Linji: The Origins of Rinzai

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Linji also brought to Chan was a analytical inquiry into the relationship between master and pupil, together with a similar analysis of the mind states that lead to enlightenment. He seems remarkably sophisticated for the ninth century, and indeed we would be hard pressed to find this kind of psychological analysis anywhere in the West that early. The puzzling, contradictory quality about all this is that Linji believed fervently in intuitive intelligence, and in the uselessness of words—even warning that questions were irrelevant:

Does anyone have a question? If so, let him ask it now. But the instant you open your mouth you are already way off.

Linji has been called the most powerful master in the entire history of Chan, and not without reason. His mind was capable of operating at several levels simultaneously, enabling him to overlay very practical instruction with a comprehensive dialectic. He believed in complete spontaneity, total freedom of thought and deed, and a teaching approach that has been called the "lightning" method because it was swift and unpredictable. He was uncompromising in his approach.

Linji's school prospered, becoming the leading expression of Chan in China as well as a vital force in the Zen that later arose among Japan's samurai. And his dialectical teachings became the philosophical basis for later Zen, something he himself probably would have deplored. (Later teachers seem to have given Linji's categories more importance than he actually intended, for he professed to loathe systems and was in fact much more concerned with enlightenment as pure experience.)