), in turn, produced the Konggu ji 空谷集 and Xutang ji 虛堂 集 in his appraisal of Touzi Yiqing’s and Danxia Zichun’s songgu collections respectively.

No Linji collections—and no other Song songgu collections—received such treatment, as far as I know. The continual renown for the collection of Xuedou and the Caodong masters is further evident in the work of Ming dynasty master Tianqi Benrui 天奇本瑞 (d. 1508), who, although a Linji monk himself, published interlinear commentary on the songgu of Xuedou and Hongzhi in two separate volumes.32 In the preface to his work on Xuedou, it directly states at the beginning: “There are four masters of songgu in the Chan tradition: Tiantong [i.e., Hongzhi], Xuedou, Touzi, Danxia, and that’s it—the true echoes [fig., successors] of Fenyang.”33

III. The Significance of Songgu Composition as Chan Practice

One could object that although the masters’ songgu were highlighted within Chan literature, perhaps the gong’an cases and selections were more important within day-to-day monastic practice. There is some truth to this, and it provides part of the explanation for the fact that the gong’an cases were already being abbreviated quite early on in the collection of songgu. However, the view that the gong’an case is of primary importance within Chan practice is also one inherited from modern scholarship and popular writings, which have understood gong’an practice according to contemporary Japanese Rinzai Zen and its history. The father of Rinzai Zen practice is Dahui, and his kanhua method, mentioned above, in which the practitioner focuses on the huatou 話頭 (a keyword or “critical phrase” of the gong’an case) in order to attain a sudden breakthrough realization, is one in which literature and literary study would seem to play no role.34 Yet Dahui was working within a context of gong’an practice that was already wellestablished. Even if focus on the gong’an was important, songgu composition was evidently a crucial and integral element to this process. In the Song, gong’an practice was songgu practice, and vice versa—even for Dahui and his disciples as clearly evident above. Without attention to songgu, the development of gong’an practice cannot be understood. 35 One of the reasons why the literary aspect of gong’an practice has often been ignored is that scholars have most often interpreted the language of the gong’an through an “instrumental” lens in which study of gong’an does not depend on or involve literary training. The gong’an, rather than as something meaningful in itself, is merely a psychological tool that confounds the logical process of the mind in order to break through the individual’s ordinary consciousness and trigger a “pure experience,” free of language and discursive thought. The instrumental view of gong’an language and the notion of “pure experience” have been thoroughly critiqued, and I will not repeat those arguments here.

In his translation and study of capping phrases 著語 (J. jakugo, Ch. zhuoyu), Victor Sōgen Hori has argued that not only does contemporary Rinzai Zen kōan training itself entail significant literary training and composition, but the kōan exercise strongly resembles the paradigm of the Chinese poetry game, with its use of allusions, analogies, humor, and other features common to literary competition.37 Although other scholars have examined gong’an as literature, Hori situates the kōan exercise within the context of literary training.38 In the Rinzai tradition, capping phrases are expressions drawn from Chan and classical Chinese literature that become memorized within Zen practice as they are presented to one’s master as part of the response to the kōan under study. Not only is the language of capping phrases surprisingly identical to the metaphors, allusions, and expressions employed within Song Chan yulu, the literary practices found today within Japanese Rinzai Zen mirror those found within Song Chan literature, as the Rinzai monk is expected to write poems and prose commentary in response to kōan in both Japanese and classical Chinese.

Although parallels between the literary pieces collected in Song literature and the literary training involved in contemporary Rinzai kōan practice are not sufficient in themselves to prove that songgu and related gong’an literary practices represent the emergence of a new mode of religio-literary training, there are certain pieces of evidence that do suggest that songgu composition constituted a major aspect of the formation of Chan monks and even a curriculum of training during the Song. In her articles on the scholarly formation of Dahui, Miriam Levering demonstrates that the master was well-versed in both Confucian and Buddhist doctrine and had important scholarly acquaintances such as the eminent statesman and Buddhist layman Zhang Shangying and the monk-scholar Juefan Huihong 覺範惠洪 (1071-1128).39 Levering reasonably argues that such scholarly competence, including a thorough knowledge of the poetic tradition, would be necessary to fill the function of abbot, and she provides the most concrete evidence I have seen on the literary components of a Chan monk’s formal training during the Song. In his yulu, Dahui quotes one of his former teachers, Zhantang Wenzhun 湛堂文準 (1061-1115), who praised Dahui for his ability to write and speak about Chan at the master’s request, including composing songgu and dialogical commentary (niangu 拈古) on Chan gong’an, but criticized him for not yet making Chan the basis of all his daily activities.

Other evidence that songgu comprised part of a curriculum for training monks is less concrete but nevertheless strongly suggestive. One is the tendency for the larger collections to include roughly one hundred songgu, as if constituting a comprehensive set of cases and verses for study. As I will show in the case of Hongzhi, masters certainly did not limit their commentary and interests to one hundred cases, and the larger songgu collections, while repeating many cases between them, always display significant variety rather than a fixed program of study. Nevertheless, during the Song, a collection of one hundred cases and verses could constitute and/or reflect a core curriculum, as many indeed became in subsequent dynasties. The other indication of songgu composition as literary training is the fact that Hongzhi compiled his songgu collection at the outset of his career as abbot. Although the preface to the publication of his collection is dated to 1129—the year he became abbot at Tiantong—the title indicates that he was abbot of Puzhao temple in Sizhou when the collection was made, the place of his very first abbacy in the year 1127. Thus, Hongzhi’s songgu collection is not the finished product of a mature Chan master but an early compilation that helped launch his career. Most probably it had already been in the works before he became abbot, and certainly he must have been trained to produce these verses as Danxia’s disciple.

The final evidence of the role of songgu as literary training comes from within the poetic and metaphorical nature of the master’s dialogical sermons and the language of gong’an itself, to which the master and his disciples are continually called on to respond. While I am unaware whether other masters collected their songgu in the early stages of their careers, the literary practice of responding to gong’an remained fundamental to the functions of Chan abbots who would have continued to refine their poetic responses throughout their later careers and thus could have published collections at any point. As I will demonstrate in the discussion below, it was vitally necessary that an abbot clearly understood and memorized allusions, expressions, and literary passages central to Chan lore and literature and developed the ability to compose verse and “spontaneously” produce, or at least evoke, imagistic couplets relevant to the topic at hand.41 Song masters and their disciples were not expected to produce new gong’an, but they did need to express their insight into the dialogues of the past masters in poetry as well as short dialogical commentary, at the very least, in order to occupy upper positions within the monastic hierarchy. Although writing other forms of poetry and prose, including parting poems, portrait encomia, and the like, were most probably a part of a monk’s training, songgu precisely hone the ability to respond to the essential teachings of Chan in poetic language.

IV. The Metaphorical Language and Poetry of Yulu Dialogues and Gong’an

Although the fact that gong’an are drawn from Chan denglu and yulu is readily recognized in kōan scholarship, single-minded attention to the language of gong’an may give the impression that gong’an possess distinct linguistic characteristics within the realm of Chan literature. In practice, the selection and use of gong’an cases signifies a unique exercise, but as literature, the language of the gong’an is the language of Chan denglu and yulu. Numerous studies have focused on the linguistic characteristics of gong’an though few have looked at the broader literary context from which they are derived, and next to nothing has been done on Song yulu in Western scholarship. With this in mind, in the following section, I too will examine the linguistic character of the gong’an cases as found in Hongzhi’s songgu collection but will demonstrate their close resemblance to the sermons that make up his “yulu proper.”42 Despite the fact that Song dynasty Chan is traditionally described as a degeneration of the spontaneity and iconoclasm of the Tang Golden Age of Chan that is marked by increased ritualization and intellectualization of the tradition, Hongzhi’s yulu dialogues are strikingly similar in literary style and form to the gong’an dialogues of Tang masters that are embedded within his yulu. His formal and informal sermons alike are terse and dialogical and employ the same kind of vernacular expressions as the gong’an selections of the Tang masters, such as renme 任麼 (in this way), zuomesheng 作麼生 (“how ?”), and huime 會麼 (“do you understand?”).43 Hongzhi does not perform as many gestures or actions, and besides silent pauses and the occasional lifting of incense, he certainly does nothing outrageous. But his dialogues are similarly succinct and elusive to those encountered in gong’an, even if somewhat discursive and explanatory at times. The main difference is that the dialogues of Tang masters are frequently raised (ju 舉) and recounted as the topic of Hongzhi’s sermon itself, after which the master will provide his own response, either as a songgu-type verse, metaphorical couplet, or dialogical remark.

The use of poetry and metaphor in this fashion might appear to be counter to the antiintellectual spirit of the original cases and affirm the literary and derivative nature of Song Chan. The language of the gong’an cases themselves, however, is highly metaphorical, and even occasionally poetic.44 As noted in Hori’s study of capping phrases, although the Chan tradition has its own set of technical terminology, it prefers metaphorical and symbolic language, the decoding of which assists in gaining insight into gong’an and their intellectual aspects.45 When Hongzhi’s gong’an selections are interpreted in light of symbolic language, it becomes obvious that the dialogues center on questions related to the relationship between the ultimate and conventional—or the “straight” (zheng) and “crooked” (pian) according to the technical language of the Five Ranks (see Ch. 2)—and its family of associated ideas, including non-duality and duality, enlightenment and delusion, subject and object, etc. Often, the fact that the monks are inquiring into the nature of the ultimate is explicit, as in the most popular Chan question: “What is Buddha?” At other times, it is quite obvious that symbolic language is being used to refer to the ultimate, especially as understood within the context of the tradition, as in expressions such as the “iron ox” (tieniu 鐵牛) or the “time before the empty kalpa” (kongjie yiqian 空劫以前), or in the standard inquiry: “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” When one begins to understand how the metaphorical language of Chan works, the symbolic nature of many gong’an becomes clear. One can then recognize that a question about “the golden fish that’s passed through the net” (tou wang jinlin 透網金鱗), for example, is another way of asking: what is the ultimate that has truly gone beyond the conventional?

According to Hori’s “realizational” model of Chan language, the answers to these often metaphorical questions into the nature of the ultimate are performative rather than discursive.47 They offer a concrete example of the non-duality of the ultimate and conventional rather than an intellectual explanation. These performances include physical actions, such as shouts, drawing circles in the air, putting sandals on one’s head, or simply remaining silent, but also include verbal responses, many of which employ the metaphors of the original question or introduce other symbolism that is generally recognizable within the Chan repertoire. Although these dialogues rarely qualify as poetry, occasionally a metaphorical couplet is employed, as in this well-known example from the Wumenguan:

    A monk asked Fengxue: “Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?”
    Fengxue observed: “I always remember springtime in southern China.
    The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers (長憶江南三月裏 / 鷓鴣啼處百花香).”

The monk is not only asking about speech and silence but is demanding: what is the truth that is beyond the dualistic categories of ultimate and conventional? To this, Fengxue merely dictates these lines of verse. He is obviously not providing a rational explanation, but neither do these lines offer a recognizable metaphor for Buddhist philosophical concepts. How do they answer the question?

Chan dialogues are well-known for their often shocking performative aspects that seem to transcend ordinary thought and operate beyond the limits of discriminating thinking. Gong’an do not merely present performative answers to inquiries into the fundamental nature of existence, however, but often focus on critiquing performative responses, many of which are deemed incorrect or unsatisfactory, or are at least outdone by another competitor. Underlying these critiques is the standpoint that performance is not sufficient in itself. Not just any performance will do, and the point of Chan is not simply to reject language. The monk must also bring forth a concrete presentation of non-duality in words. In the following case found in Hongzhi’s songgu collection, for example, master Jiashan 夾山 uses both metaphor and dynamic action in his dharmic battle with the monk Luopu 洛浦:

    When Luopu called on Jiashan, without bowing he stood right in front of him.
    Jiashan said, “A chicken roosting in a phoenix nest—it’s not of the same species—go away.”
    Luopu said, I’ve come from afar to find out your way, Teacher; I beg you for a reception.”
    Jiashan said, “Before my eyes there is no you, here there is no me.”
    Luopu then shouted.
    Jiashan said, “Stop, stop, now don’t be crude and careless. The moon in the clouds is the same, valleys and mountains are different. It’s not that you don’t cut off the tongues of everyone on earth, but how can you make a tongueless man speak?”
    Luopu had nothing to say; Jiashan hit him. From this Luopu acquiesced.

Not only are Luopu’s performative gestures (standing presumptuously, shouting) challenged by master Jiashan in this dialogue, so is his silence. Twice Jiashan uses a poetic phrase to berate Luopu’s disregard for language, and when the master finally resorts to direct action and hits Luopu, it is directly due to the monk’s inability to express the dharma in words. Jiashan’s metaphors all point to the fact that the dualities of the world must be appreciated. Recognizing that everything is empty (i.e., cutting off the tongues of everyone on earth) is the starting point, but that realization must be brought back into language: The tongueless man must speak. Of course, clinging to poetic language instead of gesture does not suffice either, and incidentally, a case featuring Luopu as master makes precisely this point. In response to Luopu’s questioning, one of his disciples offers this couplet in response: “The green mountain is always moving its feet; / you don’t hang a lamp in broad daylight (青山常舉足 / 日下不挑燈).” To which Luopu retorts: “What time is this to make such a speech?”50 The irony of this account is that the couplet recited by the disciple alludes to Luopu’s own, which he himself employed to express the inexpressible, as recounted in Wansong’s commentary within the Congrong lu:

    Luopu once instructed the group, “You must directly realize the source outside of the teachings;
    don’t grasp principle within words.” A monk asked, “What is practice of the inconceivable like?”
    Luopu said, “The green mountain is always moving its feet; / the bright sun does not turn its wheel (青山常舉足 / 白日不移輪).”51

Whether physically dynamic, poetic, or verbally expressive, the answer the monk provides must fit the demands of the context. According to the model presented within the gong’an dialogues, the monk must thus cultivate the power to carefully discriminate how to adequately express emptiness in response to a given situation.

In Hongzhi’s own sermons, the monks are not battling to out-perform one another with outrageous gestures, but they are displaying, refining, and perhaps even testing their metaphorical expressions of the dharma. Most frequently, Hongzhi is simply laying forth a poetic model for emulation. Whether raising an old case for discussion or discoursing on the dharma in his own manner, his sermons are often punctuated with a long silence (liangjiu 良久, literally “a long time”) or the question “do you understand?” (hai huime 還會麼). After ceremonially awaiting a disciple’s response that never comes, Hongzhi concludes with his own couplet, or sometimes one borrowed from a previous master. These couplets are most often heptasyllabic, though not exclusively, as seen below. For instance, in the following sermon Hongzhi raises another case featuring a poetic couplet of Luopu and then appends his own remarks:

    Ascending the hall, [Hongzhi] raised [the case]:
    A monk asked Luopu: “Making offerings to the innumerable buddhas is not as good as making offerings to a single practitioner of no-mind.
    I wonder: what is the fault of the innumerable buddhas? What virtue has the practitioner of no mind?”
    Luopu said: “A single expanse of white clouds lies across the valley mouth (一片白雲橫谷口);
    so many returning birds have completely lost their nests (幾多歸鳥盡迷巢).”

The master [Hongzhi] said: “Virtuous disciples! Distinguish the white within the circle and observe the light beyond measure. Without making contact with the activity of dust, subtly discriminate true illumination. Do you understand (hai huime)?

    The snowy, moonlit reed flowers are cold on the river (雪月蘆花江上寒);
    the dawn breeze rustling to the chatter of seagulls (曉風颯颯沙鷗語).”

In typical Chan master fashion, these poetic couplets do not offer logical explanations to the question at hand. Nevertheless, the continuity in the use of symbolism throughout belies the impression that these are simply random, meaningless responses. As per usual, the monk is inquiring into the relationship between the one (“the single practitioner of no mind”) and the many (“the innumerable buddhas”), and Luopu replies in kind, contrasting the “single expanse of white clouds” with the numerous birds who can no longer locate their homes within the indiscriminate haze. In turn, Hongzhi responds with his oft-repeated metaphor of diversity within unity in describing the white reed flowers that shine like snow in the cold moonlight. Hongzhi exhorts his disciples not to transcend differentiation but to “discriminate” (bian 辨) and “distinguish” (fen 分) that which is indistinct and immeasurable. While Luopu’s expanse of clouds metaphorically cuts off the mouth of the valley in silence, Hongzhi’s rustling dawn breeze and talking (yu 語) seagulls allude to the notion that the dharma is being constantly spoken, an underlying theme within his sermons.

In other cases, Hongzhi does indeed engage in a poetic dialogue with his monastic audience rather than merely answer his own questions, as in the following dialogue that mixes literary metaphor with the yin/yang symbolism of the Yijing 易經 (Book of Changes):

    During the winter training period, [the master] ascended the hall.
    A monk asked: “What is it like at the time before a single trigram stirs?”
    The master said: “Qian: three solid; kun: six broken.”
    [The monk] replied: “ This can be called: Whirling over the ground, the northern wind coldly rustles (卷地朔風寒索索);
    Filling the hall, the cloud-monks are frigid and gloomy (滿堂雲衲冷湫湫).”
    The master said, “Right at that moment, do you say a single yang [line] is born or not?”
    [The monk] replied,
    “The jade hare [i.e., the moon] merges with the clouds and rests (玉兔連雲臥); the golden rooster faces the sun and crows (金雞對日啼).”
    The master said, “ Where the force of spring does not reach (春力不到處), the withered trees still bloom (枯樹亦生花).”53

As elusive as the import of this conversation may be, the dialogue’s metaphorical language is possible to decode. In asking about the ultimate in this context, the monk alludes to the trigrams of the Yijing that symbolize the basic components of the cosmos. In the Yijing, the trigram qian, representing “heaven,” is made up of three solid yang lines, while the trigram kun, representing “earth,” is composed of three broken yin lines—six lines if counted individually. In terms of the cycle of the seasons, the trigram kun is maximum yin and thus refers to the winter solstice, corresponding to the seasonal context of the dialogue.54 Hongzhi’s response is firmly in the realm of conventional truth, charged with allusions to the dualities of heaven and earth, yin and yang, winter and summer, solid and broken, etc. In other words, by alluding to the polar opposites of the trigrams, he is saying: winter and summer are not the same; duality is clearly manifest in the world. His disciple echoes Hongzhi’s affirmation of the conventional world with a wintry couplet in which the dreary disposition of the “cloud-monks” (yunna 雲衲) who fill the monastic hall is identified with the force of the icy north wind. Hongzhi challenges the monk’s reply and demands whether there is still yang or not in this time of maximum yin. The disciple’s imagistic couplet could be paraphrased, “There is unity in diversity, and diversity in unity,” whereas Hongzhi replies: “In the ultimate, life and death (yin and yang) are one.” Within these poetic dialogues, Hongzhi provides no instruction nor does he usually judge the monk’s poetic response as right or wrong, good or bad, as one would find in the added commentaries of songgu collections within the Biyan lu or Congrong lu, for example. He simply provides his own metaphor in reply, which the reader may assume to be superior in the context of his yulu. There is a paradigm within the Chinese literary tradition for both this absence of instruction and the use of poetic language for wordless communication, and it is mentioned numerous times in Hongzhi’s sermons and songgu collection. According to a number of Hongzhi’s sermons, the purpose of Chan training is to cultivate a zhiyin 知音, or true friend— literally one who “knows the sounds.” The zhiyin is one who knows another’s state of mind so intimately—especially from listening to a musical performance or reading a literary text— that no verbal clarification or explanation is necessary of the person’s intent. The notion derives from the following story within the Daoist classic, Liezi 列子, but its influence is widespread in literary culture:

    Bo Ya was a good lute player and Zhong Ziqi was a good listener.
    Bo Ya strummed his lute, with his mind on climbing high mountains; and Zhong Ziqi said: “Good! Lofty like Mount Tai!”
    When his mind was on flowing waters, Zhong Ziqi said: “Good! Boundless like the Yellow River and the Yangtze!”
    Whatever came into Po Ya’s thoughts, Zhong Ziqi always grasped it.55

Zhong Ziqi knew Bo Ya so well that he could always tell what was on his mind just from listening to the music he played on his lute. As Hori argues in his comparison between Chan language and Chinese literary games, the zhiyin offers an early model for the wordless mind-to-mind transmission of Chan.56 And indeed within Hongzhi’s sermons the zhiyin symbolizes the fully realized Chan practitioner, as seen in these two examples:

    “…Virtuous ones! Today, the mountains and rivers of this great earth, the plants and trees
    of the grove [i.e., monastery], together with me ascend the hall and simultaneously
    complete the Dao: a single voice expounding the dharma. Have you confirmed it yet?”
    After a long time, he said: “Meeting it, you will have the knowledge of a true friend
    (zhiyin); / What need is there for the pure breeze to stir heaven and earth?” The master ascended the hall: “Great assembly! When sesame is pressed, we obtain oil. /
    When rice is cooked, we have a meal. / Returning to our grove [i.e., monastery] we are
    fully-satiated (baocan 飽參) men.
    When monks in patch-robes tread the Way, they value a peaceful mind. / What need is there to bend over the loom (ji 機) striving to make change? / Our work naturally manifests the style of our house. / Obeying the current,
    following the breeze, the returning boat reaches the shore. / Hanshan and Shide laugh—
    ha! ha! / This mind I give to a true friend (zhiyin) to discern.”

The logic of these imagistic passages is premised upon the ideals of both Daoism and Buddhism, namely wuwei 無爲 (non-action) and buddha-nature, respectively. The world naturally (ziran 自 然) and effortlessly manifests the dharma at all times; there is nothing that needs to be done or discussed; one must simply witness this fact for oneself intimately and completely. This kind of intimate knowledge of the nature of things is obviously not the erudite comprehension necessary for reading poetry, however. Elsewhere, Hongzhi specifically links the zhiyin to the ineffable wisdom of the patriarchs and the practice of “silent illumination”:

    The master ascended the hall: “There is no dharma that can be spoken of: Śākyamuni
    shut the gate in the land of gods.
    61 Intending transmission, Bodhidharma faced the wall at
    Mount Shaoshi. One who is a true friend (zhiyin) reflects; one who silently illuminates is
    numinous. When the Dao is certified within the circle, wisdom wanders; words that pass
    through no mouth fill the world. If you can go in this way, only then will you know that
    the Dao departs from words and cuts off speech. Pure, tranquil, wondrously
    illuminated—this is where everyone fundamentally roams. How do you fully embody this?
    Do you understand? The golden hen pecks through the lapis-lazuli egg; / the jade hare
    then opens the blue sky’s gate.”

To be a zhiyin one must fully and personally experience, or embody (tixi 體悉), the luminous mirror-like mind which the patriarchs realized in silent meditation and which is “not dependent on words and letters” (buli wenzi). Poetry and language, nevertheless, seem to play a significant role here. In the previous passage, Hongzhi alludes to the legendary friendship between the Chan poet-companions Hanshan and Shide as the epitome of zhiyin, and here he once again caps his sermon with a metaphorical couplet. In its most basic sense, the meaning of the metaphor is neither esoteric nor complicated. It simply means: the sun shines and the moon comes out. This amounts to a poetic way of saying: The dharma is right here before your eyes; there is no special state or knowledge to attain; and it does not depend on intellection. When the sun (the golden hen) pierces through the sky (the lapis-lazuli egg), there is no barrier to penetrate. When the moon (the jade hare) comes out, there is no gate in the sky for it to pass through. In this case, the couplet is a kind of riddle, which in Buddhist technical language could be said to express the realization of Buddha-nature, original enlightenment, and so on. When one has insight into Buddha-nature, one does not become something else or reach an alternate state but rather realizes the true nature of the ordinary self, which is always and already fully manifest even though it may be unrecognized due to delusive thinking.63 Although the couplet can be paraphrased with the use of Buddhist terminology, according to the point of Hongzhi’s sermon, the ultimate referent of the metaphor is not a further layer of conceptual language but the first-hand awareness of the emptiness of the self and all things.64 In other words, metaphor in Chan discourse does not merely function in the conventional sense of comparing images and ideas which are intellectually comprehensible but instead is used to address the personal realization of Chan meditative practice—something which can indeed be discussed but is “beyond words” in the mundane sense that it is not the product of intellection.

According to the pedagogical aims inscribed within his discourse, Hongzhi expects the practitioner to both see through his poetic language and to comprehend the wordless insight on which it is based. The master does instruct the monks, offering verbal clues to the paradoxical nature of Chan realization and encouraging them to pursue their silent investigation as did the patriarchs before them. But ultimately, the monks must pass through the gateless gate and realize the dharma intimately for themselves, something which cannot be transmitted verbally—a fact Hongzhi finally points to through the means of metaphor without further verbal explication. The function of poetry for “wordless” communication in this manner is also found in the paradigm of the zhiyin that underlies the reading of poetry in the Chinese literary tradition. According to the classical formulation that “poetry expresses intent” (shi yan zhi 詩言志), a good reader should be able to recognize the poet’s state of mind from his or her words. Although within language itself, the poet’s mind is not communicated directly but conveyed through allusion and emotive expression.65 Understanding images, metaphors, and allusions is thus an essential step to the practice of communicating without words—or, saying it without saying it.66 As Hori remarks,

    Not only the Zen tradition but the entire educated world of China saw the epitome of
    learned discourse as one in which the partners were so learned that they communicated
    more through silence than through words….For the literati, mind-to-mind transmission
    transcended language not by rejecting it—the ‘crude’ interpretation—but only by being
    firmly based in language.

When Hanshan and Shide meet, they instantly recognize each other as kindred spirits and simply burst out in laughter—ha! ha! The implication is, however, that as poets their words also embody the awakened mind—just as Hongzhi’s own poetic language does—and if one becomes a zhiyin, the mind being expressed through their language will be immediately apparent. According to this premise, the Song Chan practitioner must thus train to read poetry with a Chan eye and be able to discern the various expressions of the one and many in language, a process essential for mastering the composition of songgu verses as demonstrations of Chan insight. The importance of developing the ability to perceive that which is wordlessly communicated in verse, together with the function of metaphor in referencing Chan insight, provides a rationale for Hongzhi’s frequent use of verse as the entirety of his sermon and his urging of his monks to “investigate” (can) its meaning for themselves—both poetically and experientially. At the same time, however, even as he consistently employs imagery to illustrate his points, the verses within his sermons tend to be quite didactic and doctrinal. As Hongzhi often utilizes parallelism as a literary device within his sermons, it is even quite difficult to discern what qualifies as verse—especially with the frequent insertion of metaphorical couplets into dialogical passages.68 The versification of his discourse appears to have more to do with establishing parallel relationships between ideas—which are often complementary opposites or inversions—adding a rhythmic pulse and organization to his oration, and perhaps serving as an aide-memoire in delivering his sermon. Nevertheless, whether sermonizing in dialogical style, didactic verse, or parallel-prose, Hongzhi nearly always furnishes his discourse with an elusive metaphorical couplet that his assembly must penetrate. The monks are thus implored to perceive the relationship between the metaphor and the master’s didactic message for themselves, as well as personally witness the religious context to which both correspond. As Hongzhi repeatedly asserts, this religious awakening and its empirical contents are not objects of experience that can be singled out for inspection, as the following versified sermon alludes to:

    The master ascended the hall and said: 上堂云
    “Venerable Chan worthies! 好諸禪德
    Since clouds have no mind, they are naturally idle. 雲無心而自閑
    Since the sky has no borders, it is able to be broad. 天無際而能寬
    As the Dao is without images, it responds universally. 道無像而普應
    As spirit is without thoughts, it is ever peaceful. 神無慮而常安
    Following it, you do not see where its footprints go. 隨之也不見去跡
    Welcoming it, you do not see the starting point from which it came. 迎之也不見來端
    A single storehouse of teachings simply becomes a sigh of admiration. 一藏教祇成讚歎
    The buddhas of the three ages can only be observed from the side. 三世佛止可傍觀
    By candlelight at dawn in the vacant hall, 燭曉堂虛
    The seamstress turns the loom—the path of the shuttle so fine. 織婦轉機梭路細
    The river clear, the night calm, 水明夜靜
    An old fisherman clutches onto his straw-raincoat in the boat’s cold moonlight.”69 漁老擁蓑舡月寒

This verse is more poetic than many within Hongzhi’s sermons, but as usual it begins with a series of edifying statements written in rhymed parallel couplets of uneven length and ends with a metaphorical encapsulation of his teachings—quite unlike shi poetry where imagery tends to be concentrated in the middle of the verse. Following the tenor of the Daode jing, Hongzhi explains that although the Dao is everywhere, it has no particular shape or form to identify it. Like cold moonlight, it shines through the night, spreading over the river and the fisherman in his boat, but is not a thing itself. It is neither the warp nor the weft of nature’s brocade, but like a seamstress with her loom—unseen within the empty, shadowy hall—it weaves the crisscrossed threads together so finely they cannot be distinguished. Understanding the meaning of these metaphors for the Dao is an essential aspect of the training process, but the Dao is also referring to the nature of the self—a non-objective self, not divided into subject and object, which is precisely why it cannot be seen, or heard, or talked about as a discrete entity. As Hongzhi explains elsewhere, the “mind does not see the mind” (xin bujian xin 心不見心), just as “water does not wash water” (shui buxi shui 水不洗水)—the ultimate self cannot take itself as an object.70 Even while these metaphors may be understood intellectually, according to the main thrust of Hongzhi’s sermons, without realization of the non-objective self, the practitioner does not truly know what the metaphor refers to. When the monk knows first-hand, no explanation of that insight is necessary—even if the metaphor may still need to be deciphered. When the metaphor is also comprehended, silent illumination and poetry go hand in hand. Whether or not these dialogues are an accurate historical transcript of Hongzhi’s sermons, they indicate that training to participate in metaphorical exchange would be necessary to function as a Chan abbot or a monk in the senior hierarchy. Since many of Hongzhi’s sermons were recorded and published while he was alive, it would probably not have been easy to refashion them into something too much at odds from actual practices, as in the case of the multiple revisions of Linji’s yulu, for example.71 Hongzhi’s sermons provide a great number of specifics on the occasions of his sermons (ceremonial events, periods within the monastic calendar, the sermon’s sponsors, locations of guest talks, etc.)—all the necessary details for an abbot’s curriculum vitae that create the impression of a reliable historical record. Nevertheless, Hongzhi’s yulu remains a literary creation: a testament of the poetic skill—and its public performance—of both himself and his disciples, for which much of the actual training must have occurred behind the scenes.

V. Hongzhi’s Songgu: A Literary Performance

Although the relationship between silence and language is a constant theme throughout Hongzhi’s writings, a number of cases within his songgu collection specifically focus on the shortcomings of literary study and verbal discourse that are not as explicitly addressed elsewhere. These cases singularly promote the teaching of silence over the reading of the scriptures or discussion of doctrine, thus affirming the claim that Chan is “a separate transmission, outside the teachings, not dependent on words and letters” (教外別傳 / 不立文字). The very first case in Hongzhi’s collection centers on a silent discourse presented by the Buddha himself, in contrast to his verbal teachings as recorded in the sūtras. Silence is also upheld as the ultimate teaching in reference to a wordless sermon by master Yaoshan—who similarly belittles sūtra study—(case 7), Deshan’s equation of silence with the completion of study (canxue 參學) (case 46), and Vimalakīrti’s legendary thunderous silence as the epitome of non-dual wisdom (case 48).73 The most radical denial of traditional Buddhist learning is presented in case three, as translated by Cleary

    A rajah of an east Indian country invited the twenty-seventh Buddhist patriarch Prajnatara
    to a feast. The rajah asked him, “Why don’t you read scriptures?” The patriarch said,
    “This poor wayfarer doesn’t dwell in the realms of the body or mind when breathing in,
    doesn’t get involved in myriad circumstances when breathing out—I always reiterate
    such a scripture, hundreds, thousands, millions of scrolls.

Simply by following his breath in and out, the Indian patriarch transcends the body, its senses, and its karmic conditions and exponentially surpasses all the teachings of the Buddhist sūtras, making them obsolete. As Hongzhi concurs in his songgu response, literary study does not equal the realization of buddha-nature: “How can reading scriptures penetrate the ox-hide?” (看經那到 透牛皮). At the same time that literary study is radically critiqued, not only do the songgu verses add a major literary component to the gong’an cases, the cases themselves reflect significant knowledge of Buddhist literature and doctrine. The selection of cases, first of all, requires considerable familiarity with Chan literature. In terms of Hongzhi’s own knowledge of the Chan literary tradition, along with the one-hundred cases he addresses within his songgu collection, he engages with another one hundred in his parallel niangu collection (consisting of brief dialogical remarks on gong’an),76 and he raises at least one hundred and eighty additional cases within his formal and informal sermons.77 Although certain cases are repeated a number of times, in total, this sums up to an impressive three hundred-and eighty cases, not to mention numerous other references to the sayings and doings of past masters. Besides extensively drawing on the images and expressions of the Chan tradition in composing his own sermons and verses, Hongzhi also quotes the poetry of previous masters in his sermons (nearly always without proper citation, of course), such as a verse by Dongshan, one of Xuedou’s songgu, or a couplet from the influential poetry of Tong’an Changcha 同安常察 (Tang Dynasty). Beyond the prevalence of Chan literature, selections from a number of Buddhist sūtras form the basis of individual cases in Hongzhi’s songgu collection, including the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment, iamond Sūtra, Avataṃsaka (Huayan) Sūtra, Śūraṃgama Sūtra, and, of course, the Vimalakīrti Sūtra and its silent teachings. Furthermore, the gong’an cases explicitly—not to mention symbolically—address the central concepts of Mahayana Buddhism in a comprehensive fashion: Buddha-nature, enlightenment, dharmakāya, nirvana, emptiness, nonduality, compassion, karma, mind-only, samādhi, Huayan mutual interpenetration, Nāgārjuna’s tetralemma and two truths theory (ultimate and conventional truth), etc.

Hongzhi’s songgu verses expand and intensify the literary dimensions of the cases. In these verses, the master further draws on the repertoire of images and expressions from Chan denglu and yulu literature, as well as the sūtras, and packs his songgu with allusions to the Chinese literary tradition at large. Not only are Confucian ethical virtues—filial piety (xiao 孝), humaneness (ren 仁), righteousness (yi 義)—and Daoist metaphysical ideals overtly brought into play, Hongzhi utilizes images from early Chinese mythology (Nüwa 女媧 and the sage emperors Yao, Shun, and Yu) and alludes to passages and anecdotes from the Confucian classics (including the Yijing, Shijing 詩經, Liji 禮記, Analects), the Daoist classics (Daode jing, Zhuangzi, Lie ji), early dynastic histories and biographies (especially the Shiji 史記), and a wide range of other classical sources and literature, such as Qu Yuan’s 屈原 (ca. 340-ca. 278 BCE) “Encountering Sorrow” (Li sao 離騷), Sima Xiangru’s 司馬相如 (179-117 BCE) fu 賦, or the more recent poetry of Hanshan. All in all, Hongzhi’s songgu collection, like many others, represents a concerted effort to create an integrated and all-encompassing system of the Chinese and Indian Buddhist intellectual traditions under the umbrella of Chan as the ultimate synthesis of literary mastery and ineffable religious insight.

As with the allusive language of literati poetry, the reader is, of course, expected to recognize and understand Hongzhi’s allusions without explanation, as any respectable literatus would. For a reader who has not received a traditional literary education nor mastered the corpus of Chan literature, the full range of Hongzhi’s allusions is readily apparent only because Wansong identifies and explains them within the Congrong lu, which has been translated in full by Thomas Cleary as the Book of Serenity. Wansong, thus, was not only able to explain the significance of Hongzhi’s metaphors and allusions but was intimately familiar with their source material—impressive evidence for the breadth a monk’s literary education could attain.79 Within his commentary, Wansong, in turn, adds his own references to sūtras, recounts complementary Chan anecdotes or pertinent background information, and quotes songgu responses from other masters, filling out the context for both the gong’an cases and songgu verses and buttressing the religious standpoint of the original text—thus, making the Congrong lu an immensely dense and sophisticated literary work.

Although we can reasonably assume that Hongzhi had similar command of the Chan, Buddhist, and Chinese literary canons, most of his allusions to the Chinese literary tradition had become, or were becoming, recurrent tropes within Song Chan literature rather than necessarily representing Hongzhi’s own selections and novel readings. While Hongzhi has his distinctive preferences and particular verbal formulations, at this point I am unable to discern if he contributed anything substantial to the symbolic language that became standard within Chan or not. If one compares Hongzhi’s literary repertoire with that contained within Japanese Zen phrase books, one finds a nearly identical corpus of allusions and expressions that are still studied and memorized within Rinzai Zen training today. As I have alluded to, the verses within Hongzhi’s songgu collection closely resemble his shangtang verses in literary form, function, and thematic range. They also share the same literary framework, in which a case is first raised (ju 舉) and then responded to in verse (songyue 頌曰). The main difference between them is that while his shangtang verses are represented as components of his oral sermons, his songgu comprise a literary selection of his finest poetic responses. This variance of context, at least formally, allows for the intensification of allusion within songgu and a broader metaphorical range, whereas his shangtang verses are more often didactically straightforward and tend to be more narrowly confined to Hongzhi’s pool of reiterated metaphors. Both verse types are written in rhymed parallel couplets, sometimes resembling regulated verse or quatrains but more often written with uneven line lengths in the same manner as Hongzhi’s portrait encomia (zhenzan; Ch. 5). In adopting this looseness of form, Hongzhi’s songgu distinctively follow the model established by Xuedou, whereas most songgu are written as quatrains, particularly the heptasyallabic quatrain first utilized by Fenyang Shanzhao which many masters strictly adhere to in composing songgu.

In embracing the literary past, these poems simultaneously—and somewhat ironically— mirror current literary trends of the “ancient prose” (guwen 古文) movement, first championed by Han Yu 韓愈 (768–824) in the Tang and popularized during the Northern Song as a means to restore China’s Confucian roots.81 More than expressions of artistic craft, eloquent language, and poetic imagination, songgu verses attain value from their underlying meaning—in this case, the transmission of the awakened mind of the patriarchs rather than Confucian morality. In such a fashion, these verses consciously reflect on the “ancients” (gu 古), both in terms of the patriarchs and the timeless mind they transmit. While the historical Buddha and some Indian patriarchs who play a minor role in Hongzhi’s songgu could rightly qualify as being “ancient,” Tang masters of the not so distant past are also subsumed under the heading of the “ancients.” For instance, when quoting passages from Tang masters like Dongshan in his sermons, Hongzhi usually refers to them anonymously as an “ancient person” (guren 古人). Thus, although guwen is often understood as decidedly anti-Buddhist in intent, Chan masters carved out their own niche within the guwen trend by constructing “ancients” of their own, whose teachings are likewise linked to the ancients of the classical tradition through the use of literary allusions. Hongzhi’s rough parallelism also fits the style of classical writings, as does his frequent use of the particle xi 兮 to delineate the rhythm of the verse, as found in the earliest Chinese poetry collections of the Shijing and Chuci 楚辭.

Just as Hongzhi’s songgu collection affirms the supremacy of silence on the one hand and signifies the intensification of literary learning on the other, these cases and verses precisely focus on the issue of how to express the ineffable—whether in physical gesture, iconoclastic language, or poetry. In composing allusive verse, the task is not only to make the tongueless person speak but to do so in the language of classical literature. Unpacking the language of Hongzhi’s songgu is thus often more challenging than his other didactic verses. However, their thematic range remains similar to Hongzhi’s other verse, generally expressing perspectives on the integration of the ultimate and conventional, or, more specifically, the relationship between silence and language itself. As I address both of these themes at length in Chapters Two and Five respectively, I will not dwell on them here but will examine how songgu utilize literary allusion and even promote the mastery of literature in correspondence with the wordless insight of Chan. As poets incorporate literary allusions into their verses, they often change and expand their meaning by situating them within new contexts. In songgu, allusions to classical texts likewise assume a distinctively Chan flavor. I will give an example of one of Hongzhi’s more eloquent songgu, which combines literary allusion with his more recognizable metaphors in response to a gong’an case aimed at eliciting immediate awareness of the awakened mind. The case is as follows,

    Yangshan asked Zhongyi, “What is the meaning of Buddha nature?”
    Zhongyi said, “I’ll tell you a simile (piyu 譬喻): it’s like putting a monkey in a room with
    six windows—when someone outside calls it, ‘Simian! Simian!’ the monkey then
    responds (ying 應). In this way, when called through all six windows it responds.”
    Yangshan said, “What about when the monkey is asleep?”
    Zhongyi got right down from his seat, grabbed and held Yangshan and said, “Simian,
    Simian, you and I see each other.”

In this example, master Zhongyi purposefully alerts his young disciple that he is speaking metaphorically before describing the monkey (mihou 獼猴) in the room with six windows (liu chuan 六窓). For anyone familiar with Buddhist literature, this is an easily recognizable metaphor for the unruly mind and its six senses which are to be tamed through meditative discipline. The paradox within this case is that the master is claiming that this agitated consciousness and its afflicted senses are already none other than Buddha-nature—no discipline required. In calling his disciple, the master is basically saying: “Wake up! You are already awake!” Hongzhi responds with a quatrain:

    Frozen asleep in a snow-covered room at the year’s end, 凍眠雪屋歲摧頹 The secluded vine-covered gates do not open in the night.84 窈窕蘿門夜不開 Witness the transformation of the cold withered trees in the orchard: 寒槁園林看變態 The spring wind fans the ashes in the pitchpipes.85 春風吹起律筒灰

At times, Hongzhi’s songgu will take up the imagery and language of the gong’an case or even comment on the dialogue directly; at other times, as in this verse, his reply is imagistic and obscure, seemingly irrelevant to the case at hand. Basic knowledge of Hongzhi’s favorite images, however, supplies clues to the analogous relationship between the verse’s wintry scene and the case on the monkey-like mind. Although he does not employ his standard terminology for the withered tree (kumu) or cold ashes (hanhui) here, he uses similar images within modified versions of his usual expressions that still retain the same basic meaning (see Chapter Two for further explanation). Their presence, as elsewhere, indicates that Hongzhi is alluding to the stillness of meditation. There is a subtle allusion at play here that connects Hongzhi’s vision with the heritage of literati culture. In this verse, Hongzhi’s cold ashes that are stirred by the spring wind are presented in reference to a ritual found in the Liji (Book of Rites). As Wansong explains,

    …[A]mong the seasonal duties described in the ancient Book of Rites, a bamboo tube is
    cut—this is called a ‘pipe’—it is put in a closed room, its end filled with ashes made from
    reeds: when the breath of the moon comes it makes the ashes fly and empties the tube;
    then positive energy (yangqi 陽氣) is born. That is life within death…

Through the means of allusion, Hongzhi locates the paradoxical dynamism of the Caodong meditative ideal of being as still as cold ashes—itself derived from the Zhuangzi—within the Confucian classics and yin/yang thought. This meditative stillness further resonates with the freezing cold of the opening couplet and its reclusive dimensions. According to Wansong, the “frozen sleep” of the first line is an allusion to the official Yuan An 袁安 in the Xianxian zhuan 先賢傳 (Biography of Former Sages), who was praised and rewarded by the local magistrate for staying closed within his room and sleeping after a great snowfall, instead of going out to attend to his usual affairs, as he did not think it was appropriate to disturb the people while they were preoccupied with the storm. The magistrate thought Yuan An must have been dead inside before shoveling him out.87 The link to the paradigm of reclusion is heightened in reference to the “secluded vine-covered gates” (yaotiao luomen 窈窕蘿門). The term yaotao 窈窕 is originally found in the Shijing in reference to the elegance and grace of young ladies but had been adapted by the famed recluse poet Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 (372?-427) to denote a place of seclusion.88 The problem with the imagery within Hongzhi’s verse is that their allusions to withdrawing from the world and attaining a special state of meditation completely contradict the message of the dialogue that nothing special has to be done since the mind is already one with Buddha-nature. In the hands of a skilled master, songgu both complement the case and expand upon, or even overturn, its meaning. Hongzhi’s opening couplet is punning on the duality between awake and asleep, enlightened and deluded. Hongzhi’s “frozen sleep” alludes to both the deluded thinking of the disciple and the profound stillness of the reclusive mind—equating wisdom and ignorance in one simple allusion. In thinking in dualistic terms of “sleeping” or “awake,” Yangshan is indeed asleep—deluded in thinking that enlightenment is a special state of mind.89 Hongzhi’s “secluded vine-covered gates” strengthen this standpoint. Along with their reclusive aspect, they elicit the metaphor of the tangled vines of consciousness. As Wansong states, master Zhongyi is knocking on those gates of the ordinary mind.90 Anybody home? The awakened mind is found right in the midst of the tangled vines of discriminating consciousness—not outside of them. Still we must ask: what does this have to do with meditation and reclusion? When the conventional mind is called upon and realized to exist right in the midst of the mind of stillness and silence, then ordinary and awakened mind are realized as one. The withered trees bloom and the ashes fly: life and death, enlightenment and delusion arise together. In other words, meditation and withdrawal are not means to transcend ordinary consciousness; they are the means to realize the standpoint asserted by master Zhongyi that the deluded mind and Buddha-nature are fundamentally identical. Hongzhi thus broadens the meaning of the original case in terms of practice, while poetically fusing together reclusion, meditative stillness, Buddha-nature, and the classical literary tradition within a deceptively simple quatrain. The identification of discriminating consciousness with the enlightened mind in the case above relates to the paradigm of freedom prevalent within Hongzhi’s writings which provides a rationale for the pursuit of literary study. For Hongzhi, as in the Chan tradition in general, freedom is found within convention, discrimination, language, and literature, rather than beyond them. If one simply abandons language and literary study, one remains one-sidedly attached to wordlessness and will not be skilled at functioning in the realm of convention. Mastering language, in contrast, is a means to transcend its very own limitations. In the songgu below, Hongzhi eulogizes the ability for the master and disciple to perfectly respond to one another in dialogue. The case is as follows:

    Yunmen asked Jianfeng, “An answer, please, teacher.”
    Jianfeng said, “Have you come to me yet?”
    Yunmen said, “Then I’m late.”
    Jianfeng said, “Is that so? Is that so? (renmena renmena 恁麼那恁麼那)”
    Yunmen said, “I thought I was like Houbai 猴白 the crook; you’re like Houhei 猴黑,
    even worse!”

This is a difficult dialogue which I will not pretend to decipher here, though as usual these sayings can be interpreted for their symbolic meanings—each phrase an expression of attainment, non-attainment, and thusness (“Is that so?”). It is clear, however, that as master and disciple spar back and forth, each meets his equal, as Hongzhi expresses in verse:

    Bowstring and arrow interlock— 絃筈相銜
    The pearls in the net respond to one another— 綱珠相對
    —all shot out, arrow after arrow hits its mark;92 發百中而箭箭不虛
    —embracing the myriad reflections, each ray of light without obstruction. 攝眾景而光光無礙
    Attain total command of words and phrases 得言句之總持
    And reside in the samādhi of play. 住游戲之三昧
    Wondrously within, the partial and complete wind around—93 妙其間也宛轉偏圓
    Freedom within the warp and weft must be like this.94 必如是也縱橫自在

This verse is not nearly as eloquent as the previous and is more typical of Hongzhi’s songgu in terms of style—uneven line lengths, an unusual rhyme scheme, and prosaic language with explicit grammatical markers, or “empty words” (xuci 虛詞). Moreover, the metaphors and allusions are far more transparent. The innovative aspect of this songgu is Hongzhi’s reading of the dialogue through the metaphor of the jeweled net of Indra, the principal image of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra esteemed within Huayan Buddhism, which represents the mutual interpenetration of all phenomena. Just as each jewel within Indra’s net reflects all the others “without obstruction” (wu’ai 無礙), master and disciple effortlessly reflect and respond to each other with no barrier between them. Like arrow and bowstring, master and disciple join together in complete harmony in a manner that reflects the mutual dependence of the world, witnessed within the convergence of warp and weft (yin and yang), absolute and relative, language and silence, etc. Hongzhi thus sees their verbal exchange as fully embodying the reality of Huayan mutual-interpenetration.

The essential point within this verse is Hongzhi’s identification of the mastery of language with the joyful serenity of samādhi. One could say that in the traditional sense, the function of samādhi is to bear witness to the mutual-interpenetration of phenomena. In Chan, this samādhi of mutual-interpretation is playfully put into action within the encounter of master and disciple. In order to be free (zizai 自在) within duality (i.e., the warp and weft), one must master the expression of mutual-interpenetration in language, perfectly blending the relative and absolute, or “partial” (pian 偏) and “complete” (yuan 圓), in words. Embracing the ultimate and conventional together “like this” (rushi 如是) is none other than manifesting Buddhist “thusness” (rushi 如是)—the true nature of things that is beyond categorization. Although Hongzhi is commending the two monks for manifesting this ideal in their iconoclastic dialogue, his statements imply that his own poetic language can equally realize the “thusness” of reality as witnessed within meditation. In this way, his skillful literary language becomes one with the mind of meditation. The literary refinement embodied in his songgu collection thus signifies the pinnacle of linguistic freedom and expertise—where Chan’s playfulness within language merges with the classical literary tradition.

VI. Conclusion

The prominence of songgu collections in the literature of Song dynasty Chan provides strong evidence for the necessary literary education of the upper elites of the Chan monastery and the essential role of songgu composition as a kind of study curriculum that integrated comprehension of Buddhist doctrine with the Chinese literary tradition. As Hongzhi’s sermons and songgu suggest, at the bare minimum a Chan master needed to be well-acquainted with Chan denglu and yulu literature and the allusions that it had absorbed within its fold in order to recall, or at least locate, appropriate anecdotes and metaphors for the delivery of sermons and associated poetry. High ranking monks had to familiarize themselves with anecdotes and poetry from Chan literature, learn allusions to the classical Chinese tradition, and compose verses and supply metaphorical couplets in response to Chan gong’an. Besides Chan literature, I suspect that without basic knowledge of classical Chinese learning and Buddhist sūtras, a monk would have appeared to be a total ignoramus to other literati and educated monks and considered unfit to be an abbot or upper-level monk. A Chan master may play the enlightened fool, but the master’s charisma depends on being a highly literate one—what we could perhaps call an “illiteratus.” It is further evident that literary composition was not some kind of aberration, deterioration, or fossilization of Chan during the Song, nor did it represent some kind of distinct and polemical “literary Chan” (wenzi Chan 文字禪) movement.95 As I similarly argue in Chapter Two, songgu composition fully accords with the philosophical basis of Chan as expressed in Hongzhi’s language of the interrelationship between the “straight” and “crooked.” Rather than being secondary or derivative to silent contemplation, literary study is an essential component of Chan practice that proved to be a dynamic force of innovation during the Song. Although the symbolically-charged dialogues that were later selected from Chan denglu as gong’an cases must have been created before a formal, complementary poetic practice emerged, gong’an practice itself never appears to have existed apart from literary composition since its initiation by Fenyang Shanzhao.

On the other hand, it is true that traditionally the literary aspect of Chan has been referred to derogatively as the “sand,” which one must mix with the “gold” of silent awakening in order to disseminate it to others. This distinction is essential in terms of giving primacy to personal experience over secondary knowledge and distinguishing the ultimate from the conventional. But like all conventional distinctions, it must ultimately be seen as provisional. Hongzhi suggests precisely this standpoint in the final couplet of the following songgu:

    Coming within difference, still clearly reflecting—異中來也還明鑒
    Just this is true gold not mixed with sand.96 只箇真金不混沙

In Hongzhi’s view, the “true gold” of Chan is not merely recognizing the “bright mirror” (mingjian 明鑒) of the mind but bringing the mind of non-discrimination forth into the world of differentiation, thus dissolving the boundary between language and silence and rinsing the sand of dualistic thinking out of the Chan eye.

The Secular as Sacred: Hongzhi’s Occasional Poetry as Buddhist Gatha


I. Introduction

Whether in their original form as verse summaries of Buddhist sūtras or as independent verses, the generic term jisong 偈頌 (Skt. gāthā) has traditionally referred to verse concerned with Buddhist doctrine. On the whole, the formal function of jisong within Chan yulu 語錄 remains the same: to express the Buddha dharma, but the modes, subject matter, and poetic forms included within jisong expanded in the Song as the occasional verses and thematic repertoire of literati were increasingly incorporated into yulu. Within yulu in the Song, jisong are no longer confined to formal versifications of Buddhist doctrine; they include parting poems, poems on travelling, numerous poems in the reclusive mode, and an assortment of other verses written for social exchange or on particular occasions. A portion of these poems are rather secular in nature, having either few Buddhist references or only implied Buddhist meaning, if any at all. But in general, the jisong within Chan yulu represent a transformation of the Chinese literary tradition of occasional poetry into verse dominated by Buddhist terms and ideas. By the time of the Song, literati themselves, most notably Xie Lingyun 謝靈運 (385-433), Wang Wei 王維 (701-761), and Bai Juyi 白居易 (772-846), had written occasional poetry on Buddhist themes for centuries, a tradition maintained by the most prominent writers of the Song, such as Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037- 1101) and Huang Tingjian 黄庭堅 (1045-1105). In Chan yulu, however, the Buddhist character of the occasional verses is intensified. In one direction, poetic sub-genres such as the parting poem are reworked into a monastic context and developed into metaphorical expositions of Chan philosophy; in another direction, a new set of occasions particular to monastic functions are integrated into the practice of composing occasional poetry. In either case, the particularly Buddhist occasions, terminology, and metaphors of a good portion of Chan social and occasional verse would be strikingly out of place within the poetry collections of literati.

Hongzhi’s second collection of jisong, Jisong (II), is replete with occasional verses and stands in stark contrast to the predominantly doctrinal aspect of his first collection, Jisong (I), published at the beginning of his career as abbot.1 As with the poetry collections of many literati, these jisong appear to be arranged in rough chronological order, beginning from the time he was a disciple of Danxia Zichun 丹霞子淳 (1066-1119), or still residing at his monastery, and proceeding through his various places of abbacy, until he settled as abbot at Mount Tiantong. The chronological arrangement is far from certain, and there are a number of discrepancies.2 Yet, on the whole, the collection gives the impression that these verses primarily derive from Hongzhi’s first years as abbot in 1124 through his early years at Mount Tiantong, at least until 1134. The collection contains numerous poems on traveling, which, in most cases, either correspond to places he resided before coming to Mount Tiantong or simply give the impression that the travel would have taken place while he moved around as abbot from 1124 until 1129 or before, and not when he had taken up his long term residence on Mount Tiantong. It is tempting to imagine that these verses are the product of his youthful days of free wandering when he had the time to compose poetry and visit lay and monastic friends, before being tied down to official duties. For the most part, however, these poems are written from the standpoint of a Chan abbot who writes with authority on the matter of Buddhist philosophy and Chan practice, and within the generic guidelines of yulu, these verses are collected as the words of an enlightened Chan master, not a wandering monk or frivolous poet. Even during the many years when he traveled from place to place, he did so as an abbot, already responsible for affairs inside and outside of the monastery. A major portion of these poems are written to monks on occasions within the rituals of monastic practice and its economy: going begging, cooking, taking charge of agricultural work or particular monastic functions, and so forth, and they are addressed to persons filling all stations of monastic office, who would all be the abbot’s subordinates. These poems would have been written once Hongzhi assumed the position of abbot, and they are mixed together with occasional poems on travel, reclusion, and parting, with no other apparent organizing principle than a loose sense of chronology.

Rather than comprising occasional verse written outside of his official duties and religious practice, these verses represent a vital aspect of Hongzhi’s role as Chan abbot. Corroborating Morten Schlütter’s argument that during the Song the Chan abbot needed to be literate in order to maintain relations with literati and secure patronage and position, these verses fully display Hongzhi’s literary abilities, and many are addressed to literati-officials.3 However, although occasional verse was certainly a means to maintain communications and support with those outside of the monastery, at the same time, most of these verses were not written to literati but to fellow monks, who appear to largely come from within Hongzhi’s monastic order. The large constituency of monastic correspondents, coupled with the diversity of poetic themes and sub-genres, together suggest that poetry played a multitude of functions for a working Chan abbot.

It is neither wise nor possible to reduce this diverse body of poetry to a single function. But I will argue that there is a dominant poetic theme that can be discerned, in keeping with the conventions of yulu to embody the non-discriminating wisdom of silent meditation, ever-present both thematically and imagistically throughout these verses. In fact, Hongzhi often refers to “sitting” (zuo 坐) or other images that directly point to the “sitting” of Chan practice—which becomes one of the most common poetic images within these verses, as in the tradition of Chan monk-poets since the Tang. As well, these verses demonstrate Hongzhi’s persistent preoccupation with silence, particularly “absolute silence” (momo 默默), and the metaphors of Caodong meditation (see Ch. 2). The point of these verses is not merely to advocate sitting meditation, his Caodong style of practice, or Caodong philosophy, as poetically expounded in Jisong (I). Although these interests are most definitely there, especially the reiteration of the particularities of Caodong practice, by and large Hongzhi is addressing monks and devoted laypersons whom he probably does not need to spend a tremendous effort persuading about the efficacy of Chan or even securing sectarian allegiance. Instead, Hongzhi’s jisong in this collection primarily concern the metaphorical transformation of the everyday activities of monks and laypersons into Buddhist practice. Rather than expounding the virtues of silence or the nondual relationships of the ultimate and conventional as seen in his doctrinal verses (Ch. 2), these verses work to realize the ordinary as ultimate within the poetic language of occasional verse. In this fashion, all manner of things—parting from a monk or layperson, going begging, visiting a hermitage, hoeing the fields, even composing a poem—become grounds of enlightened activity and the manifestation of one’s original buddha-nature. While Hongzhi does not delve into all aspects of everyday life, every occasion alluded to is clearly an opportunity for Chan practice. Although certain verses make explicit reference to silence or directly challenge the dualities imposed upon reality, overall, the silence underlying these verses consists of the tacit dismissal, if not explicit rejection, of essential differences between everyday, conventional activity and the ultimate, salvific action of enlightenment, and this includes a refusal to draw an ultimate distinction between monks and laypersons, men and women, and religious and secular activities. In this manner, these verses serve to actualize the integration of straight (zheng 正) and crooked (pian 偏), ultimate and conventional, within Hongzhi’s sphere of activity as Chan abbot. In this chapter, I first outline the formal parameters of Hongzhi’s occasional verse before analyzing Hongzhi’s integration of the ultimate and conventional in relation to four dominant sub-genres and/or themes within Jisong (II): 1. parting poems and other verses of social exchange written to both monks and laypersons; 2. “requested gāthā,” composed on the daily activities of the monastery; 3. poetry of reclusion; 4. poems addressed to nuns and laywomen. I conclude that metaphor plays a central role in conveying Hongzhi’s non-dualistic Chan vision within these poems.

II. Genre and Form

Hongzhi’s Jisong (II) exhibits how the generic category of jisong encapsulates the verse forms of shi 詩 poetry and extends beyond it, as long as the poetic content is Buddhist, or at least consistent with the image of a Chan master. Most of these poems fit squarely within the shi tradition as heptasyllabic or pentasyllabic regulated verse and quatrains, with preference given to regulated verse with heptasyllabic lines. Also within the parameters of shi are lesser numbers of lengthy ancient-style verses (gushi 古詩), verses in six-character lines, and one with four-character lines. Shi-type poems of all forms are frequently referred to as gāthā, either ji 偈 or song 頌, when a generic designation is used, and nowhere is the term shi 詩 used to define his own verses.

The term ji usually appears at the end of a title when describing the occasion on which Hongzhi “spoke” (shuo 說) or “composed” (zuo 作) the gāthā (ji 偈), while song 頌 is found in the large numbers of “requested gāthā” (qiusong 求頌) that pervade the collection.5 Among these primarily shi-type poems, there are a handful of irregular verses, usually comprised of a mixture of seven and three character lines, more common to song lyrics (ci 詞). Indeed, like many other Chan masters, Hongzhi includes a couple of “Fisherman Songs” (Yujia ci 漁家詞) in song lyric form. In other cases, verses with irregular meters are not distinguished as separate genres or sub-genres within the collection. Jisong (II) includes one encomium (zan 贊) in the middle of the collection, and three inscriptions (ming 銘) and one admonition (zhen 箴) at the end. In addition to this lax mixture of literary genres, in certain situations, Hongzhi is willing to break conventions within a shi-type poem, true to the iconoclastic tendencies of Chan. This is most notable in an ancient style verse, translated below, which interrupts its heptasyllabic pattern in the penultimate couplet with the three-character exclamation: “Ah! Ha! Ha!” 阿呵呵. Despite the generic flexibility and irregularities, Hongzhi does not flaunt an antinomian disregard for rules and regulations but most often chooses to express himself freely within the discipline of the shi tradition.

Except for the “requested gāthā” verses, the sub-genres, such as parting poems and poems on reclusion, are also common to shi, and most of these verses are written in social exchange, as with the poetry of literati. Along with the parting poems, social verses include those “given to” (yu 與) or “sent to” (ji 寄) an individual person, poems written “matching rhymes” (ciyun 次韻) of another’s poem, and also the “requested gāthā” poems, which in nearly all cases are requested by a monk or layperson whose name is given, and whose official titles, whether lay or monastic, are included where appropriate. At times, there is a particular occasion when these verses are exchanged: sending someone off, traveling to see a friend, going out begging, etc. But many verses of exchange are not written for a particular occasion. There are also many occasional poems on traveling, reclusion, paying respects to stupas, spontaneous compositions, and so forth, which are not exchanged with others, but fit within the general scope of literati activities.

Despite the predominantly social and occasional context of these verses, it would be misleading to draw a hard and fast distinction between these poems and the doctrinal verses found in Jisong (I). In fact, mixed among these social and occasional verses is also a small selection of doctrinal verses which very much resemble those in Jisong (I). Among others, this includes a series of verses on the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment, a gāthā on the “three seals” (sanyin 三印), a doctrinal inscription written for a hermitage named “Original Reality” (Benji 本 際), and his “Admonitions on Sitting Meditation” (Zuochan zhen 坐禪箴). However, even these poems tend to either fit within the thematic and situational vein of his verses on reclusion and hermitages, or retain a social aspect that is not found within his doctrinal verses in Jisong (I). When not the product of “matching rhymes” (ciyun 次韻) or “imitation” (ni 擬) of another person’s poems, they are in the very least written to “instruct the assembly” (shizhong 示衆), if not given to or requested by a particular individual. The difference between doctrinal verses and social-occasional verse within jisong breaks down further in the “requested gāthā” poems, which merge Buddhist doctrine with poetic language and are exchanged socially with monks and laypersons often on particular occasions within the monastic routine. In addition, as I will argue, many of the other occasional and social verses become vehicles of doctrinal expression through Hongzhi’s use of metaphor.

III. Parting Poems and Other Verses of Social Exchange

A. Hongzhi’s Chan Literary Community

Hongzhi’s Jisong (II) does not begin with his occasional poetry but with a series of fourteen verses, entitled “Following the Rhymes of Venerable Zhenxie [Qingliao]’s ‘Gāthā’s on The Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment’” (Ciyun Zhenxie heshang Yuanjue jing song 次韻真歇和尚圓覺 經頌). The Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment (Yuanjue jing 圓覺經) was most likely composed in China in the eighth century and was very popular in Chan circles during the Song.6 Each chapter of the sūtra deals with a separate bodhisattva, and Hongzhi offers a verse commentary on each chapter, plus a general summary, following the traditional model of Buddhist gāthā found in sūtras. At first glance, this series of heptasyllabic regulated verse, consisting of verse commentaries on a Buddhist sūtra and written to the rhymes of his esteemed dharma-brother, would appear to be the epitome of a literary Chan (wenzi Chan 文字禪) that rejects the notion that Chan is independent from the study of words and letters. However, anyone hoping that these verses would provide some evidence to the existence of such a strictly defined literary Chan movement in the Song would be sorely disappointed in the content of the verses, which are intent on promoting the wordless transmission of Chan through silent meditation. The verse series both begins and ends with an evocation to practice sitting meditation in order to penetrate what is beyond words, and in the series, Hongzhi also alludes to the story of Śākyamuni Buddha silently transmitting his dharma to Mahākāśyapa by holding up a flower. The following verse summary of the sūtra’s contents (the last of fourteen poems) contains many of the metaphors common to his Caodong sect (see Ch. 2), illustrating the paradoxical relationship between stillness and activity and affirming the efficacy of Chan meditation for pursuing the “one sound” (yiyin 一音) that is beyond ordinary language:

    Gāthā Summary 總頌
    When the wooden boy sings, spring returns to the withered tree; 木童吟處槁回春
    Within this: the noble adornment of the forest of merit.7 箇裏莊嚴功德林
    Hands dangling on the steep crag, one knows the vitality of the path; 垂手斷崖知路活
    Hiding oneself in the empty kalpa, one avoids drowning in schemes.8 藏身空劫忌機沈
    Before the waves of the mind arise, there are few seeds [of consciousness], 未翻識浪無多子
    But there is one sound that does not hang off the lips. 不挂唇皮有一音
    The realized mind of the Buddhas and patriarchs is beyond words and signs; 佛祖契心言迹外
    Sit quietly by the burning incense and pursue it with them.9 炷香清坐與追尋

While the series upholds, rather than rejects, the idea of Chan as a separate transmission, these verses do illustrate, as I argue in Chapter Two, that the silence of Chan and the study of words and letters are not mutually exclusive, and as such, set the stage thematically for the occasional and social verses that follow. The implication of these verses is that even while the sūtras are no replacement for the realization of emptiness in meditation, it is precisely this undifferentiated emptiness which is the subject of the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment and Hongzhi’s poems. More significant, however, is that, for the purpose of this study, this series serves as a useful introduction to the Chan monk as poet and illustrates the context of a Chan literary community composed of monks and select laypersons who participate in shared literary activities and exchange verses with each other. More than sixty percent of the verses in Jisong (II) are written in exchange with others. One of the more remarkable aspects of Hongzhi’s social verse is that the majority of persons addressed are monks and a smaller, though perhaps significant, portion is made up of officials, scholars, and other laypersons. The proportion of lay and monastic addressees could be more of a reflection of editorial decisions in selecting the poems to be collected rather than indicative of the precise nature of Hongzhi’s poetic practices. Nevertheless, it is evident that poetic exchange was a significant element in Hongzhi’s monastic community. The following table (Table 1.1) gives approximate figures for the total number of poems within Jisong (II) that are addressed to either monks or laypersons.

Although there is some ambiguity concerning the titles used to identify monks and laypersons, overall these figures suggest that Hongzhi wrote far more poems to monastics than laypersons. Furthermore, the majority of the monks addressed do not appear to have held any special position within the monastic hierarchy but are addressed in general terms for monks (most often chanren 禪人 and shangren 上人). Only a small number were exchanged with other Buddhist teachers, approximately nine poems, and only two of these are explicitly identified as Chan masters. Poems are addressed, however, to persons identified by most of the positions in the monastic hierarchy. There are poems addressed to monks identified by all of the positions that make up the “six prefects” (liu toushou 六頭首), responsible for the training of monks, and two of the positions of the “six stewards” (liu zhishi 六知事), who formed the monastic support staff (see Table 1.2).12 Together these two groups comprise the upper level of the Chan hierarchy.

Poems are also addressed to attendants (shizhe 侍者), usually younger monks who served either the master or a senior monk, and poems addressed to persons identified as senior monks: “senior disciple” (shixiong 師兄, literally “elder brother of the same master”), “venerable” (zhanglao 長 老), or “elder monk” (laoren 老人). Altogether, these details suggest that a significant amount of poetic exchange was happening within the monastic community, where poems were exchanged with both senior monks and members of the monastic community at large, which could consist of hundreds of monks at a monastery like Hongzhi’s at Mount Tiantong. At times Hongzhi exchanges poems with a monastic whom he is visiting, or who is visiting Hongzhi. But for the most part, the poetic exchanges take place with monks who are residing in the same monastery or location. Poems which identify monks as travelling or as belonging to different monasteries are in the minority, and although there are many parting poems, these poems are often written to members of his current monastery of residence. In many cases, the addressee of the parting poem is identified as holding a position in the monastic hierarchy, and in certain instances, the title of the poem explains that the monk is travelling to visit his family, in which case Hongzhi’s poem encourages the monk to return soon. In addition, Hongzhi’s social verse includes numerous “requested gāthā” poems written for ritual and economic activities within the monastery. In general, these titles give the impression that an average monk is requesting a poem to eulogize the activities that form part of their monastic routine. Although sometimes more than one poem is addressed to the same monk, this is the exception; instead Hongzhi’s poems appear to be addressed to over one hundred individual monks. Unlike Hongzhi’s portrait encomia (zhenzan 真贊), where over five hundred verses are collected under a single title in which the monk requesting the verse is anonymous, only three verses are written for anonymous monk(s) in Jisong (II). In sum, the collection gives the impression that Hongzhi exchanged verses with a wide pool of individual monks.

B. Parting Poems and Exchanges with Monks

The Chan transformation of Chinese literary traditions within yulu is most apparent in the parting poems and related verses of social exchange which occur regularly as part of the master’s collected verse. Within these verses, many of the literary conventions remain the same, including the customary regulated verse form and the seasonal and natural imagery related to travel and separation. Furthermore, the verses are clearly recognized as part of the parting poem tradition from their titles, which indicate that Hongzhi is “parting from” (bie 別) or “sending off” (song 送) some individual person. Notable is the frequency of parting poems that are addressed to other monks who are presented as equal participants in a Chan literary practice that mimics the traditions of literati. Within the verses themselves, the thematic and imagistic range of the parting poem becomes merged with or transformed by the symbolic language of Chan Buddhism, either fusing or oscillating back and forth between secular and religious expressions. Following Hongzhi’s series on The Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment, which matches the rhymes of his Caodong dharma brother Zhenxie Qingliao, there are a number of parting poems, which are either addressed to other Caodong monks or make reference to Mount Danxia, where Hongzhi trained under his master Danxia Zichun. The placement of these verses at the beginning of Jisong (II) gives the impression that they were written while Hongzhi was still a disciple at Mount Danxia and likely parting to begin his career as abbot. Besides serving as chronological markers, these verses portray his fellow Caodong monks as partners in a joint literary enterprise that represent the Chan monk as a kind of literatus-official.

The first parting poem in Hongzhi’s Jisong (II) is addressed to Huizhao Qingyu 慧照慶 預, or Dahong Qingyu 大洪慶預 (1078-1140), an elder and prominent disciple of Danxia Zichun. The verse fits seamlessly within the literati tradition, containing only oblique references to Buddhism. Its pentasyllabic ancient style (gushi) form is less common within Hongzhi’s jisong yet suits the laid-back tone of the poem, where Hongzhi adopts the role of a wandering traveler and depicts Huizhao Qingyu as a recluse. Although these roles accord with the image of the Chan monk, the adopted personas and language of the poem more closely resemble the words and deeds of literati-officials.

    Parting from Venerable [Qing]yu of Mount Hong14 別洪山預和尚
    In wandering, my thoughts are not yet settled, 般游念未穩
    Parting once again from this mountain dwelling man. 又別住山人
    The reflections of geese: characters in the water; 雁影水中字
    A cloud’s heart: the traveler on the river. 雲心江上賓
    Across the same stretch, we dwell in thusness— 同條如是住
    Becoming neighbors even though one thousand li apart. 千里亦成隣
    Deep emerald—a branch of the emperor’s seal. 深翠一枝璽
    Wilted red— five petals together displayed.15 腐紅五合陳
    I climb the bird paths on my journey home: 回途登鳥道
    The blossoming trees—spring in my old garden.16 華木故園春

Hongzhi’s self-deprecating description of himself as one’s whose “thoughts are not yet settled” (nian wei wen 念未穩) sounds as if he is a novice Chan monk at best. Yet, the tone is adopted largely in deference to his senior monk Huizhao Qingyu and as a rhetorical explanation for his travels. When this verse is read with the knowledge that it is a parting verse between two monks, then the “mountain dwelling man” (zhushan ren 住山人) would refer to Huizhao Qingyu’s residence in a secluded temple, and the “cloud heart” (yunxin 雲心) would be suggestive of the monk who dwells in the purity of impermanence. Even the “bird paths” (niaodao 鳥道) stand out as a recurring metaphor for the elusive and difficult path of Caodong practice. But without knowledge of the monastic context, this verse would simply be an inconspicuous parting poem between two literati, who follow the commands of the “emperor’s seal” (xi 璽) and whose world is imbued with the patterns of literature, just as the shadows of geese form characters on the water. Even the term I translate as “thusness” (rushi 如是) can be a simple grammatical phrase meaning “like this” and does not necessarily refer to a particular Buddhist concept. The literati character of both the poem and the monks’ personas is even more pronounced in another poem to Huizhao Qingyu later on within the collection:

    Sent to Venerable Dahong17 寄大洪和尚
    After tea, I say farewell as you go out the vine-covered gate; 飲茶作別出蘿門
    Seeing you off, I still cherish the warmth of our clasped hands. 相送猶懷握手溫
    When will the lone goose return to compose letters? 斷雁幾時歸綴字
    Everywhere the floating duckweed rests, it grows roots. 浮萍隨處臥生根
    The autumn wind outside my window wraps the reeds in snow; 秋風窓外擁蘆雪
    In a cold dream, the moon sets by the edge of my bed. 夢冷床頭墮月魂
    As we wearily migrate with our fly-whips over the years,18 麈柄年來疲轉徙
    I still think of the red grains we shared in our cooking vessels. 却思紅顆共炊盆

There are still subtle allusions here to the lives of Buddhist monks living as mountain recluses, drinking tea (yin cha 飲茶), and sharing food or communal meals, an image often mentioned in Hongzhi’s poems written on begging. But, even more than in the previous poem, the monks resemble migrating bureaucrats forced to move around from office to office like any other literatus-official. And like other literati-officials, they adopt the same poetic mode for commemorating the occasion of parting and express similar sentiments about separation: the parted monk is like a lone goose broken off from the flock, and Hongzhi’s cold loneliness is evoked by the image of sitting alone on his bed in the moonlight. Hongzhi even “cherishes the warmth of our clasped hands” (huai woshou wen 懷握手溫) after they say farewell, an emotional expression seemingly at odds with the Buddhist ideal of non-attachment. Despite the secular appearance of these two parting poems, however, their themes and images are largely continuous with Hongzhi’s more explicitly Buddhist verses, including parting poems where the act of separation is expressed in metaphorical language particular to Chan Buddhism. In this manner, the images within these poems take on Buddhist meanings in the broader context of Hongzhi’s poetic work. As in line 6 in the above poem, for instance, the moon and dreams form a common pair that symbolize enlightenment and delusion, in which case, the line can be read metaphorically as the moon casting its rays of enlightenment upon Hongzhi immersed in delusive dreams on his bed (chuang 床)—equally referring to a meditation platform in his poems. As well, in line 5, we see the image of the white reed flowers blown in the sky like snow by the autumn wind. This is not simply an immediate depiction of Hongzhi’s natural surroundings but a recognizable and ever-present metaphor for the non-dual relationship between difference and sameness central to Chan doctrine (see discussion in Ch. 2), where two white objects are shown to be indistinguishable though not the same.

The recurrence of recognizable Buddhist metaphors in Hongzhi’s parting poems does not mean that these poems should be read as essentially Buddhist in meaning but nor are they merely secular in nature. Instead, these verses operate on two levels: On one level they are conventional parting poems imbued with the anticipated loneliness of separation. On another level, the world of parting becomes a metaphor for the dharma, particularly the non-duality of separation and oneness. The lone goose separated from the flock nevertheless finds its home everywhere the duckweed lays its roots, and the weary traveler discovers his home garden in the blossoming trees along the roadside—wherever the monk goes, his true home of original Buddha-nature is already there. Although these verses have conventional and ultimate meanings, as in Caodong doctrine, the ultimate is not privileged over the conventional. The crucial point within these verses is that the metaphorical and literary meanings are mutually dependent on one another. It is not the case that Hongzhi is actually talking about the dharma and not about parting. Rather, parting itself is an expression of the dharma. When these poems are read in this manner, Hongzhi’s “wandering” (panyou 般游) in the world is none other than roaming (you 游) within Buddhist wisdom, prajñā (bore 般若): Buddhist “thusness” (rushi 如是) is simply “like this” (rushi 如是).

In a similar fashion, Hongzhi and his poet-monk companions are not simply imitating the actions of literati but embody a particular mode of life as recluses who share a deep connection through their commitment to the Buddha dharma. Hongzhi often depicts the connection between separated monks with variations of the phrase “the same wind across one thousand li” (qianli tongfeng 千里同風). In his poetry, the wind that is shared between the monks, and sometimes adept laypersons, is not only a physical force that metaphorically binds the monks across great distances, it is a symbol of the oneness that subsumes all space and time. It is the oneness and “thusness” of the dharma which ultimately links monks and laypersons everywhere, as evoked in the poem above:

    Across the same stretch, we dwell in thusness— 同條如是住
    Becoming neighbors even though one thousand li apart. 千里亦成隣

Although, in the two poems above, the Buddhist references are so deeply integrated into the poetic landscape of the parting poem as to become nearly invisible, the resonance between Chan and literati poetry and between the lives of monks and travelling officials is far more overt in other verses, as in the following poem of exchange, where two seemingly disparate modes of discourse are placed in parallel:

    Given to Chan Monk Guan 與觀禪者
    Open, pure, and unobstructed, you enter the place of awakening: 豁淨虛通入覺場
    A single expanse of original light before your body. 體前一段本來光
    Solitary Chan is just like carrying a board. 孤禪恰恰如擔板
    Silent illumination is as clear as facing the wall. 默照明明似面牆
    Reed flowers in the autumn light: snow on both shores. 秋光蘆華兩岸雪
    In the chill of night, a single boat of frost under the cassia moon.20 夜寒桂月一船霜
    Far in the distance, beyond form, you follow the road back: 迢迢象外行歸路
    A character drawn by the geese right below the setting sun.21 雁字低低正夕陽

While the first half of this verse directly addresses Chan practice and enlightenment, the second half assumes an entirely different character, as it describes the natural scenery through poetic language very similar to the parting poems above. In this way, the various images—the snowlike autumn reed flowers, the cold moonlight, the characters drawn by the flock of geese as they fly by, etc.—are repositioned within an explicitly Chan context. Thus, upon awakening, the act of parting is transformed into enlightened activity, and the dharma is clearly observed within objects of nature, just as the formlessness of the view far in the distance exemplifies the notion of emptiness. The prerequisite for reading the world in Chan terms is the practice of meditation in solitude and silence. This is one of the few verses where Hongzhi uses the term “silent illumination” (mozhao 默照), here combined with one of his more frequent allusions to sitting, “facing the wall” (mian qiang 面牆), a reference to the practice of the first Chan patriarch Bodhidharma. As the monk returns from the silence of non-discrimination, the distinct objects of the phenomenal world are revealed to be manifestations of emptiness, just like the illuminated flock of geese emerging from the formlessness in the distance.

The images of parting are not only used allegorically to illustrate Buddhist conceptions of the world; they are also used to depict the act of parting as Buddhist practice. The following is one of Hongzhi’s verses to monks returning to their hometowns to visit their parents, perhaps the only allusion in his poems to an ongoing commitment to filial piety regardless of the monks’ formal renunciation of home and family. Hongzhi poetically envisions the event as a process of re-entering the “crooked” (pian 偏), the conventional realm, as opposed to the ultimate, the “straight” (zheng 正), exemplified by the monastery:

    Seeing Off Monk Yuan on His Return to His Hometown 送願上人歸鄉
    At the head of the stream, you purchase a boat to return to Ezhu [Hubei], 溪頭買船歸鄂渚
    A single oar in the pure breeze, on the night of the fifth moon. 一櫂清風夜蟾午
    Your journey to Shaoshan will last a fortnight; 行盡韶山半月程
    The son of white clouds going to see the father of the green mountains. 白雲兒就青山父
    On the top of the cliff is Laozi’s final saying; 巖頭老子末後句
    Arriving there, you will know to ask without words. 此到將知問不語
    Before the seamless pagoda, the color of the wind is lofty; 無縫塔前風色高
    Clearly manifest, not separated by even a hairsbreadth. 洞然不隔絲毫許
    I exhort you to go there and quickly return; 丁寧此去快須回
    The disciples of my school must be perfectly skilled. 吾家之子要全才
    Not sitting on either end of the path of light and darkness, 不坐兩頭明暗路
    You return to the crooked, then come back to the straight. 偏中歸去正中來
    Ah! Ha! Ha! 阿呵呵
    Then you will know how skilled you are at heart.23 胸次風流知幾何

The poem begins with a basic description of the parting scene which turns toward an increasingly metaphorical depiction of the monk’s voyage, where his travels lead him to understand the wordlessness of Laozi’s sayings and witness the emptiness of form, exemplified by both the “seamless pagoda” (wufeng ta 無縫塔) and the “color of the wind” (fengse 風色). Rather than evoke notions of filial piety, even the relationship between father and son is reworked to symbolize the meeting of the solid and durable “green mountains” (qingshan 青山) with the fleeting and insubstantial “white clouds” (baiyun 白雲)— which also refers to monks.24 Similarly, Laozi 老子 can refer to a colloquial expression for father or even its literal and paradoxical rendering as “old child.” Fundamentally, the reason that returning home is conducive to religious insight is because returning to the world is an occasion for the monk to put the principle of non-duality into practice, since the monk who is “perfectly skilled” (quancai 全才) does “not sit on either end of the path of light and darkness” 不坐兩頭明暗路. In other words, only by moving between the “ultimate” realm of the monastery and the “crooked” realm of the secular world can the monk transcend attachment to either the religious or secular life and roam freely between them.

This poem is an example of an ancient-style verse (gushi) in which the couplet disintegrates towards the end of the poem where Hongzhi lets loose his idiosyncratic laughter: “Ah! Ha! Ha!” 阿呵呵, voicing the ultimate wordlessness of the path that cannot be defined in dualistic terms, such as straight and crooked, secular and sacred. To understand things as beyond words is to be fengliu 風流, an elusive term, having a range of meanings, such as romantic, unconventional, and talented. For Hongzhi, fengliu refers to the ability to embrace the dualities of existence and engage in the conventional world, its language, emotions, and customs, yet always from the standpoint of non-duality. Hongzhi thus urges the monk to return to the monastery and not remain in the secular world, because it is within the monastery where one trains to integrate the crooked and straight. Along with the theme of re-entering the conventional world, Hongzhi’s verses also illustrate the act of parting as the realization of selflessness cultivated within meditation. The next example condenses prominent Caodong themes in a single verse and integrates them directly into the concrete activities of daily life. The parting poem thus becomes a medium to ground seemingly intangible metaphors and abstract doctrinal terms. Although this verse contains an exceptional density of Chan metaphors for a parting poem, these metaphors are not uncommon in Hongzhi’s occasional verse, and this verse is a good example of the transformation of the parting poem into an expression of Buddhist doctrine:

    Parting from Canon Prefect Jue
    Ever since the bean burst into cold ash,
    Your horns are high and noble, your lofty eye is open.
    Within the jade dish, pearls wind around and around;
    Above the lapis lazuli hall, the moon moves back and forth.
    The wooden man looks back at his shadow, departing at dawn;
    The stone maiden drapes herself in clouds, arriving at midnight.
    Straight and crooked must change positions when merit is perfected;
    Entering the market with dangling hands—this kind of thing is difficult to perfect.


As with “Given to Chan Monk Guan” above, the poem is situated in the attainment of awakening. In this case, the poem begins with the idea of turning the discriminating mind into “cold ashes” (hanhui 寒灰), one image within a list of Caodong metaphors drawn from the Zhuangzi 莊子 for stilling the mind. The realization of this meditative state produces a sudden burst of awareness that confers awakening on the practitioner, in this case, Canon Prefect Jue, whose eyes open to the luminous jewel of the empty mind. In this context, the wooden man (muren 木人) and stone maiden (shinü 石女) (discussed in Ch. 2) function as Chan metaphors for parting, where the selfless person comes and goes, through darkness and daylight, effortlessly and naturally, like ephemeral shadows or clouds. The final goal is to “enter the market with dangling hands” (ru chan chui shou 入鄽垂手), the last stage of the Ten Ox-herding pictures, where the fully trained Chan monk leaves the monastery and re-enters the world. “Dangling hands” contrasts with the formal placement of the hands in monastic training and implies the carefree disposition of the realized monk who returns to the world of dust to aid others on the path of enlightenment. In other words, the Caodong Chan ideal is not to leave the world and its language for the attainment of some ultimate state but to enter into the world to practice: integrating nondiscrimination even into the commonplace act of composing a parting poem. C. Parting Poems and Exchanges with Laypersons If the monks within Hongzhi’s parting poems are urged to leave the monastery and enter the secular world, laypersons are encouraged to embrace the ultimate within their worldly lives, integrating the crooked and straight within a complementary sphere of activity. Of the twentythree poems written for laypersons, most are addressed to persons with official titles, including various ministers (lang 郎) and a number of district magistrates (zhixian 知縣). Others are addressed to scholars (identified as xueshi 學士 or xiucai 秀才, a candidate for the metropolitan examination),28 persons addressed by their secular names, and a couple of laywomen, whom I will discuss in a separate section below. Only four poems are written to persons formally addressed as Buddhist laypersons (jushi 居士). Although Hongzhi adopts different modes of address and expresses varying degrees of respect for the laypersons included, regardless of the status of the addressee, Hongzhi envisions them as embodying a Chan mode of life within the world and emphasizes the profound friendship between himself and his lay counterparts. Hongzhi most often depicts lay officials as occupying an equally valid, albeit distinct, mode of life as recluses in the world. The most often cited paradigm for the reclusive life in Hongzhi’s poetry is, unsurprisingly, Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 (Tao Qian 陶潜; 372?-427), who enjoyed a revival of popularity during the Song and who is known as the father of the “fields and gardens” (tianyuan 田園) mode of reclusion.29 Unlike monks who, stereotypically, withdrew to the mountains to pursue their religious cultivation far removed from the world, Tao Yuanming remained close to human activity and society, pursuing an agricultural life along with his family. In his own poetry, Tao Yuanming even claims that reclusion fundamentally depends on being mentally withdrawn rather than physically secluded.30 With the emphasis on mental as opposed to physical reclusion and his proximity to society, he serves as a useful model for portraying literati as recluses, independent of whether or not, like Tao Yuanming, they actually retired from official life. On a rare occasion, Hongzhi portrays laypersons as Tao Yuanming-styled recluses with little reference to Buddhism:

    Sent to District Magistrate Shi Qiutong 寄石湫童知縣
    At a thatched hut at the head of a stream, you emulate old Tao [Yuanming],溪頭茆屋遠追陶
    Now too lazy to prostrate yourself for one peck of rice.31 斗米而今懶折腰
    The old man of Han River would rather embrace his water jug; 漢水丈人甘抱甕
    The layman of Jishan loathes the rattling gourd. 箕山居士厭鳴瓢
    The autumn mind and clear moon reflect each other in the night; 心秋霽月夜相照
    The warm wind does not blow away the snow on [your]temples. 鬢雪溫風吹不消
    Bending your arm [for a pillow], you entrust your life to a dream, 身世曲肱分付夢
    Quickly following the butterflies to the flowering branch.32 遽隨蝴蝶到華條

This poem most resembles an exposition of the Daoist mode of reclusion, even making a couple allusions to the Zhuangzi, a constant presence within Chan yulu. Tao Yuanming poetically represents the magistrate, who embodies the natural simplicity of the Daoist recluse, free of contrivance and worldly desire, living a leisurely life in a thatched hut amidst the natural world. In line 3, Hongzhi alludes to an anecdote in the Zhuangzi, where an old man refuses advice to use a well-sweep to aid his work of raising water from a well to irrigate his garden. Instead, the old man prefers to maintain his arduous practice of watering his vegetables with a water jug and claims that since contraptions derive from a scheming mind, they would corrupt his pure simplicity. Likewise, Hongzhi alludes to Xuyou 許由, the hermit of Jishan, who went into reclusion after Sage-Emperor Yao offered him the throne. According to legend, when some villagers noticed that Xuyou used only his hands to draw water, they presented him with a gourd. Xuyou grew tired of the gourd, however, and hung it up in a tree. There, it rattled in the wind to the hermit’s displeasure, so he took it down and destroyed it.34 The simple life is also found in the image of “bending the arm” (qu gong 曲肱) as a pillow, an idea that derives from the Analects and was also employed by Tao Yuanming.35 In this poem, adopting the simple mode of life is the gateway to the central insights of the Zhuangzi: the subjective and illusory nature of reality, symbolized by the butterfly dream, often alluded to in Hongzhi’s occasional verse. As the well-known story goes, Zhuangzi once dreamt he was a butterfly and upon waking up, he did not know if he was Zhuangzi dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.

Although it is improbable that the magistrate lived a life in any way similar to that of a recluse inhabiting a thatched hut, the reclusive mode serves as a means to commemorate the magistrate for preserving a pure heart within the world. The resonance between reclusion and Buddhist ideals may only be hinted at in the central imagistic couplet that depicts the autumnal mind reflecting the clear moon of enlightenment. These images are reminiscent of a line from the verses of the legendary Chan poet-recluse Hanshan 寒山 (8th-9th C.), who is known for declaring: “My mind is like the autumn moon” (wuxin si qiuyue 吾心似秋月).37 More frequently, Hongzhi makes an explicit connection between the reclusive life and Buddhism, as in the following:

    In Spring of the Year Jiayin (1134), I Went to Haishan.
    After the Rain I Visited District Magistrate Wang Yuanming.


    Who cares if my soles sink into the spring mud? 誰問春泥沒履牙
    The vine covered gates are lovely—green, sloping, uneven. 蘿門窈窕綠差斜
    The hidden fragrance of pine and chrysanthemum on Yuanming’s path, 幽芳松菊淵明徑
    The secluded beauty of the streams and hills by Vimalakīrti’s home. 深秀溪山摩詰家
    In silent illumination, the Buddha-lamp does not waver in the cold. 默照佛燈寒不掉
    In the face of karma, the mind’s mirror is pure and faultless. 對緣心鑑淨無瑕
    Still [I] hear how lazy layman Rong is— 仍聞懶甚融居士
    How many times have the birds in his courtyard scattered about the flowers?39 庭鳥幾番狼藉華

This poem is not directly addressed to Wang Yuanming, the district magistrate, yet the tone of admiration suggests that this poem was meant for him to see. Here Hongzhi crafts a fine balance between his description of the lush and secluded scenery and his construction of religious meaning, as he draws from the elegant language of the Shijing 詩經 to describe the “lovely” (yaotao 窈窕) vine-covered gates and incorporates the pines and chrysanthemums of Tao Yuanming’s poetry into the landscape, easily punning on the magistrate’s name. Only in the third couplet does overtly Buddhist language intrude into the quietly sensuous scene, as he describes the mind of Chan preserved in perfect purity even while reflecting the busy world of karma. The key figure here is Vimalakīrti, hero of the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, who surpassed even Buddha’s most notable disciples in religious attainment and who embodies and teaches the principle of nonduality, most notably conveyed through his “thunderous silence.”40 Vimalakīrti came to represent a lay Buddhist model of reclusion, which, as we see here, neatly adopts Tao Yuanming into its domain. Hongzhi’s determination to visit the magistrate, symbolized in the vivid impression of his clogs sinking into the spring mud, is not to teach a student, but to greet a worthy recluse and realized Chan adept, whose disciplined mind shines as steadfast as an unwavering lamp. An additional layer of meaning derives from the fact that the famous Tang poet Wang Wei 王維, known for incorporating the principle of emptiness into his poetics, took Vimalakīrti’s name, Mojie 摩詰, as his own style name.41 Indeed, the image of the secluded beauty of streams and hills is more relevant in reference to Wang Wei’s nature poems than to the legend of Vimalakīrti. This forms yet another pun on the magistrate’s name (as Wang Mojie 王 摩詰) that links him to a revered Buddhist-literatus. By drawing out these correlations, Hongzhi poetically inscribes a mode of non-discrimination between Chan master and lay disciple, and between Buddhist layman and literati recluse, which does much to establish a common bond between them. This unification of lay and monastic life is embodied in the allusion to the Tang dynasty master Niutou Farong 牛頭法融 (594-657) in the final couplet. Farong is said to have gone to live as a hermit in the mountains where hundreds of birds greeted him with flowers upon his arrival. Niutou Farong was not actually a layman (jushi 居士) at all, but in Hongzhi’s poetic vision, there is no distinction between lay and monastic if one embraces the tranquil heart of a recluse.

The reclusive mode is not only used as a means of praising the lives of lay counterparts, it is also used to offer consolation to literati who actually withdrew from political activity. Chan meditation is paired with reclusion in these contexts as a means to transcend the vagaries of existence and attain solace within the world of suffering:

    Zhu Xizai served as Magistrate of Pingyin. After Eighty Days
    He Resigned and Returned Home.43
    Courageously, you retired, returning to your old haunts; 勇退歸來適舊遊
    At your home, the woods and fields have all turned to autumn. 家林禾黍一成秋
    By the huts on the shore, snow shines on the yellow reeds; 黃蘆雪照沙頭屋
    A boat at the mouth of the river floats on the moonlit waves. 明月波浮江口舟
    Plowing the path, who follows after the master? 耕道誰從夫子後
    Today with an old monk companion, you escape through Chan. 逃禪今與老僧儔
    [Just go to] Chaisang and ask Tao Pengze,44 柴桑試問陶彭澤
    Whether anything compares to the taste of true wine.45 風味真醇相肖不

This verse incorporates the recurring images of the snow-like reed flowers and the moonlight on the waves as symbols of the integration of unity and diversity that characterize the world of the travelling official as with the wandering monk. Here Hongzhi is less concerned with praising the literatus as a recluse as with envisioning him as a companion of the Way, evoking the friendship between monk and layperson as Hongzhi describes himself as Zhu Xizai’s “old monk companion” (lao sengchou 老僧儔). Together they engage in meditation, “escaping in Chan” (tao chan 逃禪), and “plow the path” (geng dao 耕道), an image that synthesizes the romanticized agricultural activity of either a monk or rustic recluse with the spiritual practice of pursuing the Dao 道, or path. Hongzhi often enjoys punning on the “drunkenness” (zui 醉) of the literatus-recluse as a symbol for the immersion in the freedom and joy of Chan realization, here depicted as the “true wine” (zhenchun 真醇) of Tao Yuanming shared between layperson and monk. Although the friendship which binds the monk and layperson as recluse bridges the divide between monastic and secular realms, there is almost always an implicit recognition of the distinction between the two modes of life. Unlike the poems to fellow monks where both monks share similar duties and functions, Hongzhi’s expression of adulation and friendship with laypersons is predicated on the assumed difference between them. The monk and layperson may share the reclusive mind, but they occupy separate positions in society. There is one parting poem, however, which subtly alludes to the connection between monk and layperson in terms of official life as well as reclusion:

    Parting from Candidate Zou 別鄒秀才
    Knowing that fame and profit are like wandering in a dream,46 聲利明來若夢游
    You were willing to take a detour on your journey home to lodge among the clouds. 肯迃征家宿雲棲
    With lofty feelings, your ambition is to be in the mountains; 情高素抱山樊志
    Simple by nature, you search for friends hidden among the pines and stones. 性淡幽尋松石儔
    Fond of the style of our school, you admire its purity; 愛我家風清入眼
    When I ask you about current affairs, you nod and shake your head. 問伊時事點搖頭
    This morning I say farewell and return to sit alone, 今朝送別還孤坐
    Vainly facing the smoke from the censer forming letters in the air.47 空對爐煙篆字浮

This verse again presents the reclusive life and its resonance with Chan as a means of consolation for a literatus withdrawing from office, whether by force or by choice. Although Hongzhi’s Jisong (II) cover a time period in which the Northern Song fell to the Jurchen Jin, there is little evidence of Hongzhi’s response to this event in these poems, except for the fact that it must have determined the nature and location of the travels that frequently form the topic of his verses. This is the only poem I have found that makes some allusion to the political situation, vaguely mentioned as “current affairs” (shishi 時事). There is no concrete evidence that this poem refers to the fall of the Northern Song, but the precarious political situation must have impacted Hongzhi’s career as abbot, as he came to settle on Mount Tiantong close to the Southern Song capital during the same year that the Northern Song collapsed in 1129. Despite the very secular nature of this poem, the changing and unpredictable circumstances of an official life are put into the context of the Buddhist teachings on impermanence and the illusions of fame and profit, and it is within the practice of solitary sitting that one faces the difficulties of life and copes with personal and political turmoil. It could have been in response to such a turbulent state of affairs that Hongzhi promoted his Caodong Chan and secured allegiance from prominent literati who became, in Hongzhi’s words, “fond of the style of our school” (ai wo jiafeng 愛我家 風), the one element in the verse that places conventional themes of impermanence, loss of official position, and reclusion into an otherwise unspoken Chan context. Both monk and scholar respond in silence to political loss and the ephemerality of the imperial order, and Hongzhi returns alone to sit in solitude, “vainly facing the smoke from the censer forming letters in the air” 空對爐煙篆字浮. While Hongzhi recognizes the emptiness of all things—coming and going like smoke in the air—like the official, he too is affected by changes in the empire, as an abbot’s position was also determined by the imperial bureaucracy and influenced by its fate. Even this slight allusion to shared official life between monk and layperson is unusual in Hongzhi’s poetry. More often the friendship between monk and layperson finds its depth in a common commitment to the Buddhist dharma. While in the poems above, Hongzhi may praise his lay counterparts for practicing silent sitting, embracing the heart of Tao Yuanming, or being a layperson in the world like Vimalakīrti, other verses take the analogy a step further to depict secular persons as lay Chan masters, symbolized by the figure of Layman Pang. Just as Vimalakīrti is a lay hero across the Chinese Buddhist tradition, Layman Pang is the layperson par excellence in Chan. Layman Pang was a disciple of the revered Chan master Mazu Daoyi of the Tang, and many dialogues of their encounters are recorded. Not only is Layman Pang another example of a person living in the world who outshines his monastic counterparts, his wife and daughter are equally depicted as enlightened sages. Layman Pang is also credited with a few hundred poems, all relating to Buddhist doctrinal matters, and his verses were often quoted by Dahui Zonggao in his own correspondence with laypersons.48 Here is one of Hongzhi’s poem where a literatus is shown living the ideal of Layman Pang:

    As the Snow Clears, Sent to Principal Graduate Liu49 雪晴寄劉殿撰
    Half a piece of felt—a single Qiang bed; 羊氈半幅一羌床
    Frugal and simple, like the family style of old Pang. 寒淡家風肖老龐
    With ease, you hide yourself in the Big Dipper; 容易著身藏北斗
    In leisure, you open your mouth to drink up the West River. 等閑開口吸西江
    Buddhist sūtras by the shrine lamp—incense rises by the table; 龕燈梵夾香搖几
    A meditation cushion in the thatched hut—snow shines on the window. 茆屋禪蒲雪照窗
    With a monastic’s brotherly affection, my thoughts turn to you in the dusty world, 方外友于思對塵
    Where the recluse’s heart is stirring in agitation.50 隱人胸次作舂撞

The scholar’s frugal life is described in the style of Layman Pang who was known for casting away all of his wealth into a river. The rugged “Qiang bed” (Qiang chuang 羌床), referring to the customs of a non-Han people, is a conventional image of rusticity in Hongzhi’s poems, though it is also possible that Hongzhi would use these images of cold and foreignness for a scholar somewhere on the frontier. Hongzhi not only uses Layman Pang’s name to describe the scholar but also incorporates his favorite anecdote about Layman Pang into his verse. Layman Pang once asked Mazu: “Who is the man who doesn’t accompany the ten thousand dharmas?” Mazu replied: “Layman, wait till you’ve swallowed in one swig all the water of the West River, then I’ll tell you,” whereupon Layman Pang attained great awakening.51 The paired allusions in the second couplet illustrate an effortless merging of the self into the great expanse of space as well as time, one of the connotations of the Big Dipper as it rotates in the night sky like a clock. The description of Buddhist study and meditation in a silent, cold, and reclusive dwelling sounds like a portrait of Hongzhi’s own life; yet, without the use of personal pronouns or other personal signifiers, the resultant ambiguity is full of meaning—this Buddhist existence could equally be imagined within Scholar Liu’s life far away in a cold snowy world. In this manner, Hongzhi severs the strict distinctions between lay and monastic life. Most importantly, the brotherly bond between him and his scholarly companion is not a worldly one, but one “outside the world” (fangwai 方外), similar to his bond with fellow monks, which is at once complementary and distinct to the realm of Confucian relationships.

In a similar vein, there are times when Hongzhi’s poems to laypersons may be identical to the richly Buddhist verses exchanged with monks, at which point the distinction between monk and layperson almost completely dissolves, as in the following parting poem:

    Parting from Minister Lu 別陸尚書
    Over one thousand li, the same wind: your virtue is not alone; 千里同風德不孤
    An autumn heart perceives the moon illuminating an empty jug. 心秋覺月照空壺
    At both ends, meditation cuts off the question of life and death; 兩頭坐斷何生死
    A single bit of perfect illumination is different from being and nonbeing. 一點圓明異有無
    The wooden horse whinnies in the cold in Green Grass Village; 木馬寒嘶青草塢
    The mud ox does his spring-planting in the White Cloud District. 泥牛春種白雲區
    Seeing and hearing the work of the Buddha, who welcomes it with opposition? 見聞佛事誰迎背
    With full use and function, the Way turns on its hub.53 用處全機道轉樞

Very little of this verse refers to the images and conventions of parting, except for the standard image in the first line of the monk and official connected by the same wind over one thousand miles of separation. The link between them derives from their shared “virtue” (de 德) of enlightenment. The minister himself is like an “empty jug” (kong hu 空壺) illuminated by the moon—a vessel for the Buddhist teaching of emptiness. The minister’s virtue is referred to in a manner strongly reminiscent of the official whose true worth is unrecognized in the world. Thus, the wind that unites Hongzhi and the minister over a lengthy spatial distance also links the moral character of a virtuous minister to the religious attainments of a Chan monk. Typical to Chan language, the poem plays on well-known dichotomies of life and death (sheng si 生死), being (you 有) and non-being (wu 無), one (yidian 一點) and two (liangtou 兩頭), which are cut through by the discipline and insight of meditation. As with the wooden man and stone maiden imagery, the wooden horse and mud ox symbolize the non-discriminating mind and selfless person, who is equally at home whether in the realm of form and multiplicity (the Green Grass Village) or the realm of emptiness (the White Cloud District). The twofold meaning of the final line further blurs the distinctions between the life of Chan and the way of a worldly official. In Chan language, quanji 全機 is the “total dynamic activity” that arises out of emptiness.54 But in regard to a high minister, this line refers to his official role governing the world and his usefulness in doing so. Either way, the minister embraces the “Way,” or Dao 道, that pervades both Buddhist discourse and Confucian social ethics.

Despite the declarations of friendship with various scholars and officials above, there is little evidence of a sustained literary correspondence with these laypersons. Each appears only once in his verses, and some of these poems appear to be perfunctory, written on the occasion of official, or non-official, visits with laypersons. There is one layperson, however, with whom Hongzhi is recorded to have written more than one poem: Layman Chaoran (Chaoran jushi 超然 居士), one of only two individuals formally addressed as a Buddhist layman (jushi 居士) within the titles of Jisong (II). While literary relationships between Chan monks and laypersons during the Song are well-known, these relationships are most often envisioned as situations in which the monk spends time writing secular-type poetry with literati outside of the monastery. For example, we see this type of relationship in the poetic exchanges of the famous Song poet Su Shi with monks like Canliao 參廖 (Daoqian 道潛; 1043-?).55 Hongzhi’s exchanges with Layman Chaoran move in the opposite direction, where Layman Chaoran is fully integrated into the literary context of the Chan monastery. As depicted in Hongzhi’s yulu, their literary exchanges take place within the monastery, between monks, and in reference to the language, anecdotes, and poetry of Chan literature. Layman Chaoran is the Buddhist name of the official Zhao Lingjin 趙 令衿 (S. Song; zi: Biaozhi 表之), a well-known Buddhist layperson whose reputation was worthy enough to secure an entry in the Song dynasty denglu 燈錄 (lamp record) compilation Wudeng huiyuan 五燈會元 (Compendium of the Five Lamps), where he is listed as a lay disciple of Linji master Yuanwu Keqin. According to the Wudeng huiyuan, Layman Chaoran traveled widely among Chan masters, including Yuanwu’s dharma-heir Dahui Zonggao, and was like a Vimalakīrti at court.

Two of the three poems that reference Layman Chaoran appear side by side in Jisong (II), but all three appear to have been written during a trip in which Hongzhi and the layman traveled together to visit Linji master Letan (or Baofeng 寶峰) Jingxiang 泐潭景祥 (1062-1132) in Hongzhou, home of the Mazu lineage of Chan. As such, these poems do not represent a longstanding literary relationship, but they do demonstrate how poetic exchange between monks and laypersons could take place in the Chan monastic context. Of the three poems, one is an unusual piece that continues Layman Chaoran’s own poem written to thank Hongzhi for traveling with him; another is a verse given to two senior monks that uses Layman Chaoran’s rhymes; and the last is a parting poem to Layman Chaoran.57 Both of the verses that are addressed to the layman are lengthy ancient-style verses that assume the layman’s familiarity with popular Chan figures and anecdotes. In the odd, nineteen line verse where Hongzhi “continues” (ji 繼) Layman Chaoran’s own poem, Hongzhi not only makes reference to Layman Pang but also the Tang dynasty master Juzhi 俱胝, known for his one-finger Chan, and the famous Mazu lineage monk Zhaozhou Congshen 趙州從諗 (778-897), who figures in numerous Chan gong’an. For example, Hongzhi quotes Zhaozhou’s expression that the Buddha (“the sixteen foot golden body”) is a blade of grass, in order to evoke the underlying Chan intent of their travels, where everything before them manifests its Buddha-nature:

    The heels of our feet tread on the barrier of Zhaozhou: 脚跟踏著趙州關
    The sixteen foot golden body is a single blade of grass.59 丈六金身一莖草

As these verses were written at a Linji monastery with Linji monks, they represent the non-sectarian realities in which Chan poetic discourse would often take place. Hongzhi’s parting poem to Layman Chaoran is an excellent example of how Hongzhi weaves together diverse Chan figures of various sectarian affiliations and the lives of monks and laypersons within his conception of non-duality and silence. Most significantly, the verse “borrows rhymes” (jieyun 借 韻) from a parting poem by the famous Yunmen lineage master and poet Xuedou Chongxian 雪 竇重顯 (980-1052), thus, strengthening both the pan-sectarian and Chan literary context of the poetic composition.60

    Borrowing the Rhymes of Xuedou, Sending off Layman 借雪竇韻送超然居士
    Chaoran, Zhao Biaozhi, at Letan 趙表之時在泐潭
    In a single gulp, he completely swallowed the Western river, 一口吸盡西江水
    And the style of Master Mazu’s school arose in rank. 馬師家風擢然起
    Old Pang prostrated himself, inheriting the fragrant dust; 老龐俯伏嗣芳塵
    In ancient times or today, who else is like this? 古也今也誰如此
    I made friends with this person of the Transcendent Dao, 超然道與若人交
    who could not give up his grand intention to travel south. 南游浩意未相饒
    His manner is pure, his bones refined, his eyes cold blue: 風清骨秀眼寒碧
    An icy jug in the jade well frozen solid. 玉井氷壺凍不消
    He slept alone on a rugged bed in Vimalakīrti’s room; 羌床孤臥淨名室
    Non-abiding and non-dependent, he cast off [both] emptiness and abundance. 無住無依脫虛溢
    Then a single profound silence was fully revealed, 淵然一默乃全提
    And the gate of non-duality opened like daylight. 不二門開肖當日
    Once his Buddhist work was perfected, he thought of returning, 佛事圓來作歸想
    and went out the door onto the divergent path, flat like the palm of a hand. 出門岐路平如掌
    Arriving home, his sons and daughters simply circle around him, 到家兒女獨圝頭
    Wordlessly facing each other in true appreciation.61 相對無言得真賞

As Hongzhi tells the story of Layman Chaoran’s enlightenment and praises his lay counterpart as an exemplary embodiment of Chan, the imagery of reclusion mostly drops away. In its place, Hongzhi depicts Layman Chaoran as a Chan master in the world, symbolized by Vimalakīrti in his simple abode and Layman Pang, Mazu’s prized disciple, swallowing the West River. Layman Chaoran even takes on the barbarian blue eyes of the first Chinese Chan patriarch Bodhidharma.62 Even while on retreat at a Linji monastery, the layman attains the goal of Caodong meditation, stilling his mind to become: “An icy jug in the jade well frozen solid” 玉井 氷壺凍不消. In the end, however, the layman’s final reward consists of the simple act of returning home to greet his children “without words” (wuyan 無言). The act of parting is thus symbolic for the return to the conventional world, having obtained the “profound silence” (yuanran yi mo 淵然一默) of “non-duality” (bu’er 不二), representative of both the teachings of Vimalakīrti and Hongzhi’s meditative practice.

IV. The Monk as Recluse

As already evident, Hongzhi frequently wrote in the reclusive mode and made reference to reclusive figures in his poetic exchanges with monks and laypersons. A Chan master’s yulu also typically contains large numbers of poems formally on the topic of reclusion, written both inside and outside the context of social exchange. These include many “Dwelling in the Mountains” (Shanju 山居) verses and “Fisherman Songs” (Yufu ci 漁父詞, or Yujia ci 漁家詞), the one prevalent song lyric apart from song lyric forms used for Buddhist doctrinal verses. The yulu of Hongzhi’s master, Danxia Zichun, for example, includes eleven “Fisherman’s Songs” (matching the rhymes of another master) and five shanju out of seventy-three jisong, comprising about onefifth of his occasional poetry.63 In addition to these reclusive topics are poems written in imitation of Hanshan (Ni Hanshan shi 擬寒山詩), the legendary Chan poet-recluse of the Tang dynasty, who was also the subject of many encomia (zan). In certain cases, Chan masters wrote hundreds of shanju or verses in imitation of Hanshan.64 In this regard, Hongzhi’s yulu is somewhat exceptional, as it contains neither shanju verses nor Hanshan imitations and only one series of two “Fisherman’s Songs.” Despite these absences, Hongzhi’s yulu nevertheless contains a great number of verses on reclusive themes, including those written at or about hermitages, verses “written spontaneously” (ouzuo 偶作) in the reclusive mode, and even one verse written within the “Looking for the Recluse and Not Finding Him In” subgenre.65 Furthermore, along with legendary recluses such as Tao Yuanming, Layman Pang, and Vimalakīrti, we often encounter reclusive archetypes like the fisherman and the rustic ox-herding boy within his poems. The predominance of the reclusive mode within Chan yulu can be explained by numerous factors: its association with leaving the world to pursue monastic life, its use as a metaphor for the withdrawal of silent meditation, and its multivalent cultural connections to the Daoist sage, to the political retirement of the Confucian literatus, and to esteemed poets of Chinese literature. The reclusive mode for monks, however, is not merely a poetic trope used to allegorize Chan practice by means of a well-known and attractive cultural paradigm. While it is doubtful that Hongzhi’s portrayal of his lay counterparts as leading reclusive lives actually corresponds to living in simple poverty, spending time in physical reclusion outside of the monastery does appear to have been a practice actually undertaken by monks. Indeed, Hongzhi’s poetry, as with that of other monk-poets, offers evidence of monks engaging in periods of reclusion at hermitages within the mountains. This evidence consists of numerous poems on traveling to hermitages, poems written to commemorate particular hermitages, and even parting poems for monks leaving to spend time in reclusion.66 Hongzhi’s poems on his own hermitage and life in reclusion at Nanlu 南麓 (Southern Foot of the Hill) provides the strongest indication that monks did indeed spend time in physical withdrawal.

    New Dwelling at Nanlu 南麓新居
    In the shade of bamboo by the river’s edge in the foothills, 山麓水濱竹木陰
    I lazily care for myself in the profundity of a quiet abode. 我儂懶養靜居深
    In this life, I am satisfied with the taste of the tasteless;67 一生自足淡中味
    Throughout the three times,68 when do I ever restrain the ease of my heart? 三際那收閒底心
    The clouds in the ravine have no intention of emerging from the caves; 壑雲未成出岫意
    The wind in the pines is able to make a sound that descends to the shore. 松風能作下灘音
    With whom can I share this completely pure inspiration? 十分清興與誰共
    I imagine myself within Zhidun’s grove in Wozhou.69 想有沃洲支遁林

Along with this verse on taking up residence at Nanlu, Hongzhi’s yulu also contains a poem on travelling to Nanlu in 1120 and one on a return visit entitled, “Returning to My Former Dwelling at Nanlu” (Huan Nanlu jiuju 還南麓舊居).70 The verse above contains many elements common to the reclusive poetic mode, particularly a life of quiet ease and idleness close to nature, where worldly schemes and desires are abandoned. True to the careless demeanor of the recluse is a poetics of simplicity, marked by relatively mundane, vernacular language that somewhat resembles the crafted “speech” of yulu sermons. The recluse is, after all, one who appreciates the pleasures of the everyday, the “taste of the tasteless” or “blandness” (dan zhong wei 淡中味), an idea which resonates with the poetics of “blandness” (qingdan 清淡), made popular in the Northern Song by the poet Mei Yaochen 梅堯臣 (1002-1060).

One of the ironies of the casual expressions of the recluse is the frequent use of the pronoun “I” (wo 我)—or, here the colloquial wonong 我儂—usually assumed but unpronounced in most shi poetry. Despite the fact that the recluse is suppposed to be hiding his or her self away from society and, for the Buddhist, actualizing the ideal of selflessness, the self-referencing first person signals the recluse’s clumsy, unrefined manner, who puts on no airs of either attainment or elegance. Another key feature expressed within Hongzhi’s reclusive poems is the efficacy of nature for self-realization. In this verse, the reclusive lifestyle itself has a naturally beneficial influence on the world. Even though Hongzhi, like the clouds in their caves deep within the ravine, has no intention of come out of hiding, the practice of withdrawal still impacts the world, like the wind of the pines descending down the mountains. The image of the wind is reminiscent of the metaphor of the transformative power of the virtuous sage in the Analects: “When the wind moves over the grass, the grass is sure to bend.”72 Concomitant with the power of nature is the spontaneous arising of “inspiration” (xing 興) for poetic composition. When one nurtures a serene mind appreciative of scenic beauty, poetic phrases naturally arise. Hongzhi appropriately references the famous Six Dynasties’ monk Zhidun 支遁 (314- 366) as his imagined companion in reclusion. Zhidun was known for associating with literary figures and is distinguished as one of the first Chinese monks whose poems are recorded.73 Along with writing poetry, he spent time living in the mountains and promoted Vimalakīrti as a Buddhist ideal.74 It could be argued that reclusion is not properly Buddhist as it derives from Confucian and Daoist models and is often represented by non-Buddhist figures such as Tao Yuanming.75 The canonical source of reclusion as an esteemed moral activity is the Analects, where Confucius states: “The gentleman serves in office as long as by doing so he can further the Way; once that becomes impossible he must resign to avoid moral compromise.”76 Although essentially defined as an act of political withdrawal—an idea that still crops up in Hongzhi’s poems—the recluse in poetry became associated with the Daoist sage and living close to nature, either the mountains, or in the case of Tao Yuanming, as a gentleman farmer of the fields and gardens.77 Despite its non-Buddhist origins, it is noteworthy that early in the history of Buddhist monasticism in China, dominant figures like Zhidun began making associations between monastic life and the practice and symbolism of reclusion.78 By Hongzhi’s time in the Song dynasty, reclusion had been thoroughly entwined with Buddhist practices and ideals that it was as much Buddhist as Confucian or Daoist. In this way, the reclusive mode could form an integral part of Chan doctrine and could be expressed as such within established poetic topics within Chan yulu, such as the “Oxherding Boy” (Mutong 牧童). Here is Hongzhi’s six-character line quatrain on the subject:

    The old river ox walks on with steady steps, 水牯老行步穩
    while the boy in the straw raincoat foolishly sings and laughs frequently. 蓑郎癡歌笑繁
    Beyond [the world of] things, there is originally no dust; 物外初無塵滓
    within his heart, there are other hills and gardens.79 胸中別有丘園

This verse weaves together the image of the rustic, young ox-herder, Chan doctrine, and the mental reclusion of Tao Yuanming. As in the “Ten Ox-herding Pictures,” themselves accompanied by verse, the ox refers to the enlightened mind or Buddha-nature. For the fully enlightened fool, the ox walks steadily on without any effort from the ox-herding boy who merely sings simple songs as he goes along: the conventional mind and enlightened mind move as one. In the final couplet, Hongzhi parallels the Sixth Patriarch’s claim that the mirror of the mind is originally without dust, with Tao Yuanming’s idea that true reclusion simply depends on the mind and not physical location. For the Chan adept who views the world of things as fundamentally empty and pure, Tao Yuanming’s fields and gardens are close at hand. Along with the correspondences made between reclusion and Buddhist doctrine and practice, figures like Vimalakīrti, Layman Pang, and Hanshan emerged as Buddhist models of reclusion. Layman Pang and Hanshan are also significant for leaving collections of poetry, connecting the realized Buddhist recluse with poetic practice. In addition to these legendary icons, Chan monks took note of famous literati poets associated with Buddhist practice and reclusive poetry. Hongzhi mentions two of the most significant, Xie Lingyun, known for his mountain poems, and Wang Wei, the master of understated, selfless nature poems, who also gained renown as a painter.

    At Zisheng Hermitage, I Want to Visit Yuantong 資聖庵欲過圓通
    I first floated in my boat across Jiujiang, 我初浮舟濟九江
    Then sought out a Buddhist temple hidden in the mountains of the Green Dragon.80 幽尋蘭若山蒼龍
    As I lean on the railing: the paintings of Wang Mojie; 王摩詰畫倚檽檻
    And open the silk window: the poems of Xie Lingyun. 謝靈運詩開綺窓
    The lofty talk of mugwort Chan is like fine-cut jade; 艾禪高談肖琢玉
    The elegant theories of the dharma body are not dried-up, old stumps. 法身雅論非枯樁
    In dreams I return, right on the path to Yuantong; 夢回便是圓通路
    Just as the cold moon rises: the strike of the bell.81 月冷上方鐘一撞

In his travels to this hermitage in the mountains, the landscape is colored by the poems and paintings of Xie Lingyun and Wang Wei, who is again identified by his style name, Mojie 摩詰, referring to Vimalakīrti. Just as Hongzhi lends his approval to the artistic feats of these literati, Xie Lingyun and Wang Wei as devoted Buddhists and poets offer models that validate Hongzhi’s own literary activities. This verse is significant for its entirely positive view of language, as long as it is situated within the context of reclusion and Buddhism. Not only does the poetry (shi) of Xie Lingyun encapsulate the natural perspective of a secluded life in the mountains, Hongzhi asserts the effectiveness and vitality of the “lofty talk” (gao tan 高談) of Chan and “elegant theories” (yalun 雅論) of Buddhism that lead him along the path to “perfect penetration,” or Yuantong 圓通, the name of one of his former residences as abbot. In Chan yulu, poems on reclusion retain a distinctive status, as specific Buddhist terms and images are not required for the verses to fulfill the conventions of jisong. On the one hand, this is due to the strong associations between reclusion and Buddhist doctrine and practice, as well as iconic Buddhist figures and literati. On the other hand, the actualized practice of reclusion undertaken by monks is sufficient reason for the composition of reclusive poetry. Unlike the parting poems, which employ recurrent Buddhist metaphors even in their most secular form, the reclusive poems can be written without either explicit or implicit Buddhist signifiers and go so far as to include the theme of drunkenness:

    Climbing to Cloud Hermitage 登雲庵
    Before a thatched hut facing a blue stream, 廜㢝對碧溪
    The frosty grass reveals a secluded footpath. 霜草露幽蹊
    Look at me, drunk among hills and valleys, 顧我丘壑醉
    Wondering who’s lost in the dusty world. 知誰塵土迷
    Through vine-covered gates, I glimpse something lovely— 蘿門窺窈窕
    The cloud-hidden steps I have tread high and low. 雲磴履高低
    The gibbons and birds have not yet abandoned me, 猿鳥未相棄
    My companions roosting in the misty trees.82 伴人煙樹棲

Although the reclusive mode may indeed be attractive as representing a descriptive reality for monks who took the practice of withdrawal seriously, it also remains powerful for its symbolic and metaphorical meanings, as found within this very simple exposition of one of Hongzhi’s numerous visits to mountain hermitages. Hongzhi depicts the secluded world in its purity far from the “dusty world” (chentu 塵土) through the use of highly conventional images of the rugged and remote beauty of the mountains, where the poet’s only companions beyond the human world are the apes and birds. Hongzhi’s “drunkenness” (zui 醉), in this case, is a metaphorical intoxication with a simple life far removed from society. He is not as much “drunk” (zui), as “drunk in reclusion” (qiuhe zui 丘壑醉). Whether or not Hongzhi indulged in drinking wine, the image of drunkenness within his verses always appears within this mild, symbolic mode and not as the iconoclastic behavior of a wild monk. This poetic imagining may have indeed facilitated the transgressions of monks, but drunkenness is never presented in such an explicit manner. Even the term for “thatched hut” (tusu 廜㢝) in the first line equally refers to a type of wine, conflating reclusion and drunkenness in a single image. Due to the esteem of the reclusive mode, it gives license to a greater range of poetic description of the natural world beyond conventional Buddhist and reclusive images. Hongzhi’s yulu contains a number of reclusive poems which primarily express his delight in the natural scenery, but the following is probably the most poetic and frivolous, as it indulges in witty metaphors and personifications of the blossoming of spring:

    Spontaneously Composed After the Rain Cleared to Instruct the [Assembly of] Chan Monks83 雨晴偶作示禪者
    Nearing Cold Food festival, the sky clears as soon as it rains; 快雨快晴寒食近
    the flourishing, fragrant flowers taking advantage of the fine morning. 崢嶸芳事趁佳辰
    As the wind blows the willow catkins, I mistake it for snow;84 弄風柳絮疑成雪
    And as the elms cover the ground with coins, I’d be able to purchase the spring. 滿地榆錢買得春
    The thunder spits forth: fresh and bright, the tea-leaves reveal their claws; 雷吐英英茶爪露
    In the warmth, a cluster of robust ferns extend their fists. 暖班茁茁蕨拳伸
    Peach flowers distract my eyes as I follow the butterflies— 桃華眼鬧隨蝴蝶
    Who, like a spirited cloud, could recognize an old friend [among them]?85 誰似靈雲識故人

Unlike the poems where the context of composition is situated at hermitages in the mountains, this verse takes its place in the reclusive subgenre through its spontaneous mode of composition, conferring upon the verse a lack of intention, proper for a recluse or monk. The verse, however, is not written in the lackadaisical style of the rustic hermit but displays well-crafted phrases and acute observation of the florid and sensual scenery, with blowing willow catkins, elm seeds coating the ground like piles of coins, bright green tea leaves budding like tiny claws, and the coiled sprouts of ferns unfurling their fronds. On the surface, it is only its designation as a “spontaneous composition” (ouzuo 偶作) and the suggestion that it was composed to instruct the assembly of Chan monks that makes it suitable within a collection of jisong and prompts the reader to look for some hidden Buddhist meaning. It would be difficult to extract a specifically Buddhist reading of the verse, but beneath the sensual imagery, the literary allusions do create deeper resonances with Hongzhi’s broader poetic inclinations. The significance of the poem rests upon the legend around the origination of the Cold Food festival, mentioned in the first line, and its association with Jie Zhitui 介之推 as an ideal recluse. As the story goes, Jie Zhitui, who had previously saved the life of Duke Wen of Jin 晉文公, went into hiding in the mountains. Duke Wen tried to seek him out and resorted to trying to burn Jie out of the mountain by setting fire to it. But instead of fleeing, Jie held onto a tree and burned to death. Out of respect for Jie, people avoided fire and ate cold food.86 With this story in mind, the final couplet of the poem is asking: who can be a true, enlightened monk (the “spirited cloud”) and recognize Jie Zhitui? Here Jie Zhitui is the reclusive mind hidden among the butterflies and peach blossoms, alluding to Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream and the uncertain boundaries between reality and illusion.87 In this sense, Hongzhi’s confusion of the willow catkins as snow corresponds to more profound concerns with the subjectivity of reality, while the metaphor of elm seeds as money relates to expressions of the wealth and abundance of a simple life in the mountains. As he writes in another reclusive verse:

    Cherishing the mountains and rivers is a wealth I don’t dislike; 江山懷抱富不惡
    The frosty moon through the pavilion window overflows with purity.88 霜月軒窓清有餘

His choice of plants—tea, as the beverage of monks, and ferns, as the mountain fare of recluses—is not accidental either, though their symbolic associations are barely implied in the poem. All in all, even this very flowery depiction of spring is crafted as an embodiment of the reclusive mind through a series of recognizable literary allusions and its theme of finding pleasure in nature.

One additional context where the reclusive mode is consistently employed is that of travel. Although one might expect travelling to be at odds with the recluse who stays hidden behind a brushwood gate closed to the world, the monk as traveller moves about as a recluse immersed in the world of nature who most often is going to visit hermitages or mountain temples. Hongzhi travels as recluse no matter what the occasion is: whether he is relocating to a new temple, visiting a monk or layperson, going to pay homage to a stupa, or merely roaming through the mountains. It is as a traveling recluse that Hongzhi sounds the most like a poet-monk outfitted with all the typical accoutrements (clogs, walking staff, and stone chimes) and engaged in the usual activities: drinking tea, strolling and sitting at ease, and composing verses as his wanderings fill him with inspiration (xing 興). The following represents a rare occasion where Hongzhi is simply travelling at leisure:

    Travelling in the Mountains on a Day Off 假日山行
    Throughout our lives, peaks beyond the clouds are within our breasts, 平生胸中雲外峯
    But as soon as I have some leisure, I take up my thin bamboo staff. 有閒便與扶瘦筇
    Although I know the taste of a lifetime amidst hills and valleys, 但知一世丘壑味
    I wish I could always follow the gibbons and birds. 想得十分猿鳥從
    Bright is autumn’s appearance as the mountains are washed in rain; 明見秋容山洗雨
    Pure are my thoughts as the wind hums in the pines. 清可人意風吟松
    Upon returning, my inspiration to travel has not been exhausted; 歸來游興散不盡
    Whose mallet calls the moon at the ringing of the dusk bell? 89 誰杵喚月黃昏鐘

Although the connections between monasticism and reclusion are easily drawn, this verse gives consideration to the conflicts between life in the mountains versus life in the monastery, and between the practice of physical reclusion versus mental withdrawal. Hongzhi surprisingly sides with the pleasures and moral benefits of physical retreat, despite the fact that as a monk he already “knows the taste of a lifetime of reclusion” (zhi yishi qiuhe wei 知一世丘壑味). While he enjoys a day off from monastic affairs, he dreams of living among the apes and birds in the mountains, much like a bureaucrat dissatisfied with worldly life at court. As it turns out, even the monk could aspire to withdraw from the official duties of monastic life and become a recluse in the strict Confucian sense of the term. Even though Hongzhi validates the practice and poetics of reclusion as worthy ideals for the Chan monk, in the end, he does not choose to remain in the mountains far removed from both society and monastic life. The dusk bell calls him back to the monastery, where he returns alongside the moon to pursue the ultimate in the ordinary world.

V. Requested Gāthā

Back in the world as abbot, Hongzhi’s official duties required him to write numerous poems at the request of monks, often in regards to carrying out the mundane tasks of monastic routine. In addition to the parting poems and other exchanges discussed above, another type of poetic exchange, the “requested gāthā” (qiusong 求頌), pervades Hongzhi’s jisong and represents a specifically Buddhist sub-genre of occasional poetry within his yulu.

Most often these verses depict aspects of monks’ daily lives: begging for food, cooking meals, obtaining salt, changing oil in the lamps, engaging in agricultural work, constructing temple buildings, managing the storehouse, or even becoming a monk. Accordingly, they often serve to validate the monks’ worldly engagements and situate them within the concepts and ideals of Buddhism, where the economics of the monastery are metaphorically transformed into dharmic activity. Not only does Hongzhi draw out the Buddhist resonances of ordinary objects—such as bells, salt, bath water, lamps—he also frequently puns on the names of the monks and their temples, producing a complete metaphorical picture that integrates the monks, their work, and environment within a world permeated with Buddhist significance. Some of these “requested gāthā” do not refer to any specific activity or duty and consist of general doctrinal verses. These verses could be requested by laypersons, monks within his monastery, or even other Chan/Buddhist masters. At the most basic, these verses are simple, impersonal presentations of the notion of original Buddha-nature, such as this verse to a local official:

    Administrator of Public Order Shi Requests a Gāthā 時司理求頌
    Polishing the mind mirror clears off the wandering dust; 淨磨心鑑絕游塵
    From the beginning, [the mirror] divinely illuminates your aturally radiant spirit. 本際靈明自照神
    Within this, dynamic activity turns around, completely clear and distinct; 箇裏機回圓歷歷
    Transforming beings throughout billions and billions of worlds.91 化分百億大千身

This verse offers an explanation for the meaning of Buddhist practice in relation to the claim that all beings possess an original Buddha-nature that needs no cultivation. Following this understanding of Buddha-nature, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng declared in his enlightenment verse that the mind does not need polishing, as it is inherently clean and pure.92 In contrast, Hongzhi advocates the conventional practice of polishing the mind-mirror in order to clear off the “wandering dust” (youchen 游塵)—our endless and delusive thoughts and passions. This may be good practical advice for a layperson, but since this advice is followed by the idea that we are naturally enlightened from the beginning, Hongzhi also seems to be making a doctrinal point: Only when the mind is cleared of wandering thoughts, then our true nature is revealed to be originally and intrinsically illuminated. The final couplet captures the paradoxical nature of this empty, mirror-like mind: At each moment, it reflects the infinite expanse of time and the entire existence of all impermanent beings. In other cases, Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” offer more specific, though heavily metaphorical, instruction to his monks, making extensive use of Caodong images of meditation:

    Chan Monk Yuan Requests a Gāthā 圓禪者求頌
    When the body and mind are withered and still without thinking, 枯歇身心百不思
    The time of the empty kalpa will be clearly and perfectly selfilluminated. 湛圓自照劫空時
    How could there be any filth on the miraculously bright mirror of wisdom? 妙明智鑑那留垢
    In its vast emptiness, the divine loom does not weave any thread. 虛廓靈機未度絲
    Clearly, clearly, the skull sees with animated eyes; 的的髑髏看活眼
    Majestically, infinite realms93 use [the light] between the eyebrows.94 堂堂塵剎用間眉
    You must go and take up your task like this: 是須恁麼承當去
    With the rope hanging from your nostrils, you will recognize the patriarchs.95 鼻孔纍垂識祖師

Unlike the previous poem, this one asserts the more standard Chan stance that the mind is originally without any dust. In either verse, however, the underlying point is to realize one’s original Buddha-nature, and to do so, one must become still and silent “without thinking,” like a dried up skull or withered tree. Hongzhi’s final words of advice are presented in the crude and vernacular humor of the iconoclastic master: When you become the ox—the true mind—with the rope hanging from your nostrils, only then you will see the patriarchs and become Buddha. Hongzhi’s yulu also contains gāthā for other masters, particularly two Yunmen masters in the lineage of Xuedou Chongxian. Hongzhi may not actually presume to instruct these fellow masters, and his verses are more like poetic explanations of his style of teaching, which draw attention to the masters’ shared practices. One of these verses, “Master Miaozhan Requests a Gāthā” (Miaozhan dashi qiu song 妙湛大師求頌),96 a tetra-syllabic verse in twelve lines, comments on their mutual responsibility as masters for transmitting the dharma to future generations of disciples and is a good example of how Hongzhi puns on the characters of the master’s name—“wonderful” (miao 妙) and “clear” (zhan 湛)—in order to praise him:

    Wonderful, so not coarse; 妙則不粗
    Clear, so not muddy. 湛則不渾
    Wonderfully clear and illuminated, 妙湛而照
    Lustrous without traces... 瑩然亡痕

The other verse, written to master Zhenjie Tanzhen 眞戒曇振 (n.d.), elucidates the Caodong style of Chan and could be read as an attempt to situate the Yunmen master’s own practice within Hongzhi’s conceptual paradigms:

    Master Zhenjie Requests a Gāthā 真戒大師求頌
    Sitting on a felt mat by the burning incense, 炷香坐羊氈
    in total silence, the mind resides in Chan. 默默心住禪
    The immortal cassia sprouts from the rabbit den; 仙桂萌兔窟
    The spirit pearl charming within the dragon pool. 神珠媚龍淵
    [Although] clear illumination is the matter of my school, 湛照自家事
    We emerge [from it], following the karmic movements of the crowd 出隨群動緣
    And responding to activity, dividing our hands and eyes 應機分手眼
    into more than thousands and thousands.98 不翅有千千

Hongzhi envisions the Yunmen master as embodying the Caodong imperative to sit in “total silence” (momo 默默) in order to realize the bright pearl of Buddha-nature or moon of enlightenment, abode of the mythological cassia tree and rabbit. Furthermore, he states that the “clear illumination” (zhanzhao 湛照) that is the concern of “our school” (zijia 自家) is the source of the monks’ compassionate activity, represented by an allusion of the Bodhisattva Guanyin whose thousands of hands and eyes naturally respond to the suffering of others. These generalized doctrinal verses are a minor part of the “requested gāthā” sub-genre, however, where more often the meditative enlightenments and compassionate activity addressed above are integrated into poetic imaginings of the daily functions of the monks. These verses thus offer a rich source for understanding how Chan monks viewed both the daily activities and the economic aspects of monastic life as part of their religious practice. In terms of economics, scholarship by Jacques Gernet and John Kieschnick has provided detailed insight into the largescale and multifaceted financial and material aspects of Chinese Buddhist monasticism, including the accumulation of land and property, collection of donations and redistribution through charitable activities, operation of grain mills and oil presses, loaning of money, supervision of slaves and indentured laborers, and more.99 To their credit, both Gernet and Kieschnick recognize the importance of Buddhist notions of compassion, generosity, and karmic-merit underlying the operation of monastic economies and their tremendous success.100 However, in scholarship on the development of the literary and doctrinal aspects of various Buddhist schools and individuals, little attention is given to the relationship between monks as religious practitioners and their economic and administrative roles. This is to be expected to a certain degree, but it often seems as if two completely different and unrelated cultural phenomena are under discussion. This disjuncture is particularly acute in Chan. In recent years, scholars have increasingly paid attention to the sectarian and political nature of Chan literature, but it still remains difficult to reconcile the image of the iconoclastic Chan master with the official career of Chan abbot who must oversee the practical affairs of the monastery in addition to being a charismatic authority. Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” are, thus, a prime source for how a very influential Chan abbot envisioned the practical duties of running a monastery. Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” do not deal with every aspect of the functioning monastery, but they do offer his metaphorical perspective on many of the activities that were significant to the monks, both economically and religiously. A number of monastic duties are rife with metaphorical meanings and easily become a rich source for poetic elaboration. The “lamp” (deng 燈), for instance, is a common image for the illuminated mind and is a central metaphor for Chan mind to mind transmission, as embedded in the term for the Chan literary genre: “lamp records” (denglu). Hongzhi’s yulu contains numerous verses on monks going to acquire oil for the lamps in the monastery, such as this one to a senior member of the monastic hierarchy, who holds the position of “hall prefect” (zhidian 知殿):

    Hall Prefect Guan Requests a Gāthā to Beg for Lamp Oil for the Dharma Hall101 觀知殿化殿堂燈油求頌
    Throughout the vast hall, the sitting cushions are illuminated, pure and white, 廣堂清白照蒲團
    By the ever-lasting, true lamp that has never been allowed to diminish. 102 相續真燈未許殘
    In total silence, without a sound, mold grows on an idle mouth; 寂默無聲閑口醭
    The [lamp’s] radiance does not wane as its one-inch heart [i.e. wick] goes cold. 光明不掉寸心寒
    The lotus blooms as if facing the shallow ripples of autumn, 蓮開似對秋波淺
    And you awake from your dreams confused, thinking the waterclock has dripped dry at dawn. 夢覺渾疑曉漏乾
    Beings throughout the ten dharma realms flow like reflections; 十法界身流影事
    Self and other mutually penetrate like looking in a mirror.103 自他交徹鏡中看

The poem has very little to do with the mundane task of acquiring oil. Instead, Hongzhi depicts the monk’s conventional activities as sustaining the “true lamp” (zhen deng 真燈) of the mind. Of course, as Hongzhi strongly emphasizes, unlike the ordinary temple lamps, the “true lamp” never diminishes. Nevertheless, it is the prefect’s provisioning of the temple lamps that supports the monks in their meditative practice to realize the ultimate truth of existence. In meditation, the monks become so still and silent that mold grows on their mouths, and they glimpse the radiance of the original mind, where all things are seen to be empty and impermanent and self and other (zi ta 自他) interpenetrate. Another convenient image is that of the bell. Because the sound of the bell depends on the reverberations that echo in its hollow center, it is a standard symbol for the interrelationship between form and emptiness. In the following verse, one of only three where the monk is anonymous, Hongzhi elaborates on the poetic dimensions of the bell’s sound as it echoes across the landscape:

    A Chan Monk Takes a Vow and Begs a Gāthā for Taking Charge of the Bell104 禪人發心幹鐘乞頌
    As the trees shed their leaves in the frost of the empty mountain, 木落空山霜
    The hour comes with a single strike from the tower at night. 夜樓時一撞
    [Its sound] follows the wind over wooded peaks, 隨風度林嶺
    Calling the moon, as it arrives at my vine-covered window. 喚月到蘿窓
    Its echoes reply, passing through the empty valley, 響應虛傳谷
    And the sound soars, unobstructed by the river. 聲飛不礙江
    I wake up from my dreams at dawn: 夢回天意曉
    Pair after pair of lost butterflies.105 蝴蝶失雙雙

In merely taking on the function of ringing the bell, the monk is responsible for spreading the dharma, producing a sound which reaches all without discrimination. The bells echoing reverberations similarly embody the principles of Buddhist doctrine, passing through the empty form of the valley “without obstruction” (bu’ai 不礙), referring to the non-obstruction and mutual interpenetration of phenomena in Huayan Buddhist metaphysics. As in the previous poem, awakening occurs as a kind of confusion, where the boundaries between things and between self and other become blurred. Like Zhuangzi’s dreaming butterfly, one is unsure of the difference between reality and illusion, lost amidst the endless array of ephemeral intersubjectivities.

The metaphorical connotations of other monastic activities are far less natural than in the examples above, and some require explanation or even defense. One seemingly unexpected topic found in Hongzhi’s verses is the procurement of salt. Not only is salt a necessary ingredient for food preservation, in Hongzhi’s verses it is praised for its beneficial properties as flavoring for the monks’ meals:

    Chan Monk Yi Request a Gāthā for Begging for Salt106 一禪人化鹽求頌
    After the mud and sand is washed away and the ripples are simmered dry, 泥沙淘洗浪煎乾
    One expanse [of salt] shines on you, cold as ice and snow. 一片照人氷雪寒
    Your intention is to test the strength of the lotus floating in the brine; 意得試蓮浮鹵力
    In silence, you know it follows your chopsticks into the vegetarian meal. 默知隨筯入蔬盤
    As the ten thousand households can gracefully help us, 萬家婉婉能相助
    It is indeed not difficult to blend flavors for a multitude of mouths. 眾口調和信不難
    A spirit without an image, it passes through with ease: 無像有神聊勘過
    The all-penetrating eye right on the tip of your tongue!107 圓通眼在舌頭端

The salt, cleansed from the mud and sand of the tides, is pure like a white lotus flower, or the cold winter snow, and blends the flavors of the vegetarian fare for the assembly of monks. The salt dissolved in food is a formless yet real “spirit without an image” (wuxiang shen 無像神) that contains within it the entirety of Buddhist wisdom. As its formless form passes through one’s meal, it awakens the all-penetrating Buddha-eye that sees and knows the true nature of everything: right there on the tip of the tongue is ultimate knowledge.

One topic that is surprisingly troublesome turns out to be the bath. The bath, of course, is an ample subject for metaphors of purity that would seem to fit well within Hongzhi’s poetic discourse. The problem is that, in the context of non-duality, there should be no ultimate distinction made between clean and dirty, pure and impure—an issue bringing us back to the question of whether the mirror of the mind needs to be polished or not. In philosophical terms, one may ask: if one is already an enlightened Buddha, what is the need for practice? In the realm of everyday affairs, the question can be stated in a more comical and crude manner: if everything is pure, why do I need to take a bath!? Here is Hongzhi’s solemn response to a monk holding the office of bath prefect (zhiyu 知浴):

    Bath Prefect Shan Requests a Gāthā 珊知浴求頌
    When you attained the marvelous, you declared it is not due to washing away dust; 妙觸宣明不洗塵
    A person with an enlightened mind in the Śūraṃgama Assembly. 108 楞嚴會上悟心人
    The hidden fish dwells in a hollow of the half-punt deep river; 潛鱗窟宅半篙水
    The skeleton of the withered tree is a single ladle of spring. 枯木形骸一杓春
    The tiniest trickle has the same nature as the entire dharma realm; 涓滴量同法界性
    Whether dirty or clean, hair and whiskers are empty on an empty body. 髮毛垢淨虛空身
    At the southern garden, you should ask the one who merely snaps his fingers: 南園應問聊彈指
    Its use is endless—the spirit of the valley. 109 用處綿綿谷有神

This verse is entirely set in terms of the ultimate, where the tiny embraces the expansive, the withered tree blossoms into spring, and dust and dirt tarnish neither the empty body nor mind. This is the enlightened, non-dual perspective which is attained through the deep, powerful samādhi, or calming meditation, generated by the Śūraṃgama Assembly, a group of Chan practitioners who claim to achieve this state by chanting the Śūraṃgama-dhāraṇī. Hongzhi, thus, provides no justification for the need of taking a bath or not and basically ignores the question in terms of practice. His point is simply that washing away dirt, either physical or mental, ultimately has no bearing on enlightenment and no effect on the purity of the enlightened mind. At the same time, however, the bath ladle, the water of the stream, the dirt on hair and whiskers are all emanations of the pure and empty body of the Buddha in its all-encompassing, universal form as dharmakāya (fashen 法身). This perspective is captured in the spontaneous response of the final line, which alludes to the philosophical distinction between “function” (yong 用) and “essence” (ti 軆) that plays a major role within Chinese Buddhist thought. Whereas “function” refers to outer manifestations and action, “essence” refers to substance or inner quality and also means “body.” These terms correspond with the Huayan distinction between “phenomena” (shi 事) and “principle” (li 理). If we use this terminology within the images of the verse, the elements of “function”—the act of bathing, the person being bathed, and the implements of the bath—are all manifestations of “essence,” the body of emptiness, or “the spirit in the valley” (gu you shen 谷有神). Even if bathing has no impact on our fundamentally pure nature, it nevertheless remains an expression of emptiness.

The most common occasion for Hongzhi’s requested gāthā poems is begging, one of the primary religious and economic activities of the monks, and one which often requires justification, especially in face of traditional criticism of monks as unproductive economic parasites.110 Hongzhi most often rationalizes the practice in a simple and straightforward manner: the monks are hungry. But he will also elaborate on the importance of the monastic occupation and the necessity of satisfying the monks’ hunger for them to carry out their religious practice, as in this example:

    Chan Monk Ji Requests a Gāthā for Going Out Begging 機禪人出丐求頌
    Look at the myriad bodies dynamically transform through innumerable lands,111 塵剎分身看化機
    As blue smoke rises here and there from families cooking at noon. 青煙幾處午家炊
    Although facing the wall and sitting in illumination are the affairs of the monastery, 面牆坐照叢林事
    The reason one takes one’s bowl to go out begging is because the monks (yunshui) are hungry. 持鉢丐緣雲水飢
    Emerging from the valley, the birds bring news of spring one after another; 出谷鳥傳春次第
    On a boat on the rippling waters, people enjoy being followed by the moon. 漾舟人愛月相隨
    Upon your return, you will be satiated enough to investigate phrases: 歸來定有飽參句
    Laughing, you will let loose the constricted belly of withered Chan!112 笑解枯禪篾肚皮

Hongzhi depicts hunger as a desire which arises naturally among monks, just as it does other sentient beings. The hunger of the monks—the “clouds and waters” (yunshui 雲水)—is as natural as birds emerging during springtime or people’s enjoyment of the moon on the water. In addition, hunger forms an inevitable part of the monks’ disciplined routine and ascetic denial. In the final line, Hongzhi alludes to the metaphor of a tightened belly—bound up by bamboo splints—to represent the poverty and hunger of the monks. The standard phrase, which appears elsewhere in Hongzhi’s verses, reads: “The belly bound in three strips of bamboo splints” (shu du san tiao mie 束肚三條篾), something akin to the idea of tightening your belt during times of hardship.113 Begging is not discussed as a religious practice in itself but as a means to allow the monks to continue their meditative practice: “facing the wall” (mianqiang 面牆) in the manner of Bodhidharma and “sitting in illumination” (zuo zhao 坐照) according to Hongzhi’s vision of meditation. The food provided, however, triggers liberating insight. As he does here, as well as the poem below, Hongzhi likes to pun on the term baocan 飽參, meaning to “fully investigate” or “understand,” but also suggesting being “fully satiated” (bao 飽), thus drawing out the link between sustenance and insight.114 This verse is particularly interesting because of its pairing of the terms “investigating phrases” (can ju 參句) with the notion of “withered Chan” (kuchan 枯禪) in the same couplet. “Investigating phrases” not only adds a linguistic dimension to the meditative practice advocated by Hongzhi but sounds very similar to Dahui Zonggao’s own terminology for praxis: kanhua 看話, which equally translates as “investigating the phrase” and specifically refers to gong’an practice, as can the term canju.

Whatever this means for Hongzhi, a full stomach provides the fuel that allows the monk to see through the words and split open the belly of “withered Chan,” here not only referring to stilling the mind but to bodily discipline as well. The one unusual aspect of this poem is the abrupt transition between the first line and the second. The images in both lines are common within Hongzhi’s poetic repertoire. The first line is clearly doctrinal in nature, expressing the point that there are infinite numbers of worlds upon worlds that are mutually entwined and ever-changing and that contain endless numbers of beings whose forms are empty and transient. The second line, seen in the context of the rest of the poem, effectively contrasts the lives of ordinary people, who daily enjoy warm meals, with the hungry monks going out begging. However rhetorical the monks’ hunger and poverty may be, this contrast serves as part of the justification of begging: The monks are only asking for a modest amount of food readily available to the general populace in order to sustain their religious efforts. They both serve to situate the begging of the monk, one doctrinally and the other in terms of the locus of practice, within the world among householders. Here the monk’s name Ji 機 provides a clue. He represents “dynamic transformation” (huaji 化機) himself, and his occupation is to realize the dynamic transformation of the world, whether in meditation or during begging rounds amidst the local population. As the monk moves through the local vicinity, the people and things he encounters all occupy provisional “transformation bodies” (fenshen 分身), each a manifestation of Buddha-nature, like himself.

The relationship between begging and encounters with innumerable beings is illustrated in another verse, which again exploits the theme of naturalness but with a different manner of emphasis:

    Monk Chen Requests a Gāthā on Going Out Begging 塵上人出丐求頌
    Doors immediately open with a light tap of the fingers; 輕輕彈指便開門
    In front of one hundred million gates: one hundred million beings. 百億門前百億身
    Miraculously responding to karmic conditions, they penetrate everywhere,妙應因緣通處處
    Perfectly illuminating this matter in every single speck of dust. 圓明箇事遍塵塵
    Amidst the flowers, bees gather honey on their yellow beards; 華間蜂採黃鬚蜜
    On the willows, orioles bring news of the blue-green eyes of spring.116 柳上鶯傳青眼春
    When you return, call me with your bowl filled with food; 歸日相呼滿鉢飯
    At once, I will divide it to satiate the practitioners.117 一時分付飽參人

Once again, the act of begging for food and filling one’s belly, like bees amidst the flowers collecting nectar for honey, is seen as the natural thing to do, and even more than the previous verse, Hongzhi expresses the sensual quality of the natural world of spring flowers, yellow honey, new leaf buds, and bright orioles. The dominant mode of naturalness here is that of “sympathetic response” (ganying 感應), in this case captured by the phrase “miraculously responding to karmic conditions” (miaoying yinyuan 妙應因緣). Karma is a common theme within the poems on begging, where Hongzhi often explains that the monk has taken on his religious duty as the fulfillment of his karmic fate. That is, the monk has no choice in the matter, and thus, his or her actions may be justified on this account. In this verse, it is not the monk, but innumerable sentient beings who are responding naturally and effortlessly to the world of karma. Sympathetic response is a key concept in Chinese correlative thought describing how things of a similar nature will naturally affect each other, or mutually arise. This is best illustrated by musical example: When a string of a certain pitch is plucked, another string tuned to the same pitch will automatically resonate as well. The notion of sympathetic response is an important concept in Chinese Buddhism, especially in the understanding of the bodhisattva who naturally responds to the needs of those who are suffering with promptness and appropriate action.118 In this verse, we have the reverse relationship, where there is a sympathetic resonance between householders and the begging monks. When the monks arrive, doors immediately and spontaneously open at a light knock to offer them provisions. And according to Hongzhi, this phenomenon can be witnessed one hundred million times over. Although there is no mention of what services the monks may offer people in the world, the relationship between householders and monks appears reciprocal in the sense that they respond to each other without hesitation: the householders, taking the role of the bodhisattva, willingly supplying the monks’ needs as they would their own. This serves as a perfect illustration of the interrelationship of ultimate and conventional. In a fitting message for a monk whose name is literally “dust” (chen 塵), Hongzhi writes, “this matter” (ge shi 箇事), i.e., the ultimate, is perfectly embodied in speck after speck of dust (chenchen 塵 塵). Doctrinally speaking, Hongzhi is merely stating that even dust is a manifestation of emptiness, but in terms of society, this can be read to mean that the people amidst the dusty world can fully embody the compassion of the bodhisattva in their support of the monastery. Begging was not the only means of sustaining the monastery’s food supply. Hongzhi also wrote a number of verses for monks “clearing fields” (kaitian 開田) for agricultural work. Although the farm work is often portrayed in paradoxical fashion—such as, “plowing through the roots of clouds” (gengduan bai yun gen 耕斷白雲根) 119—monks are nevertheless depicted as planting and hoeing fields and reaping the harvest themselves. The notion of “field” (tian 田) has significant metaphorical connotations in Buddhism, particularly as a “field of merit” (futian 福 田), a place for planting karmic seeds through charity and generosity that can lead to better rebirth, enlightenment, and salvation. In this view, donations to the monastery would be a particularly fruitful way to cultivate merit. The metaphorical connotations of the field are generally left implicit in Hongzhi’s verses, but he does emphasize the importance of the karmic action of generosity. The following verse begins with the notion of the “perfection of giving” (tandu 檀度, or tanna 檀那; Skt. dāna), one of the six perfections, or pāramitās (liu boluomi 六 波羅蜜), which one must master to become a bodhisattva.120 Hongzhi further equates the act of benefitting others (li ta 利他) with the mind of renunciation (chujia xin 出家心), literally “the mind of one who has left the household.” In other words, the compassionate activity of working to benefit others is precisely what makes one a monk. In its secular sense, li 利 refers to selfcentered profit and greed, criticized across the board by Confucians, Daoists, and Buddhists alike. In Buddhism and Confucianism, li also refers to “benefitting” others, the principle embodied by monk Li 利, to whom the poem is addressed. The title also implies the compassionate intention of the monk, who arouses the mind of bodhicitta (faxin 發心), the firm resolve to attain enlightenment and save all sentient beings that is required of the bodhisattva.121

    Chan Monk Li Takes a Vow and Begs to Clear a Field by the Sea122 利禪人發心丐開海田
    For the perfection of giving, you cultivate relations, promising to seek afar; 檀度夤緣約遠尋
    To benefit others is exactly what’s called the mind of renunciation. 利他方稱出家心
    By begging, you properly obtain [food] to satisfy the sangha; 丐行端取叢林飽
    When plowing and hoeing, you do not dislike being deep in the muddy water. 耕耨不嫌泥水深
    The ground is broad and flat for sowing seeds of jade in the spring; 地面丕平春種玉
    In the pure and shallow tide ripples, gold floats in the moonlight. 波痕清淺月浮金
    Planting fields to obtain food is the affair of our house; 栽田博飯吾家事
    Amidst a period of discipline, you obtain an old gem.123 一段風規得老琛

There is an interesting inversion within this poem compared to the ones on begging. The concern of Hongzhi’s monastery is no longer facing the wall and sitting in the silent illumination of meditation. Instead, the central matter is agricultural work. As he states: “Planting fields to obtain food is the affair of our house” 栽田博飯吾家事. Moreover, laboring out in the fields is itself the means of realizing the “old gem” (laochen 老琛) of the original mind. Since working in the fields is an expression of monastic discipline (fenggui 風規), it naturally produces a plentiful and beauteous harvest and actualizes the work of the enlightened mind. This praise of the monks’ agricultural work is tied into a defense of begging. On the one hand, monks are not simply economic parasites: They work with equanimity, without aversion to plowing and hoeing within the muddy water, and provide some of their own sustenance—the gold and jade of the fields. Furthermore, in the second couplet, begging and farming are situated in parallel to one another as complementary activities. Agricultural work does not preclude the necessity of begging practice. Both are equally necessary and valid as expressions of monastic discipline and selfless generosity, as they are both essential means of supporting the sangha. Hongzhi thus defends obtaining food from begging as being duan 端: upright, correct, and proper. The attention paid to generosity in the above poem raises the question of whether these “requested gāthā” poems were actually meant for lay donors rather than the monk who is clearing fields or going out begging. Is the monk practicing the perfection of generosity through his agricultural work by providing sustenance to others? Or, has he solicited donations from generous donors which allow him to complete his agricultural projects? The latter possibility would clarify the meaning of the first couplet of the above poem, while also altering its reading. If the monk has gone far and wide to “form relations” or even “curry favor” (yinyuan 夤緣) with donors in order to carry out his mission for the benefit of the monastic economy, Hongzhi would then be suggesting that the lay donors themselves embody the “mind of the renunciant” (chujia xin 出家心) through their generous actions. Just like the recluse in the world, these laypersons partake in the enlightened and compassionate nature of the monk while remaining within the household.

There is additional evidence that these poems were intended for lay patrons. In another begging verse, “Monk Jiu Begs a Gāthā for Going out Begging” (Jiu shangren chugai qi song 久 上人出丐乞頌), Hongzhi reiterates that the monks’ hunger is a natural condition due to past karma. Regardless of the “selflessness” (wusi 無私) of the monk, who is like a lotus flower rising out of the mud, he must go out and beg to satisfy his hunger and that of his fellow monks. Hongzhi then ends the poem with this couplet:

    I send these words to the Old Layman of Vaiśālī; 寄語毘耶老居士
    Since we get along so well, do not object to being awoken from your springtime slumber.124 相投莫怪喚春眠

The Layman of Vaiśālī is none other than Vimalakīrti, Hongzhi’s chosen epithet for praising a layperson, who in this case is a literatus willing to donate food to the monastery. This poem, then, can be understood as an explanation and defense for the monks’ begging practice that is designed to persuade laypersons to assist the monks.

Hongzhi’s efforts to elicit material and empathetic support for his sangha are not only directed at literati but could address an entire village of farmers. In a verse entitled, “The Village of Xinzhi Requests a Gāthā” (Xinzhi zhuang qiusong 心知莊求頌), Hongzhi commends the villagers for embodying the Dao and the “style of our house” (jiafeng 家風) amidst their domestic and agricultural chores and concludes:

    The grain and millet can be expected to be fully ripe in autumn, 禾黍十分秋可望
    Feeding the monks so they manifest their spirits.125 飽叢林漢著精神

If there is any room for ambiguity in these poems, another verse spells out the relationship between monk and donor in the context of both begging and agricultural work in very explicit terms:

    Chan Monk Dao Takes a Vow to Work in the Fields and Begs a Gāthā 道禪人發心幹田乞頌
    This man of the way wants to beg a sack of coins, 道人欲乞一囊錢
    In order to alleviate my burden of [constructing] the field’s borders. 為我成褫負郭田
    In the shallow waters, he pulls the ox with the dawn moon draped over his shoulders; 淺水駕牛披曉月
    Under thick clouds, he lets down his plow, breaking through the spring mist. 深雲下耒破春煙
    The marvelous function of tilling the soil is the affair of our house;力耕妙用吾家事
    Sitting in illumination is the true activity of your own Chan. 坐照真機自己禪
    I send these words to the donor so that he will help us 寄語檀那好相助
    Year after year, forever obtaining karmic [merit] for feeding the monks.126 年年長得飯僧緣

In this verse, Hongzhi disregards his allusive subtlety and unabashedly gets right to the point: the monks need to finance their construction projects; this “man of the way” (daoren 道人), Chan monk Dao 道, is coming to ask for money, and you will be duly rewarded with karmic merit for your generous support of the sangha. The fact that these poems would be actually addressed to, or at least shown to, literati would explain the often defensive and explanatory tone of these verses. Also, the transmission of these poems to laypersons by Hongzhi’s disciples would parallel the dissemination of portrait encomia (zhenzan), in which a portrait of the master inscribed with the master’s poem would be brought to donors in order to raise funds (see Ch. 5). At the same time, I think it would be too simple to conclude that all “requested gāthās” were only addressed to donors and not to the monks. As we have seen, there are types of “requested gāthā” poems, such as the ones on taking charge of the bath or ringing the bell, that do not easily fit into the paradigm of fundraising and primarily make sense as poems for the monks in question. Furthermore, the “requested gāthā” verses represent a sustained effort at integrating monks’ everyday economic activities with their religious pursuits, often incorporating the names of the monks into the poems in order to demonstrate their embodiment of the literal meaning of their names in every sphere of activity. Unlike the portrait encomia which are nearly all requested by an anonymous monk, only three of Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” are for monks who remain unnamed. While a general defense of the act of begging in light of religious practice and doctrine would appeal to laypersons, the particular relationship between an individual monk and how he or she carries out Chan practice within the world has a more direct relevance to the monk being addressed...

Rather than view these verses as formally addressed to monks but functionally addressed to lay donors, I think the ambiguity of the addressee is of primary importance and has significant religious ramifications. In the above poem, “Chan Monk Li Takes a Vow and Begs to Clear a Field by the Sea,” it is tempting to read the notion of the “perfection of giving” as merely praise for the lay donor. After all, it is the donor who is displaying generosity in providing funds and food to the monks. In the context of non-duality, however, the act of “benefitting others” (lita 利 他) is always conjoined with “benefitting oneself” (zili 自利), in which the distinction between giver and receiver breaks down. When the donor provides food and money, he or she receives karmic merit in exchange and, at least in theory, participates in the selflessness of the bodhisattva path cultivated within the monastery. Donation is thus the means for the layperson to benefit from the spiritual goods of the monks. For Hongzhi, it is the monks that have renounced the household life and practice the path of the bodhisattva who truly exemplify the perfection of giving. In this sense, the monks provide the opportunity for laypersons to gain spiritual benefits otherwise inaccessible within their secular lives. Whether one is sympathetic to the theory of karmic exchange or not, it remains the theoretical ground for Buddhist apologetics that shapes the poetic discourse and exchange within Hongzhi’s verses. As such, both monk and layperson become benefactors within the exchange and equally participate in the ideal of the selfless bodhisattva. Thus, these poems can address both monks and laypersons, offering instruction and encouragement to individual monks, while promoting the monastery and obtaining economic support among laypersons, who also participate in the religious goals and practices of the monastery.

In sum, for Hongzhi, the economic activities of monks provide the means to support their practice of meditation, and his notion of meditative silence informs how their daily activities are envisioned according to dominant images and metaphors common to Buddhism or particular to the Caodong sect. Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” poems thus serve as a medium for reconciling the image of a charismatic abbot with his responsibilities in managing large numbers of monks and the practical concerns of running a monastery. It is also noteworthy that within his “requested gātha,” both economic and ritual aspects of the monastery are treated equally within the same poetic form. This combination of meditative ideals and conventional activity transforms the way that enlightenment is conceived. Within these verses, even while silent meditation may form the crux of the monk’s practice, enlightenment is not simply a kind of peak experience, privately attained within the monastery, far removed from worldly concerns or distractions. Instead, Hongzhi depicts the monks as actualizing their enlightenment in the world—responding to circumstances from the standpoint of meditative insight and bringing its silence into their daily activities. This silence comes forth as non-discrimination, particularly the dissolution of the dichotomy between ordinary, worldly activity and religious pursuits, such that Hongzhi may go so far as to claim that the fundamental matter of his school is not only quiet sitting but tilling the fields. As their enlightenment is not restricted to the confines of the monastery walls, it may also be transferred between monks and laypersons and even generated amidst their worldly negotiations, becoming more of a means of public exchange rather than an individual possession or attainment.

In addition, Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” demonstrate how shi poetry could be adapted and even molded into new sub-genres in the context of yulu. Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” integrate the doctrinal content of Buddhist gāthā with the form and practice of occasional shi poetry, now written for monastic events and activities and primarily addressed to monks.127 In combining the two genres, both shi and gāthā are transformed in the process. “Requested gāthā” verses are not properly a sub-genre in Chan yulu, but Hongzhi’s verses do represent trends found in other yulu. The term “requested gāthā” (qiusong), or similar expressions such as qiuji 求偈, occur in other yulu, including Hongzhi’s master Danxia Zichun. Besides the aspect of social exchange, however, these verses tend to be strictly doctrinal in nature. In other yulu, the verses most similar to Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” in writing about monastic activities are numerous parting poems where the master sends off monks to go begging and/or acquire specific goods for the monastery, and these parting poems may be grouped together with other verses written to thank donors or commemorate the building of monastic buildings and other events.128 These verses constitute further adaptations of the conventional parting poem and shi poetry for very specific monastic affairs, and as in Hongzhi’s yulu, they are classified as jisong 偈頌, making use of gāthā as occasional verse and extending its generic parameters as a means of social exchange.

VI. Poems to Nuns and Laywomen

Although the poems discussed so far have primarily addressed male laypersons and monks, Hongzhi’s poetic exchanges also included nuns and laywomen. The number of laywomen and nuns represented in Jisong (II) appears slight—only one poem is directly addressed to a laywoman and only a few nuns can be properly identified —but these numbers may not accurately represent the scope of Hongzhi’s poetic exchanges, particularly with nuns, whose numbers are difficult to determine. Due to the conventions of Buddhist names and epithets, it is often impossible to tell whether Hongzhi is addressing a male or female when writing to monastics. Although there are particular terms for addressing nuns, these terms are ambiguous and not used consistently. Because the term for “hermitage” (an 庵) is used to refer to convents, the term for “abbess” (anzhu 庵主) literally means “master of the hermitage.” Furthermore, nuns were often treated in a condescending manner as honorary males, or in other cases, gender is simply not brought into question within the verses, leaving the gender of the monastic unknown.129 Nevertheless, it is evident that nuns participated in Hongzhi’s poetic exchanges and that laywomen were among Hongzhi’s supporters. Unlike the topics addressed above, poems to nuns and laywomen do not constitute a particular type of verse, nor are they limited to a particular sub-genre, but they do address unique concerns that deserve to be discussed together. Even though gender was not necessarily brought to the fore as an issue or topic when addressing women, concerns with gender divisions did enter into Hongzhi’s verse. Only two poems specifically concern laywomen in Hongzhi’s jisong. The first is a “requested gāthā” poem addressed to a certain Madame Hu on the subject of embroidering Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. The iconographic and textual images of Guanyin as female became more firmly established and commonplace during the Song, even though she could still be portrayed as asexual or masculine.130 Furthermore, the association of Buddhist laywomen with the image of Guanyin and the act of embroidery, with both its domestic and religious connotations, are common tropes regarding female practitioners.131

    Madame Hu of Yuyao Requests a Gāthā for her Embroidered Guanyin 餘姚胡氏繡觀音求頌
    The path of the thread is intricately crossed by the golden needle. 線蹊密密度金針
    One by one, needle after needle: the Bodhisattva Guanyin. 一一針針觀世音
    Wonderfully pure and dignified—forming a fine portrait, 妙淨莊嚴成相好
    Her radiance and response emanating from her body and mind. 光明感應發身心
    The river laid across in skillful colors, the moon floating on the water; 江橫練色月浮水
    The rain pours down on flowering branches: spring in the woods. 雨灌華枝春在林
    Through seeing and hearing we can arrive at the path of transcendence; 聞見可中超有路
    Everywhere the universal gate allows us to find it.132 普門處處許相尋

Hongzhi praises Madame Hu’s activities as a Buddhist laywoman in language that is rich in religious overtones. Her art of embroidery itself manifests the Bodhisattva Guanyin, and Guanyin’s wondrous qualities are reflected back in Madame Hu’s own moral character. Hongzhi cleverly plays with words in the description of the embroidered scenery, poetically weaving together images of nature, Madame Hu’s skilled handicraft, and her religious attainments. The phrase “skillful colors” (lian se 練色) literaly refers to her practice of embroidery and metaphorically signifies her religious discipline performed within the world of color (se 色), which in Buddhist terminology is the world of form and desire. Thus, by devoting herself to the practice of embroidering Guanyin, Madame Hu as laywoman is able to realize emptiness within the realm of form and desire.

The image of Guanyin was immensely popular during Hongzhi’s time and many Chan masters, as well as literati, wrote encomia (zan) for the bodhisattva’s portrait. Although Hongzhi does not have any encomia for Guanyin in his yulu, he does have one poem devoted to her (or him) in his series on the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment, and the bodhisattva and images related to her are frequently alluded to in his verses. In the Sūtra of Perfect Enlightenment, Guanyin, as the “Bodhisattva Who Discriminates Sounds” (Bianyin pusa 辯音菩薩), is the subject of one chapter. Hongzhi’s verse on this chapter depicts Guanyin in terms of actualizing her enlightenment through the arts, harmonizing music and weaving brocade. Guanyin’s name literally means “the hearer of sounds” (Guanyin 觀音), or as she is referred to in the verse to Madame Hu: “Perceiver of the world’s sounds” (Guanshiyin 觀世音), referring to the idea that she hears and sees the needs of those suffering in the world and naturally responds according to the principle of “sympathetic resonance” (ganying 感應), as mentioned in the verse. By using her eyes and ears to help those in need, Guanyin offers a pertinent example of the transformation of the deluded senses into means of compassion, opening up a path of transcendence for all willing to enter its “universal gate” (pumen 普門). When Guanyin responds to others, she does so with her thousands of arms and eyes, able to see and reach numerous sentient beings at once. As Hongzhi writes in his verse devoted to the bodhisattva: “Her hands and eyes, thousands upon thousands cannot be deceived” 手眼千千不可謾. 133 Although Hongzhi must have been aware of the strong associations developing between Guanyin and female practitioners, the images of Guanyin in his poetry are in no way limited to women. Male monks are frequently praised for possession of, or at least encouraged to embrace, Guanyin’s compassionate qualities. The image of Guanyin’s thousands of hands and eyes is one of Hongzhi’s favorite images of compassionate activity, as he writes to master Zhenjie above:

    We respond to activity, dividing our hands and eyes 應機分手眼
    Into more than thousands of thousands. 不翅有千千

The only other verse that specifically addresses a laywoman is an encomium (zan 贊) written for the deceased mother of the official, Zheng Yugong 鄭禹功 (n.d). This is the only encomium in Jisong (II), and since Hongzhi’s collections of encomia elsewhere in his yulu consist entirely of portraits of himself or Chan patriarchs, a verse for a laywoman would have been out of place among them. The encomium contains a preface commenting on Zheng’s mother’s diligent Buddhist practice until she passed away at age seventy-two. Hongzhi writes that she maintained a strict vegetarian diet for fifty years and concentrated on the Buddha in single-minded samādhi (zhuan nianfo sanmei 專念佛三昧) throughout all her activities, whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down—the four postures (siyi 四儀) of Buddhist practice. As the encomia also serves to console Zheng Yugong who wrote to Hongzhi about his mother’s death, Hongzhi explains that the pure spirit of his mother has left her worldly body like casting off a cocoon and that one with correct mindfulness (zhengnian 正念) should not be disturbed. Hongzhi paints a portrait of how a laywoman could embrace Buddhist practice in her life:

    Encomium for Controller-General Zheng’s Mother 鄭通判母氏贊
    Joy in the dharma was her food, 法喜為食
    And compassion her abode. 慈悲為舍
    She took refuge in the Buddha 信佛是歸
    And regarded her body as provisional. 視身如借
    In order to be completely diligent, she resided in correct mindfulness, 住正念以唯勤
    And took interest in things beyond the dust, without ever taking a rest. 趣外塵而無暇
    Within her radiance: ten thousand images from her idle loom; 機閑萬象光中
    Beneath her brows: vibrant eyes within her skull. 眼活髑髏眉下
    She died—like a dreaming butterfly, a cicada in the dew; 彼亡也夢蝶露蟬
    Her self-realization—like a rhinoceros cloud, the scent of musk. 自得也雲犀香麝
    Her spirit travels to the Pure Land; the river and sky—the same autumn color; 神游真淨兮天水同秋
    Mind seal miraculously bright; the moon in the breeze breaks through the night.135 心印妙明兮風月破夜

Hongzhi would have been informed of Madam Zheng’s devotion by her son who requested the encomium. She was devoted to the practice of chanting the Buddha’s name (nianfo 念佛), which allowed her spirit to ascend to the “true and pure” (zhenjing 真淨), a term for the Pure Land (zhenjingtu 真淨土). For Hongzhi, the Pure Land is the enlightened mind, ever-present and penetrating. Although, according to convention, one cannot be reborn in the Pure Land in the body of a woman, in Hongzhi’s conception, there is no hindrance for the official’s mother who has realized the Pure Land in this very world.

Hongzhi’s poetic correspondence with nuns remains more of a mystery, since, as mentioned, it is often difficult to identify the nuns apart from the monks. Although nuns could be identified by the term biqiuni 此丘尼 or simply ni 尼, these terms are not found in Hongzhi’s jisong, and as suggested by the poems discussed below, Hongzhi appears to have addressed them in the same terms as monks. Despite this facade of equality, there is a tendency within Chan literature to refer to nuns, not as inherently equal to monks, but as adopting masculine forms, which are held to be superior. The images and ideas in the following verse strongly suggest that it was addressed to a nun, and the language of the poem highlights the levels of ambiguity in determining the gender of the addressee. Furthermore, the verse offers a paradigm of gender equality, while simultaneously upholding conventional views of masculine superiority.

    Venerable Chong Requests a Gāthā for Silence Hermitage 崇上人求默庵頌
    Fundamentally, a hermitage is an abode within absolute silence; 默默中居底是庵
    When you call the assembly and ascend the head seat, we are then fellow students. 白槌上首乃同參
    You know deeply that no one could overturn Iron Grindstone [Liu], 深明鐵磨莫顛倒
    And truly see that Moshan was neither male nor female. 真見末山非女男
    While sitting, the river and sky can be perfectly clear, 坐裏水天能湛湛
    And before the gate, blossoms after the rain are scattered here and there. 門前華雨任毿毿
    With one word, you miraculously verify the transcendence of names and form, 一言妙證超名相
    And do not cherish your eyebrows, as you laugh at Cuiyan.136 不惜眉毛笑翠巖

Nothing in the verse explicitly states that Hongzhi is writing to a nun or writing about a convent. Following the standard form, the verse is addressed to “Venerable Chong” (Chong shangren 崇 上人), who was requesting a gāthā for a hermitage known by the name “silence” (mo 默). Although Hongzhi’s jisong contain many similar poems written for hermitages (an 庵) that are portrayed as isolated mountain retreats, in this verse the second line makes reference to monastic protocol: “calling the assembly” (bai chui 白槌), which technically refers to banging a wooden hammer, and ascending to the head seat (shangshou 上首)—both suggesting that this is a convent. In addition, the poem makes allusions to two legendary female Chan masters, Iron Grindstone Liu 劉鐵磨 (8th-9 th C.) and Moshan Liaoran 末山了然 (9th C.), and comments upon gender and women’s practice. Iron Grinder Liu was so named for being able to defeat anybody in Chan styled debates, as sharp and quick as sparks struck off a grindstone, and was recognized as a dharma heir of Guishan Lingyou 潙山靈祐 (771-853). A dialogue between Iron Grindstone Liu and Guishan is recorded in Hongzhi’s songgu collection, as well as the Blue Cliff Record. Moshan was a nun who became a Chan master and who claimed that her nature was neither male nor female. On the surface, Hongzhi, like other Chan masters, rhetorically affirms the ability of women to become Chan masters. At the same time, however, becoming a Chan master for a woman goes hand in hand with the denial of femininity. The final line makes reference to another dialogue in Hongzhi’s songgu collection involving the monk Cuiyan Lingcan 翠巖令參 (9th-10th C).139 In the dialogue, Cuiyan, after lecturing the monks all summer, asks if he still has his eyebrows or not? The significance of losing one’s eyebrows is explained as follows: “It is said that if one defamed the dharma, one’s eyebrows would fall out. Since the dharma is said to be beyond words and letters, to speak even a little is to defame the dharma.”140 Although the issue of speech and silence remains in the verse above, the image of the eyebrows changes in meaning. When the nun in midst of absolute silence transcends names and form, she is no longer attached to her eyebrows, a conventional symbol of feminine beauty within Chinese poetry. Even the flower blossoms left scattered in the rain before the convent gate could be read as the act of leaving behind feminine charms. Even though Hongzhi adopts the language of non-duality—the “one word” (yi yan 一言), or non-dual word where there is neither male nor female—only by transcending the form of a woman does enlightenment take place. Thus, while these women are fully capable of enlightenment, at the same time Hongzhi basically reaffirms the traditional view that the body of a woman is an impediment to realization.

The privileging of the masculine is even more evident in another poem addressed to a nun: “Given to Abbess Bian” (Yu Bian anzhu 與辨庵主).141 This is the only poem in the collection addressed to an “abbess” (anzhu 庵主), and her name Bian 辨, “to discriminate,” could refer to Guanyin as one who discriminates sounds. Although Hongzhi does encourage the abbess to “divide her hands and eyes” (fen shou yan 分手眼) in the manner of Guanyin’s compassionate activity, as we have seen, this is one of Hongzhi’s standard pieces of advice for monastics, regardless of gender. Hongzhi praises the abbess for being an accomplished Chan master, a “tongueless person” (wushe ren 無舌人) who thoroughly and intimately knows the nature of their tradition. His adulation is otherwise gender-free, except for one line: “It must be that she has the sinews of a man beneath her eyebrows” 是須眉底有筋漢. The eyebrows (mei 眉) are not only a marker of femininity, but, among other things, a common image of mind to mind transmission, employed often in Hongzhi’s poetry to refer to the divine light between the eyebrows of a Buddha. For Hongzhi, the abbess’ spiritual abilities coincide with her adoption of masculine forms.

Even while Hongzhi’s views conform to the traditional perspective that the female body is an impediment to realization, he nevertheless recognizes both nuns and laywomen as fully realized Chan practitioners and masters and privileges the image of Guanyin as the supreme model of compassionate activity for both men and women. Compared with men, nuns and laywomen are not equally represented within Hongzhi’s poetic and religious engagements, but they are certainly participants who commanded the master’s respect. As may be the case with such murky historical figures as Iron Grindstone Liu, the rhetoric of gender equality is not merely a literary trope; it had a real impact on historical women who became Chan masters in the Song and who composed yulu and Chan poetry, as noted in Chapter One.

As their role is obscured due to the use of ambiguous terminology and masculine or non-gendered language, I suspect that nuns and laywomen played a more significant role in Hongzhi’s religious community than is evident in Jisong (II). The few examples above demonstrate that Hongzhi was in contact with female practitioners and exchanged poetry with them. In addition to these examples, Hongzhi wrote an inscription, entitled “Inscription for Zhiyou (Perfection of Wandering) Hermitage” (Zhiyou’an ming 至游庵銘), that appears to have been written for a convent.143 Hongzhi’s Jisong (II) contains another verse that make reference to this convent/hermitage, entitled “Inscribed for Zhiyou Hermitage and [Sent] as a Letter to the Hermitage’s Friends of the Way” (Ti Zhiyou an jian Jian an zhong daoyou 題至游庵兼簡庵中 道友).144 Significantly, neither the inscription nor verse makes an issue of gender. Beyond these pieces of evidence, Hongzhi likely appealed to female practitioners in the context of patronage, as did Dahui Zonggao, known for having prominent female disciples, both lay and monastic.145 As can be seen in the examples above, Hongzhi addresses female practitioners as adepts of the silent meditative practice of Caodong Chan, as he does with laymen and monks.

VII. Conclusion

In this chapter, I have demonstrated how Hongzhi utilized the forms of occasional poetry (shi) for writing verse consistently imbued with Chan meaning and identified as jisong, Buddhist gāthā. As argued in Chapter One, Hongzhi’s poetry is representative of a broader trend of incorporating occasional poetic forms into the jisong collections of Chan yulu and denglu during the Song dynasty. This development of Song dynasty jisong collections represents a mutual transformation of both jisong and shi poetic forms. On the one hand, the category of jisong is expanding from strictly doctrinal verse, most common from the Six Dynasties to the early Song, to incorporate increasingly non-doctrinal modes of composition standard to the poetic exchanges of literati: parting poems, “following rhymes” poems, song lyric (ci) forms and images, verses on reclusion and travel, and other verses of exchange. On the other hand, shi changes as it becomes part of jisong. This is best seen in Hongzhi’s parting verses where he employs particular Chan imagery and metaphors, allusions to Chan anecdotes and legendary figures, and even sectarian and technical terminology, such as silent illumination and the concepts of straight and crooked. As well, Hongzhi’s “requested gāthā” make a novel addition to the shi repertoire that takes on issues particular to Buddhist doctrine and monastic practice.

At the same time, in many of these verses there appears to be no transformation of the shi tradition at all. The poems on reclusion and travel, along with certain parting poems, could have been written by any literatus official. I would argue that there is still a subtle and significant transformation of these shi type poems as they are relabeled as jisong and collected within Chan yulu. For one, as I have shown, the parting poems which are most secular in appearance nevertheless employ recurrent metaphors coded with Chan significance—such as the reed flowers shining like snow in the moonlight. As a result, these poems can be read on two levels. On one level, they express the loneliness of parting and separation conventional within the parting poem subgenre. On another level, the act of parting and the writing of the parting poem become a means to express Buddhist notions of the interrelationship between unity and diversity, oneness and separation, and even embody metaphors of Chan practice. Although these metaphors are not always immediately identifiable on a first reading, I would suggest that they would be recognized by the literate monks who were the recipients of these poems, and their metaphorical significance becomes apparent as they reappear again and again in the context of Hongzhi’s jisong collection.

Poems in the reclusive mode represent a different mode of transformation, since, unlike the parting poems, identifiable Chan language and metaphor are frequently absent. Poems on reclusion are extremely common within Chan yulu. Rather than being coded with Chan meaning, the reclusive mode itself becomes certified as an expression of Chan through their inclusion within the jisong collections of Song yulu. In this way, Chan masters wholly appropriate the reclusive mode as true to the fundamentals of Chan, despite its origins in Confucian and Daoist thought and the frequent allusions to Tao Yuanming, who in effect, becomes a kind of honorary Buddhist layman.

The identification of the conventional and ultimate, analyzed in Chapter Two, offers a useful paradigm for understanding the relationship between shi and jisong, and the poetic and religious significance of Hongzhi’s verses in Jisong (II). If jisong in its original usage represents the teaching of the ultimate in Buddhist terms, then its merger with shi, as the conventional poetic tradition of literati, can be seen in terms of the unification of ultimate and conventional. The engagement in non-religious verse thus becomes part of the Chan project of realizing enlightenment in the ordinary world. In making this claim, I do not mean to state that this is the reason why a monk like Hongzhi wrote shi poetry, because, as mentioned, there are significant cultural and political factors that made poetic composition necessary for a successful Chan abbot However, this paradigm is useful in viewing how a Chan master engaged in poetic composition within the role of Chan abbot and in consideration of the generic parameters of yulu collections. Regardless of the types of poetry the Chan master may have written during his or her lifetime, his or her yulu would not merely contain any kind of poem on any kind of trivial topic. Rather, only poetic forms which could be linked to Chan were admitted into yulu—in other words, verses which embodied the integration of ultimate and conventional In this manner, the occasional poetry within yulu is distinct from the individual poetry collections of Chan poet-monks and literati, and their divergence is as much a product of what is left out as what is contained therein. As discussed in Chapter One, the poetry of Chan poet monks from the Tang to Song, such as Jiaoran 皎然 (ca. 734-ca. 799), Guanxiu 貫休 (832-912), Qiji 齊己 (863?-937?), Qisong 契嵩 (1007-1072), and Canliao, engages with a variety of secular topics, including a greater range of seasonal occasions, poems on history and books, and poems on objects, which are uncommon in Chan yulu and absent from Hongzhi’s poetry.147 When these types of poems do appear within yulu, they are usually quite different from the norm. The yulu of Caodong master Touzi Yiqing 投子義青 (1032-1083), for example, contains one poem on history, entitled “Recalling the Past” (Yi gu 憶古).148 Its subject: Śākyamuni Buddha! One of the salient differences between Hongzhi’s poetry and those of Chan poet-monks, especially from the Tang, is Hongzhi’s lack of concern with literary composition as a poetic topic. Poet-monks of the Tang frequently wrote about the struggle in composing poetry as a kind of Chan practice that required discipline and single-minded concentration.149 The poet-monk’s correlation of composition and Chan practice was rooted in the concern about the appropriateness of a monk engaging with eloquent poetic language and delving into the delusive realm of words. This tension was first raised by the famed poet and Buddhist layman Bai Juyi, who wrote about his inability to conquer the “poetry demon” (shimo 詩魔), and this term features prominently in the writings of poet-monks.150 In contrast, nowhere does the term “poetry demon” appear in Hongzhi’s yulu. This is precisely because he is not writing shi. Over and again, Hongzhi clarifies that he is writing Buddhist gāthā: jisong 偈頌, ji 偈, or song 頌. The three times he mentions shi within Jisong (II) all refer to the activities of literati, not monks. In writing jisong, Hongzhi and other Chan masters felt no need to justify their poetic activities in the context of their Buddhist practice.

There is another noteworthy difference between Hongzhi’s work and that of the poetmonk whose poems are collected outside of the constraints of yulu. Although the parting poems and other verses of poet monks often mention Chan and related images of sitting in tranquility, sipping tea, and drifting along with the clouds, their verses often exhibit a strong concern with displaying wit and recounting anecdotes related to their poetic correspondents.151 Rather than offer witty perceptions or tell captivating anecdotes of past events, Hongzhi is much more concerned with conveying his metaphorical vision of the world. These metaphors are woven into the circumstances and events surrounding himself and his correspondents but are oft repeated and rarely have to do with capturing an exceptional or unique poetic moment. Once again the identification of absolute and relative is instructive as the operating poetic principle. Hongzhi repeatedly connects the conventional world and ordinary activities, such as parting, living in the mountains, and going begging, with the language of emptiness and the process of enlightenment—rhetorically and metaphorically overturning conventional distinctions between men and women, lay and monastic, and religious and secular activities.

Although I consider metaphor to be essential to Hongzhi’s poetics, Pauline Yu and Stephen Owen have argued that, in general, Chinese poetry is not read metaphorically or allegorically but read through a series of correlations between various objects and ideas in a nonhierarchical manner.152 Pauline Yu, in particular, contends that belief in a non-dual cosmology precludes the division of ultimate and conventional meaning that metaphor depends on.153 While I cannot fully engage these arguments here—and although there are great merits to Yu’s and Owen’s arguments which, on the whole, deeply resonate with the poetry of Chan yulu—I will briefly suggest that in Hongzhi’s jisong the principle of non-duality does not inhibit the use of metaphor but underlies its function. Correlations are extremely important within Hongzhi’s poetics, as he ceaselessly creates associations between the monks, the principles behind their names, their monastic duties, the world of nature, and awakened activity. However, as in the Two Truths theory of Mādhyamika thought, the distinction between ultimate and conventional, “straight” and “crooked,” is even more critical to Hongzhi’s doctrinal standpoint and poetics.154 Paradoxically, although the ultimate and conventional are ultimately non-dual, only by distinguishing between them can they be identified, and it is their identification which fundamentally matters for the Mahāyāna monk intent on realizing the world of suffering as the emancipation of nirvāṇa. The identification between the conventional world and the realm of transcendence is effectively done through metaphor, where salt bestows silent wisdom, temple lamps emanate the true mind, wine imparts the intoxicating taste of enlightenment, and the grass below your feet embodies Buddha. For Hongzhi, it is metaphor that fuses the conventional and ultimate together and actualizes a non-dual vision of the world.

In Praise of No One: Hongzhi’s Portrait Encomia (zhenzan)


I. Introduction

One of the integral features of Song dynasty Chan yulu is the regular inclusion of the master’s portrait encomia (zhenzan 真讚), which were written to be inscribed on the portrait of a Chan master or other Buddhist figure.1 Chan masters regularly wrote encomia for a variety of personages central to Chan mythology, especially Śākyamuni Buddha, popular Bodhisattvas, the Chinese Chan patriarchs and other influential masters. Although there is a long history of writing praise poems for Buddhist figures in Chinese literature, the Song dynasty witnessed a marked rise in the collection of encomia written for Buddhist portraits, as well as the development of the “self-encomia” (zizan 自讚) sub-genre, among both monks and literati. As these verses were written on artistic images that were made public and distributed to literati and other monks, they provide evidence for how the image of the Chan monk was crafted and promoted. In accord with the Buddhist doctrine of no self, these verses give foremost praise to the selflessness of the Chan master and adopt various poetic means of expressing it. In doing so, the focus of these encomia is not the Chan master’s individual personality—his or her personal altruism or concern for others—but rather the master’s particular instantiation of the selflessness that is inherent in all things. Part of the paradox of these verses is that the master is praised for embodying a state of selflessness that is nothing special and that is even crude and vulgar, since, in theory, it is ordinary, ubiquitous, and immediately accessible. In this sense, the subject of admiration is often the nature of the ordinary world, as the Buddhists see it, in which these verses primarily function to promote the Buddhist perspective on reality. Yet, at the same time, the master is recognized and distinguished for fully identifying with the original, fundamental nature of things where all is ultimately non-differentiated.

As the idea of no self technically refers to the fact that the self is empty of a permanent and substantial nature—rather than being non-existent—the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness forms the broader thematic context in which selflessness is articulated. Through a variety of poetic techniques, Hongzhi’s encomia establish vital correlations between the emptiness of the master’s physical, emotional, and mental existence and the objective, natural world. Of primary importance for understanding the portrait encomium’s function as a literary genre, as well as its relationship to painting, is the emptiness of both word and image that informs much of the rhetoric and wordplay common within the genre. In terms of the emptiness of language, Hongzhi’s portrait encomia are the source of his most forceful insistence on a meditative practice of total silence (momo 默默), and it is within these verses that Hongzhi addresses the topic of silence most frequently and explicitly. Since the bulk of Hongzhi’s portrait encomia were published at the end of his life, they are a significant source for understanding how he envisioned Caodong Chan in his later years and his ongoing commitment to silence.

In this chapter, I focus on Hongzhi’s self-encomia to demonstrate how he promotes himself as a selfless embodiment of emptiness and silence within verses written for his own portrait. I first provide a brief background to the nature of encomia (zan) as a literary genre and its place within Hongzhi’s yulu. I then examine four prominent themes within his encomia, each of which elaborates upon the emptiness of the master and his world, including the image of the master as one with nature, as ascetic recluse, as ignorant barbarian (hu 胡), and as embodiment of silence. I argue that it is the notion of silence that underlies his non-dual perspective of the self and environment, worldly withdrawal and engagement, and the master’s image as both uncultivated barbarian and refined literatus. Ultimately, his understanding of silence as nondiscrimination restores the function of language and the efficacy of the painted image that are rhetorically denied with great frequency in these verses. Despite explicit claims about the failure of words and images to capture the truth, I argue that Hongzhi’s encomia successfully integrate two opposing paradigms: the adequacy and inadequacy of both word and image in expressing the true nature of the Chan master and the dharma.

Zan as a Literary Genre

As a literary genre, zan 讚, 贊, 賛 (encomium) has a long history in Chinese literature and longstanding associations with both painting and Buddhism. In Six Dynasties literary criticism, zan, along with the term song 頌, is identified with the function of praise.3 Both of these genres could be written for portraits, though the Wen xuan assigns zan this particular task: “When painting portraits, an Encomium is composed.”4 Although the translation of zan as “encomium” serves to distinguish it from song which is often translated “eulogy,” the two genres are virtually indistinguishable in Six Dynasties literary criticism.5 Within Chan yulu, the term song no longer retains a function particular to eulogy and is used to refer more broadly to Buddhist gāthā, as in the term jisong 偈頌. Zan, however, continues to refer to verses of praise, which are nearly always written on portraits.

The term zan was used very early on in the history of Chinese Buddhism within poems of praise to Buddhist figures and doctrines, and these verses were often inscribed on portraits.6 Even though only a few encomia are found in the yulu attributed to Chan monks from the Tang,7 beginning in the late tenth century, yulu regularly include selections of encomia.8 Within Song Chan yulu, one typically finds portrait encomia collected under the headings of zanfozu 讚佛祖 (or fozuzan 佛祖讚, encomia for Buddhas and patriarchs), zizan (self-encomia), zhenzan (portrait encomia), or simply zan (encomia). Encomia can be collected either within a selection of jisong, often under a sub-heading, or collected separately, as are most of Hongzhi’s encomia. Although Chan monks adapted the encomia form for their own interests, the writing of encomia reflects earlier eulogizing practices among Buddhist monks and laypersons and was not limited to Chan monks or concerns during the Song. Song Buddhist monks also wrote verses praising Amitabha Buddha and his Pure Land and memorialized patriarchs from the Tiantai and

Huayan traditions.

In addition to monks, literati were fond of praising popular Bodhisattvas, especially Guanyin, as well as writing verses for Chan patriarchs and masters themselves.10 In turn, Buddhist masters would sometimes write encomia in praise of Buddhist laypersons, as does Hongzhi for one prominent laywoman.11 Outside of specifically Buddhist contexts, the practice of writing self-encomia became common among Song literati and continued into later dynasties.12 Chan practices during the Song likely influenced the writing of self-encomia through later dynasties, and the Chan genealogical model is apparent in praising the patriarchs of other traditions. Composition of encomia, however, is in no way exclusive to Chan or Buddhism.13

Zan in Hongzhi’s yulu

Hongzhi’s yulu is exceptional for the large numbers of portrait encomia collected therein. There are over five hundred, accounting for nearly half of his yulu’s poetic content.14 Hongzhi’s encomia collection is additionally remarkable since the overwhelming majority were written for his own image. The existence of such large numbers of self-encomia indicates his popularity as a master during his time, the significant value his image must have held, and the interest in collecting his verses.15 Besides the efforts to publish and preserve Hongzhi’s writings, his portrait encomia were also disseminated to numerous monks and laymen and were thus a significant medium for propagating his vision of Chan.16 A portrait of the Chan master would not only serve as a powerful religious icon for Hongzhi’s disciples, the portraits were also a means of fundraising, as Griffith Foulk and Robert Sharf have argued.17 While the titles to thirty-nine of Hongzhi’s portrait encomia specify that they were given to individual monks or laypersons, the vast majority (a total of 505) are collected under a general title stating that an anonymous monk responsible for monastery fundraising requested the master to inscribe a poem on his portrait: “A Chan Monk and Chief Fundraiser Drew [the Master’s] Portrait and Requested an Encomium” (Chanren bing huazhu xiezhen qiuzan 禪人并化主寫真求贊).18 The responsible monk would presumably offer these inscribed portraits to willing donors as gifts or sell them.19 Among Song yulu, Hongzhi’s is unusual for collecting such a large number of selfencomia compared to the relatively few encomia (thirteen in total) written for other Buddhas and patriarchs (zanfozu) that more typically make up the bulk of a master’s portrait encomia. In Dahui Zonggao’s yulu, for instance, he has roughly the same number of each: thirty-nine zanfozu and forty zizan. 20 Dahui’s zanfozu follow a chronological progression from Śākyamuni Buddha to masters of his own day, including one for Hongzhi. The yulu of Hongzhi’s Caodong predecessors, Touzi Yiqing and Danxia Zichun, also stand in stark contrast to Hongzhi’s, as they contain very few self-encomia: only one in the former and three in the latter. Instead, Touzi and Danxia wrote encomia for the previous abbots of their temples, honoring their own place within a continuous line of Chan masters at the local level of their temples.21 Hongzhi’s encomia are not solely concerned with the master’s own image, however. Along with his encomia for other masters—including Bodhidharma, his own dharma-brother Zhenqie Qingliao, Linji master Yuanwu Keqin, a series for all six Chan patriarchs, and even one verse for a Vinaya master (lüshi 律師)—his self-encomia include frequent references and allusions to a wide range of Chan masters, Bodhisattvas, and popular figures like Hanshan. As common within Chan literature, Hongzhi’s allusions to other masters and Buddhist figures, nevertheless, tend to highlight the fact that he is uniquely situated to transmit the dharma that many others have attained before him. In publicizing his credentials as Chan master, it is significant that Hongzhi chose to decisively stamp his own image with the theme of silence in order to emphasize the uniqueness and completeness of his Caodong teachings, as I will show below.

Literary Form

Encomia within Chan yulu are written in rhymed parallel couplets of varying line lengths. Although there is a great deal of repetition in terms of content and imagery within Hongzhi’s portrait encomia, poem and line length vary remarkably—the form of one encomium rarely matching another. Most verses are between six and eight lines, though some are short quatrains and others are over twenty or thirty lines long. Occasionally there are odd numbers of lines and/or the rhyme scheme is inconsistent, but overall, the verses are formed in rhymed parallel couplets. Line lengths within the parallel couplets typically vary from three to seven characters per line. The particle xi 兮—characteristic of the Chuci 楚辭 and the sao 騷 style and also found in the Shijing 詩經—is used frequently as a kind of caesura in perhaps fifty percent of the poems.22 Although the function of xi 兮 within these poems is not consistent, it primarily serves to delineate the syntax within certain lines and/or combine phrases of different length into single lines that retain the encomium’s rhymed-parallelism. For example, in the following passage from an encomium discussed below, four and six character phrases are combined with the use of the particle xi to create parallel lines:

    In equanimity, do not move— 平等莫移兮
    Let the crane be tall and the mallard short. 任鶴長而鳧短
    Warp and weft follow change: 縱橫從變兮
    The trigram kun is broken and qian is solid.23 爻坤斷而乾連

Although I have divided these lines at the caesura that the particle xi creates, technically speaking this is one couplet of eleven-character lines, rather than four lines of uneven length. Without the use of xi, the lines would not be parallel, and the syntax would be unclear. In other cases, as seen below, however, xi is found in lines which would still by rhymed and parallel without the addition of the particle. In any case, the particle marks a pause or breath that is suggestive of the “ancient” style of the earliest recorded Chinese poetry. The particle is found in the zan and funerary verses of other masters and occasionally in the zizan of laymen, but it is not a necessary element, and many masters and laymen do not use it.24 Along with the particle xi 兮, Hongzhi’s encomia frequently use grammatical terms, or “empty words” (xuci 虛詞), such as er 而, ye 也, and hu 乎, which punctuate the text and infuse the verses with literary qualities characteristic of either casual prose writing or informal speech (see the use of er 而 in the example above and the many other examples below). A vernacular quality of the verses is also created through the use of colloquial expressions, such as renme 任 麽 (“in this way”), and by the fact that Hongzhi often addresses and challenges the viewer of his portrait directly with incisive questions and other rhetorical strategies, at times even breaking the parallelism of the verse form with the expression: “Look! Look!” (kan kan 看看). Due to the density of metaphor and imagery as well as the rhymed-parallelism, these encomia do not represent the kind of “written vernacular” that characterizes many yulu dialogues but nor do they retain the orderly form and literary refinement of Hongzhi’s doctrinal and occasional verses. Instead, this curious mixture of poetic sensibility and lax verbal expression captures the verses’ play on the Chan master’s image as neither vulgar nor refined, neither literary nor illiterate, neither “civilized” (Han 漢) nor “barbarian” (Hu 胡).

II. Portrait of a Master: Hongzhi’s Self-Encomia (Zizan)

Due to the constraints of the portrait encomia in terms of subject matter and the encomia’s particular function in praising the master and the Buddha-dharma, Hongzhi’s self-encomia (zizan) are restricted to a relatively narrow set of images, themes, and rhetorical devices. However, just as the form of one encomium infrequently mirrors another, it is rare that Hongzhi repeats exactly the same phrase or couplet within these verses, and he often introduces novel elements into their somewhat formulaic structure, producing hundreds of unique verses even though their basic features remain consistent. It is indeed rather remarkable that Hongzhi could use the same basic poetic components to produce such an array of verses that remain distinct from one another in form and phrasing. I would speculate that as these portraits were disseminated to others, it would be advantageous to individualize each verse, while at the same time, the master could inscribe the portrait with a general teaching on emptiness accessible to any literate person who viewed it. In contrast to many of his doctrinal verses (see Ch. 2) where Hongzhi expresses his philosophical standpoint almost purely through imagery, his encomia are often straightforward and didactic in presentation, more similar in style to Chan inscriptions (ming) and songs (ge). Due to their great numbers and their repetition of certain concepts and images, these encomia offer a veritable compendium of many of Hongzhi’s central ideas.

A. The Master’s Body: The ature of ature

In general, the encomia combine the physical description of the master and imagery of the natural landscape with didactic statements on Buddhist doctrine that are further illustrated through metaphor and allusion. One of the most frequent tropes, and basic elements of Hongzhi’s encomia, is the depiction of correspondences between the natural landscape and the physical features of the master that bring into question the boundaries of both the master’s bodily and painted form. The continuity between the master’s body and the natural world is depicted in the following verse, for instance, where the master effortlessly follows the transformations of nature as well as the changes in his own corporeal existence:

    Hair and whiskers frail and white— 鬚髮衰白
    Snowflakes dotting the chilly grove. 雪點寒林
    Brows and eyes cold and dark-blue— 眉目冷青
    Autumn emerging from the ancient stream. 秋生古澗
    With resonance in abundance, 應之有餘
    What limit to its use? 用之何限
    No matter the wind and waves, 風浪不管兮
    I am idle like a floating gull. 閑似浮鷗
    The river and sky merge 水天相連兮
    where I follow the returning geese from afar.25 遠隨歸雁

Hongzhi selflessly merges with the natural world in this verse, allowing himself to rise and fall like a floating gull rather than resist the “winds and waves” (feng lang 風浪) of change. Within Hongzhi’s immense corpus of encomia, almost all of the master’s facial and bodily features are present—from his straight nose, horizontal eyebrows, and deep eyes, to his withered body or vivacious internal organs. Hongzhi is far more interested in the metaphorical and symbolic value of these images, rather than their descriptive function. The master’s white hair in this verse, for instance, is one of the most frequent images in these poems, though it does not likely correspond to a literal description of his portrait. Elsewhere, for example, Hongzhi even describes his white hair as being “long” (chang 長):

    Hair long like a belt of snow; 髮長帶雪
    Bones thin like the mountains on the horizon.26 骨瘦橫山

It is extremely improbable that Hongzhi would be depicted with long, white hair instead of the shorn head characteristic of a Buddhist monk and often seen within extant Chan portraiture. Rather than describe his portrait, his white hair signifies a correspondence with the impermanent white snow in a chilly grove, or on a mountain peak, and is suggestive of the sageliness of the master, regardless of his age. Similarly, his “dark” or “dark-blue/green” (qing 青) eyes reflect the color of the autumn river or clear sky and elsewhere are characterized as being positively “blue” (bi 碧), creating an association with Bodhidharma whose eye color distinguishes him as a foreigner—a crucial element within these encomia that will be discussed below.27 The context of portraiture is an excellent arena for expounding upon the relationship between reality and illusion, especially in terms of the disjuncture between the painted image and the physical body.28 As has been closely analyzed by Griffith Foulk and Robert Sharf, Chan masters frequently pun on various terms for portraiture in their encomia, especially zhen 真 (true or real) and xiang 像 (image or form).29 Like other masters, Hongzhi often questions whether his painted image is true (zhen) or not. The puns are multi-layered, questioning the painting’s formal likeness, the nature of the self as both the subjective viewing agent and objective image,30 and whether the painting transmits the master’s true spirit (shen 神) or “spirit resonance” (qiyun 氣 韻).31 The “naturalness” of the master’s body is one aspect that draws attention to this question of the reality of the portrait and the true nature of the master’s self. Following the premise that the master’s body is one with the entire world around him, it is not something that can be accurately captured in a portrait. The following poem uses the same bodily metaphors as the verse above to highlight the selflessness of the master that not only defies painted form but resists description in words:

    Monk Tiantong— 天童比丘
    do you still recognize him, or not? 還相識不
    White hair, cold snow on the cliffs; 白髮寒巖雪
    Dark-blue eyes, an old stream in autumn. 青瞳古澗秋
    His present body does not fall into classifications, 現身不墮類
    as his scattered shadow flows with the current. 分影也隨流
    On another day, you can surely see in the portrait— 他日果能窺頂相
    Fine-weather clouds, as if let loose to the mountain top.32 晴雲似放去山頭

This is one of several verses that allude to Hongzhi’s abbacy at Mount Tiantong. Like other monks, Hongzhi takes his name from the mountain on which he resides, and in this context, his white hair and dark-blue eyes resonate with the geographical features of his mountain home. In this verse, Hongzhi conveys the insubstantiality of his body as a shadowy presence dispersed and flowing through the world, which ultimately cannot be categorized or described, let alone contained within the limited form of a portrait. However, this perspective on the inadequacy of the portrait is complicated and nuanced in the final couplet, which indicates that in the portrait itself one can spy the movements of nature. This couplet contains a pun on another term for portrait: dingxiang 頂相, which literally refers to a protuberance on the Buddha’s head (Skt. uṣṇīṣa), one of the thirty two marks that characterize the Buddha.33 Within the parallelism of the couplet, Hongzhi evokes the correspondence between his own body as a manifestation of Buddha-nature and the mountain top, yet in this case, this resonance between his self and nature is embedded in the portrait itself. The portrait does then adequately reflect the naturalness of his body, in that the portrait itself is part of the world of nature. At times, Hongzhi’s encomia say little, or nothing, about his physical self but solely focus on the natural world as a manifestation of emptiness:

    An old crane and a lone pine, 鶴老松孤
    Cold spring among stones worn thin: 泉寒石癯
    Reflections in a mirror, 鏡之對像
    Echoes in a valley. 谷之答呼
    The jumbled web of causes is not existent; 萬緣雜錯不是有
    A little bit of spirited illumination is not unreal. 一點靈明不是無
    In clarity, there is wondrous resonance: 湛存妙應兮
    A lively hub within the dynamic wheel.34 機輪活樞

Hongzhi’s presence is only subtly implied in this verse through the correspondences generated in the first couplet of the poem, as he often describes himself as being thin, old, and alone— qualities reflected in the natural scenery that surrounds him. Like his ethereal body, the solid forms of nature are similarly impermanent and empty, like “reflections in a mirror, / echoes in a valley” 鏡之對像 / 谷之答呼, and cannot ultimately be categorized as either “existent” (you 有) or “non-existent” (wu 無). Hongzhi contends that the myriad activities of the phenomenal world can only function due to emptiness, like a wheel that can only spin because of the space within its hub, an image prominent within the Daode jing 道德經 for explicating the great value of nothingness, and a favorite metaphor of Hongzhi’s. Hongzhi employs a host of natural imagery to convey the doctrine of emptiness, especially the non-dual relationship between unity and diversity, the universal and particular. He frequently illustrates the intricate relationship between unity and diversity through images of the blending of distinct phenomena into one undifferentiated mass, like one hundred rivers entering the sea, or the merger of the river and sky into a single autumn color. The following couplets offer good examples of the use of animal and avian imagery to achieve this effect:

    A character of geese disappears—the cold mist faint and dim; 字雁沒而寒煙淡淡
    Patterned scales hidden—deep, deep in the autumn river.36 華鱗潛而秋水沈沈
    The white gull at sunset descends onto the misty autumn shore, 白鷗暮落煙沙秋
    Lying cold within the reed flowers in the moonlight.37 寒臥蘆華明月裏

The metaphor of the geese flying in a formation that resembles a written “character” (zi 字) is commonplace in shi poetry and extremely prevalent within Hongzhi’s encomia, as well as his occasional verse. In the Chan context, the distinct character of geese disappearing in the misty horizon is mildly suggestive of the absence of words and letters in the non-discriminating samādhi of meditation. As discussed in the previous chapters, the natural world presented here is not one of either absolute differentiation or non-differentiation but one in which discrete phenomena flow in and out of emptiness. In fact, Hongzhi’s encomia frequently emphasize the diversity and difference within the world of nature. His verses employ recurring sets of yin-yang pairings (including the terms yin and yang themselves) to depict the dualistic aspects of nature, at times elaborating on many of these paired opposites in a single verse, such as this one:

    Venerable Zuyin Jian Sketches Master [Hongzhi’s] Portrait and Requests an Encomium 祖印漸長老寫師像求贊
    Who transmits this face, 面孔誰傳
    And the naturalness of mind and body? 身心自然
    The mirror possesses ten thousand images; 鑑含萬像
    The sea swallows one hundred streams. 海吞百川
    The brocade loom stirs and weaves the multicolored silk; 錦機動而綵絲度
    The jade thread penetrates and joins the golden needle. 玉線透而金針聯
    To speak the dharma, I borrow a mouth, 說法借口
    and frighten people with empty fists. 嚇人空拳
    In equanimity, do not move— 平等莫移兮
    Let the crane be tall and the mallard short. 任鶴長而鳧短
    Warp and weft follow change: 縱橫從變兮
    The trigram kun is broken and qian is solid.38 爻坤斷而乾連

This verse is significant for asserting the fundamental agreement between the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness and the basic principles of Chinese cosmology, specifically yin-yang thought and its elaboration within the trigrams and hexagrams of the Yijing 易經. 39 The non-differentiation of emptiness in no way obstructs the appearance of difference in the world, as Hongzhi admonishes by means of a clichéd Chan expression: “Let the crane be tall and the mallard short.” Diversity and duality do indeed characterize the world, but they should not be taken to be substantial and permanent. Rather, opposites such as warp and weft (zongheng 縱橫, also vertical/horizontal), tall and short, exist within a world of change, where yin turns into yang, and yang turns into yin. Although we say the crane is tall and the mallard is short, just as these sentient beings are ultimately impermanent and illusory, the judgments applied to them are merely conventional and relative and do not signify a permanent state of being or ultimate truth. Furthermore, rather than constituting ontologically distinct essences, the dualities of the world are complementary and intertwined, like the warp and weft of multi-colored silk woven together by the loom of activity (ji 機) into a wondrous brocade. In a similar fashion to his use of natural imagery, Hongzhi exploits the features of his physical body as epitomizing the emptiness and diversity of the world. Often his encomia begin with a very straightforward and prosaic account of his appearance, illustrating the distinct character of his various bodily traits:

    Mouth square, nose straight; 口方鼻直
    brows sharp, eyes deep…40 眉棱眼深
    Eyebrows droop over the corner of my eyes; 眉毛垂眼尾
    nostrils press down on the skin of my lips…41 鼻孔壓唇皮

Although Hongzhi will occasionally mention his monastic accoutrements, such as the robe, staff, or fly whisk, that distinguish him as a Buddhist monk, his descriptions of his appearance rarely specify anything particular about himself. Rather, they emphasize the commonplace nature of his conventional form. This emphasis reinforces his message that emptiness, and Buddha-nature, is ever-present in ordinary things. As in the poem above, Hongzhi affirms that he only may preach the dharma by assuming a conventional body:

    To speak the dharma, I borrow a mouth, 說法借口
    and frighten people with empty fists… 嚇人空拳

His facial features may also embody the interrelationship between unity and diversity. Hongzhi has a particular liking for the nostrils (bikong 鼻孔) as a prominent emblem of emptiness at the center of everyone’s face. Felicitously, our nostrils are also the conduit of the breath of meditation. Here, the stillness of his joyful facial expression in meditation embraces the myriad things:

    Amidst stillness, the myriad conditions are concealed in the nostrils; 靜裏萬緣藏鼻孔
    Within a smile, one hundred things appear on the tip of the eyebrows…42 笑中百事見眉端

In the following verse, Hongzhi explicitly states that his body is a provisional and empty form and poetically alludes to the fact that Buddha-nature is originally inherent in everyone as well as the realm of nature:

    Vast emptiness borrowed to make a body; 虛空借得作身
    The myriad things follow me as a companion. 萬象相隨為伴
    In the warp and weft, the way of humans is complete; 縱橫人道十成
    Check closely—who knows even a half of it? 點撿誰知一半
    Look! Look! 看看
    Blue mountains high and lofty, 青山崢嶸
    White clouds in disarray— 白雲零亂
    Within this, has the ox-herding boy returned or not? 裏許牧童歸未歸
    The iron ox, with one tug, snaps the golden cord.43 鐵牛一掣金繩斷

This verse has very little to do with Hongzhi, his portrait, or his image as Chan master. Instead, its message is directed at the viewer of the portrait whom Hongzhi cajoles to witness the emptiness of nature and his or her own being, as he exclaims: “Look! Look!” (kan kan 看看). This verse, like so many others, is more properly a dharma teaching encouraging others to take the Buddhist path, rather than an explicit form of self-praise. The final couplet indicates that Buddha-nature is already present in everyone; it does not need to be sought outside of the self and it is not an object to be obtained. In the metaphors developed within the Ten Ox-Herding pictures, the ox stands for Buddha-nature, and the ox-herder represents the practitioner seeking his or her own true nature. Since, according to Mahāyāna philosophy, the self is originally Buddha, the self seeking one’s true nature is described as “riding an ox in search of an ox,” or technically speaking, Buddha-nature seeking Buddha-nature. In Hongzhi’s final couplet, the snapping of the cord between the boy as self and the ox as object signifies the union of the seeker with Buddha-nature. As the subject and object of seeking have never truly been apart, Hongzhi rhetorically questions, has the ox-herding boy returned or not?

Along with the emptiness and interconnection of body and nature, the mind also forms a single expanse with the physical world. Although technically the mind cannot be painted as an object within a portrait, according to Chan thought, the phenomenal world is itself an expression of mind. Mind and body, as a conventional pairing, often appear together as manifestations of nature:

    Body of white clouds; 白雲之身
    mind of cold moonlight…44 寒月之心

Hongzhi typically describes the mind as all-expansive, enveloping all before it, as alluded to in the following verse:

    Clouds in the trees hazy and gray; 雲樹蒼蒼
    The stones in the spring whittled down. 泉石鑿鑿
    Leaning on my staff, I sit among them, 倚杖坐其間
    This mind naturally empty and expansive. 此心自空廓
    Autumn moonlight washes over the blue sea; 秋月濯滄溟
    Spring wind within the dense wood. 春風在林薄
    Swimming fish descend into the reeds of the cold jade stream; 游魚下藻玉溪寒
    A character of geese disappears in the mist of the wide, wide world.45 字雁沒煙天宇闊

Hongzhi’s vast mind, cultivated in meditation, embraces the natural scenery of both spring and autumn, like the moonlight covering the immense sea and the wind spreading amidst the trees. There is nothing particular about Hongzhi’s mind, in this sense, as this perspective is merely an expression of the “mind-only” (weixin 唯心) thought of Yogacara Buddhism, a concept alluded to within his encomia. But, as elsewhere, this verse suggests that the stillness of mind cultivated through meditation leads to the awareness of the interrelationship between mind and phenomena.

B. Portrait of the Recluse in the Dusty World

Related to the interconnection between the master’s body and nature is, of course, the portrait of Hongzhi as recluse. As well as being immersed in the natural world full of cloud tipped mountains and clear blue streams, the master occasionally mentions his dwelling among “hills and valleys” (qiuhe 丘壑) or “rivers and lakes” (jiang hu 江湖), two geographical images strongly associated with reclusion.46 In contrast to his occasional verses, Hongzhi places far less emphasis on the image of dwelling in a thatched hut, and his encomia contain few of the allusions to Tao Yuanming and Vimalakīrti that are used to compliment laypersons. Instead, Hongzhi depicts himself according to the archetypes of the woodcutter and fisherman and makes frequent allusions to the happy and carefree image of the legendary Tang dynasty Chan “monk” poets Hanshan and his partner Shide 拾得. Hongzhi combines these reclusive tropes with images associated with Daoist immortality and the language of Zhuangzi, particularly his butterfly dream (diemeng 蝶夢) and the equanimity of things (qiwu 齊物), which appear over and over. Within these verses, Hongzhi highlights the asceticism of his withdrawal from worldly passions and desires. He frequently characterizes his appearance as old, thin, cold, and hungry and often alludes to his constricted belly, which one assumes will be filled through begging rounds and the generosity of donors. The poetic images of his bodily asceticism mirror the mental discipline of his Chan practice, where the emaciated form of his “withered tree skeleton” (kumu xinghai 枯木形骸), for example, corresponds to Caodong metaphors for stilling the mind (see Ch. 2).47 His denial of sensual pleasures assists in his unification with nature, the realization of the insubstantiality of his body, and the adoption of the “idleness” (xian 閑 or 閒) of the recluse, who takes pleasure in the “blandness” (dan 淡) of ordinary things:

    This mountain dwelling person; 箇住山人
    All his life accustomed to poverty. 平生慣貧
    Cold and withered, his bones like blue ridges; 寒枯青嶂骨
    Idle and bland, his white cloud body. 閑淡白雲身
    On the shadowless tree tops— 無影樹頭兮
    A dew-drenched crane dreams of the moon. 露鶴夢月
    On branches that do not bud, 不萌枝上兮
    Flowery bees gather spring.48 華蜂採春

By becoming “cold and withered” and “idle and bland” through his ascetic life of poverty, the master assumes the geological features of the rugged blue mountains and wispy white clouds around him. Hongzhi generally prefers to depict the master’s bodily transcendence in relation to commonplace objects within the landscape, as he does in the first half of the poem. In contrast, the “shadowless treetops” and “branches that do not bud” are some of the only explicitly paradoxical and seemingly otherworldly images that appear within Hongzhi’s encomia. Nevertheless, these unusual phenomena appear to characterize the ordinary world of nature as perceived by an enlightened master who has recognized the emptiness of things, rather than refer to a mythical or alternate realm of existence. The most essential component associated with reclusion in Hongzhi’s portrait encomia is the master’s “idle feelings” (xianqing 閑情). Withdrawn from worldly pursuits far away in the mountains, the master adopts the leisurely mode of reclusive life and his passions naturally dissipate. This does not mean that the master is completely emotionless, however:

    A smile in the corner of his mouth; 笑含口角
    Joy within his angular brows. 喜在眉棱
    A single silence illuminates the source: 一默照源底
    The three vehicles are just empty, tangled vines. 三乘空葛藤
    Moonlight whose purity washes the autumn; 清白濯秋之月
    A lamp whose radiance splits the night. 光明破夜之燈
    A staff that is sometimes laid across the knees; 柱杖有時橫膝上
    And the sort of ugly face that people despise. 箇般面嘴得人憎
    Moving, yet still; 動而靜
    Empty, yet responsive. 虛而應
    His concentrated breath is extremely supple, 專氣致柔
    And his profound spirit is as if frozen. 湛神如凝
    Once dwelling at Tiantong, 一住天童
    I am completely dispassionate.49 十分沒興

Except for the final couplet, I have translated this verse in the third person in order to evoke the peculiarity of the self-encomia’s demand to write about one’s own self as object.50 The requirement of the self-encomia to face one’s own image itself complicates the distinction between subject and object that is of central concern to Buddhist soteriology and constantly under question within Hongzhi’s challenges to the ontological existence of the self and its relationship to the portrait. Here the distance between the master as viewer and the master as artistic object is particularly acute as Hongzhi mockingly describes his appearance as “the sort of ugly face that people despise.” As we will see below, his displeasing looks partly derive from the coldness of his emotions which have faded away due to his reclusive lifestyle. There is an odd disjuncture, however, between his pleasant and joyful disposition within the opening couplet and the claim that he is completely without xing 興 (interest, inspiration, feelings) in the final line. His assertion of being free of xing is especially striking, since within his occasional poetry, reclusion is the source of xing, understood as poetic inspiration.51 Throughout his encomia, Hongzhi emphasizes both his joyful (xi 喜, or xinxin 欣欣) nature and his state of having idle feelings, or “no feelings” (wuqing 無情) at all. The diminishment of his feelings within idleness is never a simple absence. As in this poem, his idleness and dispassion themselves appear to be the source of a subtle pleasure and joy, which ultimately derives from a profound “single silence” (yi mo 一默) that transcends all things, even the conventional paths of Buddhist practice alluded to by the “three vehicles” (san sheng 三乘).

Joy and laughter are not the only emotions expressed within Hongzhi’s portrait encomia. On the other side of the spectrum, Hongzhi will also depict himself as having a stern and severe expression, usually apparent within the glare of his angry eyes:

    Angry brows, glaring eyes, 怒眉瞋目
    Dried up guts, and empty stomach. 枯腸空腹
    You cannot touch his cold face— 面冷莫觸
    but can grasp his pure spirit…53 氣清可掬

This fiercer side of Hongzhi’s character befits the stereotype of Chan master as a harsh and uncompromising teacher and also relates to withdrawal in terms of the austere nature of the monk’s asceticism, as suggested in the first couplet. In the second couplet, Hongzhi notes the irony that what is palpable (his cold face) cannot be touched within the portrait, while what is intangible (his pure spirit, or breath) can indeed be grasped. In other words, not only does the portrait manifest his spirit in some manner, but it is something the viewer can behold for themselves through mental and physical discipline. Rather than constituting the negation of emotions, Hongzhi’s transcendence of feelings more accurately indicates a non-attachment to emotional states and mental activity achieved through ascetic withdrawal. Although anger and joy may still arise, the master, in theory, does not pursue one and reject the other. The following verse complicates the conventional interpretation of non-attachment as an emotional void:

    Eyebrows sharp and angled;54 眉棱棱
    Eyes shining bright. 眼烱烱
    Though I love idle feelings, 自愛情閒
    people dislike my cold face. 人嫌面冷
    An expanse of clouds emerges from the heart of the cave; 片雲出岫之心
    The lone moon washes the reflections in the pool. 孤月濯潭之影
    I no longer pity the trillions of differentiated -bodies 絕憐百億分身
    Completely filling the three thousand transformation realms.55 恰滿三千化境

As unusual as it is for a Chan master to express love (ai 愛) for, or attachment to, anything, it is Hongzhi’s love of the “idleness of his feelings” (qing xian 情閒) that distinguishes him as Chan master, in contrast to others who detest the “coldness of his face,” which corresponds to his dispassionate emotional state in the parallelism of the poem. His love for his idle feelings is due to their aid in precipitating insight into the purity and expansiveness of his mind and its unity with the insubstantial realm of nature, as well as with the totality of the incomprehensibly vast universe. Hongzhi suggests that he is no longer attached to the myriad phenomena which compose the billions of worlds, or great chiliocosm, of the Buddhist cosmos, alluded to by the expression “the three thousand transformation realms” (sanqian huajing 三千化境).56 His lack of attachment is due to the realization that all things are empty, like “reflections in a pool,” and for this reason, all things are themselves Buddha. The “trillions of differentiated bodies” (baiyi fenshen 百億分身) do not merely denote the myriad things but refer to the “transformation bodies” (fenshen 分身, or huashen 化身) or nirmāṇa-kāya, of the Buddha. The phrase “trillions of differentiated bodies” is in fact part of the name of Śākyamuni Buddha regularly chanted during Buddhist meals and services.57 In other words, the entire breadth of the immeasurable universe and every single thing within it are none other than the body of the Buddha.

The non-attachment nurtured by the Buddhist monk in reclusion fosters one final irony that forms a key component within the Chan path: The monk must not form attachments to either the natural nor human realm and thus, must be able to return to the dusty marketplace, as exhibited in the final stage of the Ten Ox-Herding pictures. Within his encomia, Hongzhi’s term for the ultimate meditative state is “samādhi within the dust of the world” (chenchen sanmei 塵 塵三昧, and other variations). Sometimes this deep concentration within the illusory world is described as “samādhi arising from every one of the myriad dusts” 歷歷諸塵三昧起, suggesting that the fundamental stillness at the heart of phenomenal existence has an ontological status that is tapped into through Chan meditation. The following poem develops an explicit connection between the non-attachment of the idle and reclusive monk and the return to the marketplace to witness the universal nature of samādhi pervading all:

    Idle and unattached, 閒兮無寄
    functioning without traces. 用也不痕
    Although the moon can make shadows appear, 月雖能現影
    clouds naturally do not grow roots. 雲自不生根
    Marvelously alive! 活卓卓
    —the myriad dusts do not mingle. 諸塵莫混
    Everything illuminated! 明歷歷
    —the vast kalpa exists forever. 曠劫長存
    We follow each other into the heaps of the busy marketplace, 相隨鬧市堆中去
    where the universal light of samādhi is emitted from every door. 普光三昧發門門

This is one of the rare verses in which there is no physical description of the master, and his presence, in any manner, is barely apparent. One assumes that it is the master who is idle, nonattached, and functioning without a trace, though this could be equally said of the shadowcasting activity of the moonlight, or the carefree roaming of the rootless clouds. In this way, the poem creates a deep resonance between the master’s self and the world around him, and together with the clouds, moonlight, and myriad things, he flows into the dust of the noisy marketplace where he finds everything equally illuminated and at peace in spite of its outward appearances.

C. Hongzhi the Barbarian: The Rhetoric of Self-Disparagement

One of the familiar tropes that Hongzhi exploits within his encomia is that of the Chan master as a Daoist fool who remains blissful in his ignorance of external things. The foolishness of the Daoist sage suitably complements Chan’s non-reliance on either literary study or conventional Buddhist practices for religious attainment, as Hongzhi implies in his self-description within this couplet:

    Lazy, he does not study Buddhism; 懶不學佛
    Stupid, he does not know how to write.60 鈍不知書

While foolishness is a common theme within Chan literature, what is striking within Hongzhi’s encomia is the connection often drawn between the master’s profound ignorance with the “barbarian” (hu), or foreign, origins of Buddhism. One of the persistent critiques of Buddhism within China is that, despite its long established presence and pervasiveness, it is a foreign creed that must be inherently inferior to the native traditions of Confucianism and Daoism.61 Following Han Yu’s 韓愈 (768–824) famous vitriolic memorial against Buddhism, this critique was intensified during the Song when the empire was increasingly threatened by non-Han states. Many Daoxue thinkers adopted this kind of anti-Buddhist rhetoric as they sought to return to the fundamental principles of early Chinese philosophy, while at the same time appropriating key Buddhist concepts and practices as expressions of the classics. Chan is often seen as the pinnacle of the “sinification” (or “sinicization”) of Buddhism, as the Chinese Chan master became a living Buddha who did not rely on foreign scriptures. The master also appeared to be a kind of Daoist sage, and during the Song, increasingly took on the role of Confucian literatus, as evident within Hongzhi’s literary practices and official duties. Thus, the degree to which Hongzhi identifies himself and Buddhist practice with foreign and “barbarian” customs is truly surprising, especially considering that most of these verses were probably written after the fall of the Northern Song to the Jurchen Jin. Hongzhi uses the trope of the barbarian, however, as a symbol of wordless insight that paradoxically characterizes the literate Chan master and his poetry.

Over and again, Hongzhi prefers to highlight, rather than conceal, the foreign nature of Buddhism in his encomia. The most conspicuous identification of Buddhist practice as foreign is Hongzhi’s frequent depiction of himself sitting on a “barbarian chair” (huchuang 胡床), a ropebottomed chair, or platform, wide enough to sit cross-legged that was introduced from India. Also referred to as a “rope chair” (shengchuang 繩床) or “crooked wood chair” (qumu chuang 曲木床), this item is often paired with other monastic accoutrements, such as the master’s staff (zhuzhang 拄杖) and fly whisk (fu 拂 or zhubing 麈柄), which together form part of the ensemble found within many extant portraits of abbots. Within his poetry, the chair is not simply a prop suitable to the setting of the portrait but is treated as a “meditation platform” (chanchuang 禪床) where the master sits in silence:

    On the barbarian platform, I achieve stability, 胡床放得穩
    Sitting in total silence without intentions.63 默默坐亡機

If the association between meditation and what is “barbarian” in the case above seems to be an unintentional result of the terminology used for a monastic implement derived from India, the barbarian character of the Chan master, and even the silence of meditation, is well-developed elsewhere. In one verse, for example, Hongzhi explicitly identifies himself, in both appearance and speech, as a barbarian (yi 夷):

    Look at him: he’s a barbarian! 視之其夷
    And listen to his strange speech. 聽之曰希
    True voice and true form— 真聲真色
    Is it? or is it not?...64 何是何非

These couplets pun on the term for portraiture as zhen (true), as Hongzhi questions where his true form and voice can be found. The implication here, which is key to the development of this trope, is that whether one looks and sounds like a cultivated Han literatus or uncultivated, foreign “barbarian,” one’s ultimate form, or buddha-nature, is not dependent on these conventional distinctions.

Along with this assertion of his barbarian nature, Hongzhi regularly describes his physical appearance as foreign, ugly, lazy, and foolish (chi 癡, han 憨, or dun 鈍) which represents a recurring theme of self-denigration within his encomia. He even mockingly declares in one verse: “This kind of monk teacher: / his face is repulsive” 這樣師僧 / 面目可憎. Bernard Faure describes the Chan use of self-denigrating rhetoric in political terms, calling them “strategies of condescension,” a phrase borrowed from Pierre Bourdieu. As Faure explains, “In such strategies, the master is sufficiently assured of his position in the hierarchy to be able to deny the hierarchy, thus cumulating the profits tied to hierarchy and its symbolic denial.”66 In relation to portrait encomia, Foulk and Sharf follow Faure’s interpretation and characterize the rhetoric of self-denigration as disguised self-flattery: “…By ridiculing himself in verse or prose as ugly, inept, or doltish, a Ch’an abbot could unabashedly flaunt his freedom from vanity, egotism, and worldly norms.”

Although I agree that self-denigration is an expression of the charismatic authority of the Chan master, at the same time, the rhetoric of self-disparagement is consistent with many aspects of Chan doctrine, and in Hongzhi’s usage, he is often expressing normative perspectives of Buddhist ontology and epistemology rather than engaging in shameless self-flattery. I would argue that it is precisely because of its resonance with Buddhist doctrine that the rhetoric of selfdisparagement effectively privileges the Chan master as the bearer of a tradition that theoretically offers universal enlightenment. These verses are certainly intended to promote the master and the Chan tradition, but their rhetorical strategies are executed with more humor than arrogance, and their effect could not be achieved if they merely depicted the master as an exceptional being beyond the reach of the ordinary world. It is the universality of the Chan master’s message that makes him so appealing.

The first doctrinal point being expressed within this rhetoric of self-disparagement is that all conventional things are manifestation of ultimate Buddha-nature. Put simply, Buddha-nature is found within ordinary things; it is not something special, and it does not distinguish between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, Han or barbarian. Thus, instead of providing an idealized view of the human body, the master stresses its conventional and crude form. In doing so, he is pointing out the vulgar nature of the body in general, rather than musing on his own particular likeness. Of course, his portrait would unlikely be painted in such a crude manner, as expressed in this couplet, for example:

    Red flesh pierced with many holes; 赤肉穿多孔
    Smelly bones wrapped in idle skin.68 臭骨裹閑皮

While Hongzhi draws attention to the ugliness of his own body, these statements are generalized in a manner to broadly refer to the human body. His satirical portraits of himself also illustrate the correspondences between the human form and the world of nature, as he often uses animal imagery to describe his own physical appearance:

    Mackerel back and salamander teeth; 背鮐齒鯢
    Chicken skin and crane hair.69 皮鷄髮鶴

Again, Hongzhi presents these humorous descriptions as a generalized portrayal of the human condition, whose physical appearance is not so different from the animal life around them, and as such, these encomia often demand the viewer to take a close look at reality and his or her own bodily form. Hongzhi offers an even cruder depiction of the human form using Tang master Linji Yixuan’s image of “the lump of red flesh” to refer to the physical body, as also alluded to above:

    One lump of red flesh; 赤肉一塊
    one sack of stinking pus…70 臭膿一袋

The connection between our vulgar physical existence and the ultimate is contained within this allusion to one of Linji’s most famous passages, where he states: “Within this lump of red flesh there is a true man without rank” 赤肉團上有一無位眞人. In other words, the conventional body itself is a manifestation of the ultimate self. Linji’s “true man of no rank” and “lump of red flesh” are two of Hongzhi’s preferred expressions for describing his own appearance and demonstrate the influence of Linji school terminology within his ideas and choice of language. The following couplets dramatically present Hongzhi’s beast-like and barbarian appearance as an expression of Buddha-nature:

    …Thump, thump, knock, knock— 築築磕磕兮
    The rope hangs down from the nostrils. 鼻孔纍垂
    Babbling and slurring—72 哆哆和和兮
    A barbarian tongue.73 舌頭狤獠

With the rope tied to his nostrils, Hongzhi vividly takes on the form of the ox—a standard symbol of Buddha-nature—rather than the ox-herder who attempts to tame the ox and lead it along. Realizing himself as ox is precisely the moment when the subject becomes one with Buddha-nature, and there is no longer separation and tension between the object being sought and the subject as seeker. The great insight of becoming one with one’s Buddha-nature does not translate into eloquent verbal expression, of course, but into the muddled speech of a barbarian tongue. The image of the tongue-tied barbarian leads to the second main idea being expressed within Hongzhi’s rhetoric of self-disparagement: the ignorance and wordlessness embedded within the mythology of Chan transmission.

The wordless transmission of the enlightened mind through persons deemed to be foreign barbarians is central to the mythological history of Chan. The two most prominent figures within Hongzhi’s encomia are the First Chan Patriarch Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch Huineng. Bodhidharma, credited with bringing Chan from India, is said to have originally been a Brahmin prince. Despite his elite pedigree, the iconography of Bodhidharma typically highlights his foreign and even grotesque appearance. Although this well-known iconography of Bodhidharma was not yet fully developed within portraiture during the Song, he was already being described as a “red-bearded barbarian” (chixu hu 赤鬚胡) and “blue-eyed Barbarian” (biyan hu 碧眼胡).74 When Hongzhi describes his portrait as having “blue eyes” (biyan 碧眼), he is thus alluding to Bodhidharma and implying that he has inherited the First Patriarch’s enlightened mind. In one verse, he even describes his own face as having “barbarian blue eyes” (man yan bi 蠻眼碧).75

Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch, is known as an illiterate barbarian from the South who nevertheless proved his enlightenment through a poetry competition. Hongzhi makes many references to both Huineng and lines from his enlightenment verse within his encomia, and most often Huineng and Bodhidharma are paired together. While the illiterate Huineng exemplifies Chan’s non-reliance on literary study, the nine years Bodhidharma is said to have spent inside a cave “facing the wall” (mian bi 面壁) epitomizes the profound silence of meditation:

    When did Shaolin [Bodhidharma] ever speak? 少林何曾說話
    Caoxi [Huineng] could not read letters and books…76 曹溪不識文書

The barbarian, thus, symbolizes silence, as well as the ignorance and foolishness realized within non-discriminating insight. The following poem takes up various modes of self-disparagement in suggesting that insight into the emptiness of language results in the foolishness of the Chan monk:

    Just this one lump of red flesh— 只者赤肉一塊
    When he speaks, it’s so strange and bizarre. 說甚清奇古怪
    All his life lazy like Ox-head,77 平生懶似牛頭
    Passing through the world as foolish as Budai. 度世憨如布袋
    Not empty, yet empty; 不空而空
    Existent without existence. 無在而在
    Dharma after dharma: only mind. 法法唯心
    Dust after dust in samādhi. 塵塵三昧
    You ask is this true or false? 問渠是假是真
    Both colors now make one tally.78 兩彩而今一賽

Hongzhi’s foolishness, personified here by the popular figure of the laughing Buddha, Budai 布 袋, is intricately related to the philosophy of non-duality, where dualistic concepts such as “existence” (zai 在) and “non-existence” (wuzai 無在), and even “emptiness” (kong 空) itself, fail to accurately describe the nature of reality or express the Buddha dharma. The master’s ignorance is directly a result of the blending of these polarities, where conventional distinctions such as true and false dissolve into one, so that he cannot even say whether his painted image is real or illusory. Thus, along with its value as a stratagem for asserting the master’s authority, the expression of foolishness also represents a normative standpoint on the doctrine of emptiness and the inadequacy of language, basic to the fundamental tenets of the Chan school. It is not that Hongzhi is especially dumb-witted, but when the dualities of words break down “his clumsy mouth is completely silent” (zhuokou momo 拙口默默).79 This phrase is primarily an expression of the inadequacy of language, rather than Hongzhi’s self-disparagement of his verbal eloquence or an expression of false modesty.

In sum, beyond simply denying his place in the Chan hierarchy, Hongzhi uses the rhetoric of self-disparagement to draw attention to the manifestation of the ultimate within the ordinary, the ubiquity of Buddha-nature, and the fundamental wordlessness of the Buddha dharma. These philosophical points explain the equally valid doctrinal context in which Hongzhi would go so far as to denigrate the verbal teachings of the entire Buddhist tradition, including himself and his school (jia 家), the Caodong sect:

    I am ashamed of the poverty of our house style, 家風貧自慚
    And people dislike the ugliness of my face. 面孔惡人嫌
    The painted specks of my eyes have corners; 點漆之眼有角
    My nose holes are cut off without a point. 截筒之鼻無尖
    Hair on my head is cold and covered in snow; 顛毛寒覆雪
    The goiter on my neck has disappeared with salt. 項癭暗消鹽
    I speak of the wondrous and discuss the profound, 說妙談玄兮
    From my slow and dim-witted mouth. 遲鈍口嘴
    I scold the Buddha and condemn the patriarchs, 呵佛罵祖兮
    deceiving and frightening the villagers.80 誑嚇閭閻

From the standpoint of linguistic inadequacy, Hongzhi’s house is poor: In the end, the most wondrous and eloquent discourses of his Caodong sect are insufficient for transmitting the dharma, which, moreover, is not even possessed by his tradition as it is already manifest in all things. However, the failure of language is also a ground for individual authority. As he assuredly knows his words are just as limited as the words of the Buddhas and patriarchs, he can confidently scold and condemn them for the inadequacy of their own language. In terms of the master’s religious authority, even foolishness consists of a privileged knowledge itself, even if this knowledge, or lack thereof, is theoretically accessible to all. As much as the master’s discourses are “deceiving” (kuang 誑) or “slow and dim-witted” (chidun 遲鈍), they are equally “wondrous” (miao 妙) and “profound” (xuan 玄). As suggested in these lines, the foolishness of the master’s words and the profundity of his Chan wisdom are not mutually exclusive. In the next section, I argue that linguistic inadequacy itself forms a means of effective communication that accords with the logic of emptiness.

D. The Embodiment of Silence

The depiction of the master as the embodiment of silence is the central theme that underlies the marvelous dynamism of nature, the recluse’s quiet withdrawal, and the epistemological implications of foolishness, and it is a trope that epitomizes Hongzhi’s non-dualistic philosophy and use of language. Although Hongzhi uses the term silence (mo 默) and the reduplicative momo 默默 throughout his yulu, nowhere does it appear as frequently as within his encomia. His encomia thus serve as valuable evidence for his ongoing commitment to a meditative practice of total silence, despite his infrequent use of the term “silent illumination” (mozhao), which became the target of Linji master Dahui Zongao’s scathing critiques (see discussion in Ch. 2). Since the major portion of his encomia were published at the end of Hongzhi’s life, these verses indicate that he continued to both endorse and craft a body of poetry where an absolute silence attained through the relinquishment of thought was embedded as a central poetic image and promoted as the ultimate religious ideal of his Caodong sect, as similarly illustrated within the “Mozhao ming” written at the beginning of his career as abbot. Most impressive in this respect are a number of portrait encomia that either begin with the reduplicative for silence (momo) or some other overt allusion to silence. The following are ten examples of the recurrent use of the character for silence in the first line as the principal topic of his encomia:

    “Sitting alone completely silent…” 孤坐默默82
    “Total silence—the style of our sect…” 默默家風83
    “In total silence, one knows…” 默默而知84
    “In total silence, there is attainment…” 默默有得 85
    “Roaming in complete silence…” 默默而游 86
    “Absolutely silent without a thought…” 默默無思 87
    “In total silence, there are no words…” 默默亡言 88
    “The attainment of profound silence / cannot be done through writing…” 淵默之得 / 不可文墨89
    “Roaming silently through the empty kalpa…” 空劫默游90
    “Silent but not rigid, illuminated but not flowing…” 默而不凝 / 照而不流

This list could go on and on. As in the “Mozhao ming,” these poems privilege total silence as the distinguishing feature of his sect (jiafeng 家風), and the ultimate objective of Chan practice, perfected through sitting meditation where one cuts off words and thoughts. As with the term “silent illumination” (mozhao), Hongzhi’s repetition of the term silence (mo) in this manner is a departure from his predecessors and represents an innovative approach of his own.92 The term mozhao also appears twice within his encomia, and the two characters, silence (mo) and illumination (zhao), are often paired poetically, as in the parallelism in the last example above. Yet, if I were to choose a term that more aptly conveyed Hongzhi’s teachings, it would be “total silence” (momo 默默), as the reduplicative occurs far more often than “silent illumination”: forty-one times within his encomia, in addition to the numerous instances of “profound silence” (yuanmo 淵默) and the single character silence (mo). Furthermore, in Hongzhi’s poetic portrayals of Chan practice, it is the total silence of meditation that is the prerequisite for realization and illumination (zhao 照) and thus, the essential component of praxis. The treatment of silence within Hongzhi’s encomia strongly supports the necessity of relinquishing language. The first line of the seventh example above nearly mimics the first line of the “Mozhao ming,” replacing the verb “to forget” (wang 忘) with its homophone 亡 (wang) to read: “In total silence, there are no words” (momo wangyan 默默亡言), leaving no doubt about the abandonment of language within a deep state of meditative absorption. Sitting in silence for lengthy stretches of time is a constant theme within Hongzhi’s verses, and he elaborates on the practice of silent meditation within one encomia:

    Within total silence, I labor, 默默工夫
    Weeding the mind field. 心田自鋤
    My lips are covered with growing mold; 醭生唇上滿
    Sculpted clay remains on the end of my nose. 泥斵鼻頭餘
    When did Shaolin [Bodhidharma] ever speak? 少林何曾說話
    Caoxi [Huineng] could not read letters and books. 曹溪不識文書
    Who says my tactics are muddled and unskilled? 誰言伎倆渾無巧
    I am sure the style of my house is not lax.93 自信家風也不疎

In the context of meditation, the master is not idle but actively engaged in “weeding” (chu 鋤) the “mind field” (xintian 心田), or, in other words, clearing the mind of extraneous thoughts. Hongzhi uses typical Caodong imagery to depict the stillness of his meditation as being so great that mold (bu 醭) grows on his immobile lips. It is noteworthy, however, that in the final couplet, Hongzhi repudiates the notion that meditative practice merely engenders a hazy and vague state of non-discrimination, implying that the practice and insight of Chan are definite and precise. Many encomia take up the theme of linguistic inadequacy in conjunction with silence, and further extend the matter to the limitations of the master’s portrait (zhen) in transmitting the truth (zhen) of the Buddha-dharma:

    Total silence, the style of my house; 默默家風
    Rules and regulations, just as they are.94 如如規矩
    The wondrous cannot be transmitted by words; 妙不可以言傳
    The truth cannot be captured by an image. 真不可以相取
    Clear and bright: the moonlight in the vessel; 明白月壺
    Vast and pure: the universe. 廓清天宇
    When attachments to subject and object are forgotten, 物我情忘兮
    Who can separate me and you?95 誰分爾汝

Just as he flatly denies the effectiveness of the image and language here, elsewhere Hongzhi likes to complain that the painter fails to capture his true spirit in the portrait or directly states that truth cannot be made into an image:

    The image is not true (real); 像兮非真
    Truth (reality) is not an image.96 真兮非像

On the other hand, Hongzhi also links silence and language in ways that help make sense of his practice of writing encomia and even restore the legitimacy of the portrait as a vessel of teaching that his rhetoric so frequently denies. First, similar to Hongzhi’s insistence in the “Mozhao ming” that “only silence is the supreme speech” (mo wei zhiyan 默唯至言) (l. 33),97 silence itself speaks in some manner and can even be the locus of words and phrases that serve in the process of mind-to-mind transmission:

    There are phrases within total silence, 默默有句兮
    transmitted from patriarch to patriarch…98 祖祖相傳.
    …There are phrases when facing the wall; 面壁有句兮
    From patriarch to patriarch: the empty mind…99 祖祖心空

In the first example, Hongzhi playfully inverts the standard notion of mind-to-mind transmission wordlessly passed down from master to disciple to become phrases of silence that are disseminated by the patriarchs. The phrases that arise from silence do not necessarily consist of ordinary speech, however. For instance, Hongzhi often remarks on the ability of the patterns of nature to teach the dharma, even down to the tiniest speck of dust: “Mote after dust mote equally speaks the dharma” 剎剎塵塵齊說法. 100 Phenomena “speak” the dharma in as much as all things and all sounds—including written and spoken language—must inherently manifest emptiness and impermanence. Nature thus “speaks” the dharma without words, dynamically actualizing and fully exhibiting emptiness without relying on language:

    Sharp brows, eyes naturally deep; 棱眉眼自深
    My broad mouth laughs, hee! hee! 闊口笑吟吟
    High and lofty—a single expanse of my guts; 崢嶸一片膽
    Clear and open—mind of the ten directions. 疏豁十方心
    In total silence, spring returns to the myriad things; 默默春回萬象
    Star after star: snow dotting a lone hill 星星雪點孤岑
    As it comes like this, 恁麼來也兮
    You don’t need to search for it.101 不用相尋

Since the master himself, as with all people, naturally embodies the silent expression of nature, both physically and mentally, one does not have to go far to find the master’s true self. In this manner, the portrait can be effective in transmitting the truth. Despite Hongzhi’s denial of the adequacy of the image at times, his perspective on the truth and on portraiture is not simple and one-sided. His puns on portraiture provide a clue to a non-dualistic interpretation of the image’s adequacy as they constantly challenge the dichotomies between true and false, reality and illusion, as seen in these lines below.102 The first two are taken from the examples above:

    True voice and true form— 真聲真色
    Is it? or is it not?...103 何是何非
    You ask is this true or false? 104 問渠是假是真
    This sketched out body within a dream— 寫出夢中身
    Do you say it’s true or not?105 你道真不真?

In raising doubt about truth and the adequacy of the painting through these rhetorical questions, Hongzhi is not making a simple contrast between true or false or between his physical body as real and the painted image as illusion. Instead, he implies that the truth and his true body are not limited by either. Reality is as illusory as the painting, and the painting is as real as the physical objects it portrays. The image is not “true” as a fixed representation of either emptiness or of Hongzhi’s form and spirit as a discrete object. But it is a “true” likeness in as much as it manifests Hongzhi’s “true” self, the self of emptiness, as indicated in the following lines:

    Imageless, yet an image; 無像而像
    Perhaps there is a resemblance. 有許模樣
    Not true, but true— 不真而真
    Just this form and spirit…106 只箇形神

Elsewhere, Hongzhi affirms how his portrait effectively embodies and transmits the teaching of silence in the depiction of his painted mouth:

    Absolute silence is totally complete: 默默大全兮
    My idle mouth hangs on the wall.107 壁挂閑口

Quite simply, the portrait does not need to rely on verbal teachings to transmit the dharma, as it necessarily manifests the non-duality Buddhists ascribe to reality—though indeed Hongzhi ironically inscribes the portrait with this poetic teaching on the image’s non-verbal effectiveness! Although the silent language of Buddha-nature is beyond ordinary speech in the very mundane sense that it is expressed through all things, at the same time, the silence of realization conditions and informs the Chan master’s use of words. As Dale Wright has argued, Chan awakening constitutes an insight into language rather than transcendence of it.108 This is true within Hongzhi’s yulu. Due to the logic of non-duality, silence and language cannot be fundamentally distinct, and even the notion of silence must be discarded as provisional. Hongzhi makes several remarks on the non-duality of silence and language, sometimes using rhetoric reminiscent of the Zhuangzi to describe himself as: “Silent without being silent; speaking without speaking” 非默而默 / 不言而言. 109 Due to this type of rhetoric, I interpret the “total silence” signified by the reduplicative momo 默默 to ultimately refer to the “silence of silence,” similar to the Mahāyāna notion of the “emptiness of emptiness” (kongkong 空空; Skt. śūnyatā- śūnyatā), where language and form would be reconstituted.110 According to the notion of the “emptiness of emptiness,” emptiness is not a thing in itself and is never separate from form, but rather characterizes the world of form as lacking any permanent or substantial essence. “Total silence,” in this manner, would signify the mutual dependence of words and silence. Hongzhi offers a succinct and poetic explanation in one encomium of how silence and language inform one another:

    When silent, there is speech; 默時說
    when speaking, there is silence.111 說時默
    White cloud without fixed hearts— 白雲無定心
    Green mountains of extraordinary form. 青山有奇骨
    The moon turns at midnight—pushed by the old hare; 半夜月移兮老兔推
    As the tide goes out on the hundred rivers, the great whale disappears.112 百川潮落兮長鯨沒

This poem consists of a number of stock images and ideas, but the unstated relationship between the images and the notions of speech and silence imbue the encomium with a sense of mystery. As Hongzhi often does, he contrasts the image of the floating cloud as a symbol of non-being (wu 無) with being (you 有), depicted here as the green mountains whose solid appearance manifests both an unconventional and illustrious form, as the term qigu 奇骨 (literally, “unusual bones”) implies. Presented as parallel counterparts, Hongzhi poetically displays the mutual dependence of opposites: being and non-being, form and emptiness. The interplay of opposites is developed further in terms of light and darkness, and diversity and unity, within the final couplet, where in the total darkness of midnight, the old hare effortlessly turns the moon around.113 Finally, the waves settle on the hundred rivers, and the world of phenomena, the myriad things, quiets down. With that, the notion that any ultimate object or essence can be obtained is discarded, like the majestic whale disappearing into the sea.114 Merely by playing with the interrelationship of opposites and evading the reification of any dualistic idea as ultimate, the master can actualize the non-discrimination of silence in poetic language. Of fundamental importance is the refusal to assert absolute identity or difference, an ongoing theme within these verses:

    The scale of light and heavy; 輕重之衡
    The mirror of beautiful and ugly. 妍媸之鑒
    These dignified categories—they are not identical; 堂堂類而莫齊
    Truly blended, with no excess…115 的的混而不濫

The non-dual use of language and the rejection of an ultimate identity or difference between opposite terms forms the context for Hongzhi’s frequent paradoxical statements in which the puns on the “truth” of his “portrait” take place. These explicit, rhetorical paradoxes often begin the encomia:

    True is not true; 真非真
    False is not false.116 假非假
    This is not this; 是兮不是
    That is not that.117 別兮不別
    Similar, thus not true; 似則不是
    True, thus not similar.118 是則不似
    Dark yet illuminated; 暗而明
    Empty yet full.119 虛而盈

Of course, just as this kind of paradoxical language is typical of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Daoism in general, the correspondence between opposites is a common feature within the parallelism of Chinese poetics and is representative of the correlative cosmology of early Chinese thought. Moreover, the use of language in this way constitutes a deliberate and cultivated literary practice that is not predicated upon any kind of enlightenment experience. Hongzhi’s poetry suggests, however, that the total silence of Chan meditation is what offers the most thorough and penetrating insight into the nature of the world as non-dual and the means to fully embrace and embody it’s emptiness as one’s own. Using poetic language in a way that resists its own dualistic configuration accounts for an alternate paradigm of the effectiveness of language, seemingly contradictory to the stated maxims of Chan, though necessarily underlying the tradition’s prolific literary production. Hongzhi often alludes to the extraordinary potential of words in reference to the “one phrase” (yiju 一句), or “fundamental phrase” (diju 底句), of Chan that can clear away all delusion: Through the ten directions of the triple world, 十方三世兮 One phrase transcends all.120 一句全超 The notion of “one phrase” can literally refer to a single word or expression that completely contains the teaching of the dharma and is often associated with the one-word teachings of master Yunmen 雲門 (862/4-949). The character “one” (yi 一) also denotes unity, thus, implying the non-dualistic use of language.

The unification of silence and language facilitates, and necessitates, the reconciliation between the cultured Han and the barbarian Hu, and thus, forms a paradigm for the content and form for Hongzhi’s encomia as both, and neither, elegant and crude, wise and ignorant, eloquent and wordless. In the effective paradigm of language, words can wipe out dichotomies and swiftly strike down false delusions like a flash of lightning:

    The tongue is one slice of meat; 舌頭肉一臠
    Lips around the mouth: two flaps of skin. 口唇皮兩片
    Sometimes I speak the Dao or discuss Chan, 有時說道談禪
    Suddenly thunder booms and lightning flashes. 忽地轟雷掣電
    The reflections of the myriad activities disappear, 萬機影銷
    And a single color effectively revolves.121 一色功轉
    Originally there is not a thing and the mirror has no stand;122 本來無物鏡非臺
    Han and Hu leave no traces on what you see.123 胡漢不痕何所見

III. Conclusion

Hongzhi’s portrait encomia are rigorous in their depiction of selflessness. Along with disassembling the physical boundaries of the body and denying any specialized knowledge or attainment beyond identifying with the emptiness of reality, these verses consistently present depersonalized images of the master. Although Hongzhi’s encomia for other masters and his funerary verses for deceased monks have not been discussed here, the monks in these verses are similarly praised for their representation of Chan doctrine rather than for their individual personality or insight. Despite the prevalence of facial and bodily imagery and the focus on the master’s character, Hongzhi’s self-encomia actually say very little about the distinctiveness of his physical features or personality other than his total embodiment of the silence of Caodong Chan, his particular bodily instantiation of the mutual dependence of unity and difference, and his physical correspondence with nature. Furthermore, in playing the fool, personifying the ox, or emulating the barbarian, Hongzhi is largely performing the prescribed role of Chan master who must reject the certainty of verbal formulations in realizing inherent Buddha-nature. At the same time, these encomia are most definitely verses of praise for the loftiness and grandeur of the master who embodies selflessness. This pride in accomplishment is only tempered by the fact that selflessness is the fundamental nature of all things, as Hongzhi constantly displays through his natural imagery of insubstantiality and impermanence. In doing so, Hongzhi glorifies the emptiness of things, and thus Buddhist doctrine, as much as the Chan monk’s realization of it. Nevertheless, as the Chan abbot is the principal agent for disseminating Buddhist insight, the master is most certainly promoting himself in honoring the dharma. The realization of the master may be unspectacular, commonplace, and even foolish, but it is profoundly so.

Even as every word and image must inherently substantiate emptiness according to Buddhist metaphysics, the selflessness of the master, and of all things, cannot be reduced to a single object within his portraiture or verse. If poetry and painting are inadequate in this manner, however, then they may indeed be effective. As emptiness is not a thing itself, to depict it as a self-sufficient idea or object would be to violate its own principle. Only when language is realized as inadequate, it can then effectively express the dharma in its refusal to reify things and ideas as independent entities. In his encomia, Hongzhi utilizes the principle of linguistic inadequacy both explicitly, in denying language’s credibility, and implicitly, through metaphorical imagery and thematic developments that undercut dualistic conceptualizations. By inscribing his portraits with verses of total silence, Hongzhi dissolves the boundaries between the individual and nature, emotional expression and non-attachment, reality and illusion, and ultimately, words and silence itself.


I. The Place and Function of Poetry in Chan Yulu

The significance of poetry within the Chan tradition is clearly attested to by its remarkable quantity and dominant position in the yulu collection of master Hongzhi (Ch. 1), who utilized the medium to fulfill many intersecting functions within the monastery.

First and foremost, Chan poetry as jisong, Buddhist gatha, retained its traditional function as an expression of doctrine (Ch. 2), that was increasingly conveyed metaphorically through a repertoire of imagery appropriated from the Chinese classics, the shi poetry tradition, and even the idiom of the newly flourishing song lyric (ci). These images assumed a distinctively Chan flavor as they were incorporated into both the sermons and verses of Chan masters in denglu histories and yulu collections and used both as symbols of meditative insight and metaphors for the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy of emptiness and its various expressions. The composition of doctrinal verses constituted one aspect of the pedagogical role of the Chan abbot and a likely part of the requirements of a training monk—at least for a monk expected to occupy upper positions in the Chan hierarchy and potentially assume the office of abbot. The use of poetry for both pedagogical and training purposes is most clearly evidenced in the composition and collection of songgu (Ch. 3)—poetic responses to dialogues and passages of past masters and sutras selected as Chan gong’an (J. koan) that represent the kernel of Chan insight. Many Song dynasty songgu collections hold an esteemed place in Chan literature and comprise an essential part of the instruction within numerous Chan monasteries and teaching institutions today in their various manifestations throughout the world. Songgu are ubiquitous within Song dynasty Chan yulu, and the practice of responding to the words and deeds of past masters in verse and poetic metaphor is a central component of the sermons of Chan abbots like Hongzhi. A training monk would have had to comprehend, memorize, and appropriately employ the metaphors, symbols, and allusions that pervade songgu verses, a master’s sermons, other types of gong’an commentary, and the gong’an cases themselves.

Along with its expanding poetic vocabulary, Buddhist jisong began to be written in accord with the social exigencies of the shi poetic tradition of Chinese literati. At the same time that Chan masters addressed doctrinal verses to monks, nuns, and laypersons, the social and occasional poems written by the master were formulated as expressions of the Buddhist dharma and conceptualized as jisong rather than shi (Ch. 4). Parting poems and other social verses were coded with Buddhist significance, exchanged with a significant community of literate monks as well as laypersons, and imbued with identifiably Chan allusions and images. Chan masters like Hongzhi also adopted the reclusive mode into the fold of Buddhist gatha, both as a means to assert a common ground between Buddhist monks and literati—who were envisioned as recluses within the world—and to portray the Chan master as the epitome of the reclusive ideal. Additionally, there were economic and ritual dimensions to social-occasional verse, as seen within Hongzhi’s “requested gatha” (qiusong) verses. These poems metaphorically portray the daily operations of the monastery in terms of the dharma and seem to have been instrumental in requesting donations from laypersons. The ritual and economic functions of poetry are further evident in Hongzhi’s portrait encomia (zhenzan; Ch. 5). Encomia were inscribed on the portraits of former patriarchs and esteemed masters along with other popular Buddhist figures, such as the Bodhisattva Guanyin, in order to commemorate Chan lineages as well as the wisdom and compassion of the Buddhist tradition. They could also be written to honor departed laypersons, as does one of Hongzhi’s, and they bear a strong formal and thematic resemblance to funerary eulogies (foshi) for deceased monks. Hongzhi’s collection of encomia, however, are overwhelmingly comprised of verses composed for his own portrait (zizan), which were most probably disseminated as a means of fundraising and garnering patronage, where Hongzhi is portrayed as the ultimate embodiment of absolute silence (momo) that defines the pedagogical approach of his Caodong lineage.

As a medium for attracting patrons and lay donors, Hongzhi’s encomia and verses of social exchange underscore key sectarian differences and the superiority of his Caodong lineage, whose philosophical, practical, and poetic merits are articulated in his doctrinal poems and elsewhere. Although Hongzhi proves his mastery of other teachings, particular those of the rival Linji lineage, he privileges the poetic expression of the doctrinal formulations and metaphorical imagery of the Caodong tradition, thus asserting his own pre-eminence as Caodong Chan master.

II. The Poetics of Silence

Despite his prolific literary output, Hongzhi remained firmly committed to the notion of silence (mo) as a central and recurrent image and theme throughout his poetic work. Nowhere does he express allegiance to wenzi Chan as a polemical and oppositional movement that challenged Chan’s self-definition as “not dependent on words and letters” (buli wenzi), and instead of representing a drastic shift in Chan praxis, his literary practices largely follow those established within the Chan school during the Northern Song (960-1127) that expanded upon developments by poet-monks and Chan/Buddhist masters from the Tang (618-907) and Five Dynasties (907- 960) periods.

The interrelationship of silence and language is expressed in a number of ways within his poetry. First, his doctrinal inscriptions (Ch. 2), particularly his famous “Inscription of Silent Illumination” (Mozhao ming), affirm that the attainment of absolute silence and the relinquishment of thought are fundamental to Chan insight and characteristic of the superior methods of his Caodong lineage.

Second, following Caodong masters before him, Hongzhi consistently employs metaphors, such as the “withered tree” (kumu) and “cold ashes” (hanhui) derived from the Zhuangzi, to depict the stillness and silence that defines the ideal meditative state in Caodong Chan as well as the paradoxical dynamism that emerges from within it (Ch. 2). Third, the paradoxical relationship between meditative stillness and dynamic activity evoked as part of the Caodong metaphorical repertoire can be understood in terms of the Five Ranks (wuwei) doctrine, poetically formulated by Caodong lineage founder Dongshan Liangjie (807-869) (Ch. 2). Each of the Five Ranks present a standpoint for viewing the interrelationship between the “crooked” (pian) and “straight” (zheng), or conventional and ultimate—terms that reflect the Two Truths Theory of Mahayana Buddhism and their expression as principle (li) and phenomenon (shi) in the Chinese Huayan school. The realization of the mutual dependence and mutual arising of the ultimate and conventional offer a theoretical paradigm for linking the opposite poles of Chan practice: silent meditation and literary expression. Whereas meditation can be understood as a means of realizing the dependence of the conventional world of form and activity on the ultimate realm of emptiness and silence, literary engagements constitute a field where the non-duality and wordlessness of the ultimate is merged with the dualistic framework of ordinary language and thought.

The theoretical ground for merging words and silence is elaborated upon further within Hongzhi’s portrait encomia (Ch. 5), which most frequently and directly engage the topic of silence (mo). While rhetorically denying the efficacy of both language and image for capturing the truth, Hongzhi’s encomia contain a number of statements which suggest that even absolute silence (momo) does not preclude language but rather is the basis from which the words of Buddhist teachings emerge to effectively present the dharma. Silence in this sense does not merely refer to a literal and total state of wordlessness and thoughtlessness but as a symbol for emptiness and non-discrimination. In the non-dual logic of emptiness, asserting a fundamental difference between words and silence is ultimately untenable. Absolute silence would thus constitute the silence of silence, an idea parallel to the pivotal Mahayana Buddhist expression of the emptiness of emptiness (Skt. śunyata śunyata; Ch. kongkong). In this manner, Hongzhi’s encomia integrate the opposing paradigms of linguistic efficacy and inefficacy: The better words and images are crafted to deny the validity of dualistic categories and refuse to—or fail to—reify, objectify, and contain the Buddhist dharma within concepts, schemes, pictures, etc., they may effectively express the non-objectivity and non-duality of emptiness, which according to Buddhist metaphysics, is already inherently manifest in all things, including all words and images. In other words, Chan language ideally should be crafted in order for language to display its own empty nature.

The notions of silence and linguistic inadequacy characterize Hongzhi’s poetics in a number of specific ways. First, silence is an integral part of the art of saying it without saying it—particularly the use of allusions and metaphor to indicate something indirectly, literary techniques which are fundamental to poetry and Chinese poetics in general. The relationship between silence and indirect expression is embedded in the paradigm of the zhiyin, or “knower of sounds,” that holds a significant place in Chinese poetics and is mentioned on several occasions by Hongzhi (Ch. 3). The “wordlessness” of indirect allusion represents a more sophisticated and non-dual notion of silence that is active within rather than outside of language. At the same time, metaphor in the Chan context is not simply used to refer to unspoken ideas and objects that could otherwise be conceptualized and described in words. Chan metaphor frequently refers to a meditative state and insight which is not the product of verbal discourse and which the practitioner is supposed to experience firsthand—a practice and realization that is silent and beyond words in the literal and conventional sense.

Second, the non-discrimination of silence is elaborated thematically thoughout Hongzhi’s verses. Just as Hongzhi often challenges the dualities of ultimate and conventional, reality and illusion, self and other, etc., through paradoxes, puns, or straightforward refutation, his nondualistic perspectives are implicitly embedded and developed in a number of thematic areas. Among his portrait encomia (Ch. 5)—a prime arena for the rhetorical identification of opposites—Hongzhi depicts himself as the selfless embodiment of Buddhist emptiness and silence and constructs a paradoxical image of the Chan master as an ignorant “barbarian” who nevertheless excels at the literary arts—one who is simultaneously profoundly foolish and enlightened. Within his social and occasional poetry (Ch. 4), Hongzhi utilizes the reclusive mode to assert a non-dual identification of monk and layperson and employs Buddhist notions of equality to negate the differences between male and female. His treatment of the conventional parting poem as an expression of the dharma similarly dissolves the duality between secular and religious writings. Overall, Hongzhi’s social and occasional poetry presents a metaphorical vision of all manner of conventional and mundane activities as expressions of the ultimate, including the daily operations of the monastery.

III. Chan Poetics and Song Literature

Due to the central role and prevalence of silence in Hongzhi’s poetry—thematically, metaphorically, symbolically, and philosophically—I describe Hongzhi’s literary engagements as embodying a “poetics of silence” that I claim is distinctively Chan. This does not mean that the poetic techniques, language, and forms are drastically different from other Chinese poetry but that his poetry remains centrally committed to expressing a non-dualistic vision of reality while drawing on a repertoire of metaphors, ideas, allusions and even poetic genres and sub-genres that are either associated with Chan or crafted to express Chan meaning in the poetry of yulu. One of the surprising features of Hongzhi’s poetry is how little it resembles most of the “Chan poetry” of poet-monks and literati from the Tang and Song that has been most frequently the subject of studies on Chan and literature. There are numerous facets of the jisong poetry of Chan yulu that are distinct from the individual shi poetry collections of literati and poet-monks (bieji or waiji), including:

    ? the frequency of doctrinal subjects
    ? the many occasions of composition specifically related to monastic events and rituals
    ? the prominence of Buddhist technical language
    ? the use of recurrent metaphors, such as the “wooden man” and “stone maiden,” that would be rare or bizarre in literati shi
    ? the many allusions to Tang Chan masters, their antics, and expressions
    ? the genres and sub-genres, such as songgu, portrait encomia (zhenzan), inscriptions (ming), and “requested gatha” (qiusong), that form a substantial portion of jisong but would be excluded from a shi poetry collection

These aspects of yulu poetry may have extended beyond the monastery walls as laypersons composed jisong, zhenzan, and songgu—or perhaps exchanged social verse on Chan themes in the monastic context, but this is an area that requires further research. The exceptions to the disjuncture between jisong and shi collections are the abundant poems on reclusion, where identifiably Chan signifiers are frequently and notably absent, as well as certain parting poems, especially when written in the reclusive mode. It is within reclusive poetry where Hongzhi’s poetics reflect the “bland” pingdan ?? style that became popular during the Song, and these poems create a mood of tranquility and equanimity, fundamental to reclusive verse and one of the characteristics of Song literature identified by Yoshikawa Kojiro.2 Although a more comparative analysis than offered here would be necessary to distinguish the place of Chan poetics in Song literature, Hongzhi’s poetics do resonate with other features identified by Yoshikawa, including the discursive quality of Song shi, the use of colloquial diction, and a concern with ordinary events and objects. These poetic characteristics correspond to values promoted in the monastery—especially the equanimity cultivated in meditation and the appreciation of the ordinary, crude, and vernacular as manifestations of the ultimate. However, interest in the ordinary can be expressed quite differently within the monastic versus literati context. Whereas Song literati composed poems on everyday topics such as fleas, blossoming peonies, or family life, Hongzhi’s verses poetically engage the mundane activities of begging, farming, and acquiring salt, and he otherwise steers clear of the “poems on objects” sub-genre of literati poetry.

One of the most significant literary characteristics of both yulu sermons and poetry is the presence of colloquial and vernacular language that similarly entered into Song poetics. The crafting of Chan sermons, particularly those of the Tang, as a kind of written vernacular was essential to presenting the nature of Chan insight as fundamentally spontaneous and non-literate. It is within the context of deliberate artlessness that the presence of verse gains significance, because with verse, craft is apparent as well as a sense of authorship. Even when verses appear to be delivered orally and spontaneously within a master’s sermons, for example, the verses exhibit rhyme, parallelism, and imagery that suggest an attention to literary form and expression. As do the sermons themselves, the verses within them embody a tension between the vulgar and refined with their irregular line lengths, loose rhymes, and colloquial and empty words that similarly characterize Hongzhi’s songgu and zhenzan and influence his social-occasional poetry. It is not the vernacular character of yulu collections that is significant in itself but rather the master’s ability to navigate between eloquent and colloquial expressions, as well as regulated and irregular verse forms. By refusing to adhere to either refined or vernacular registers of language, the poetics of Hongzhi and Chan yulu thus merges the crude and vulgar expression of silent wisdom with the literary refinement and expertise of the literatus.

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Christopher Byrne @ Department of East Asian Studies McGill University I short commentaries & complements XiaoFeng Cserkész Gábor Mester @ Xing Long Tang | 2017 v1; első kiadás
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