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The watershed of Zen

The master Huineng stands at the watershed of Zen history. Indeed he may be the watershed, in the embodied form of a legend. There is reason to suspect that he was canonized well after the fact, as was Bodhidharma. But whereas Bodhidharma provided an anchor for the original formation of a separate Dhyana sect in Chinese Buddhism, Huineng became the rallying symbol for a new type of Chan, one wholly Chinese, and one that seemed to discount Bodhidharma's old mainstay, meditation. He became the Chinese answer to the Indian Bodhidharma.

How Huineng came to take on this role is a story of political ambition and power as much as of philosophy. In this next lesson we will learn about the “other” Sixth Ancestor, Shenxiu, as well as Shenhui, whose personal machinations brought Huineng to prominence. While these doings were unfolding in the north, Huineng spent his later years at various monasteries in the south of China, far way from the political upheavals and intrigues that had begun to tear apart the Tang empire.

His teaching began with the goodness of human nature and ended with the goodness of human nature. There is no need of plowing or weeding: it was originally pure. . . . He made light of "all the ink in the universe," and left no writing.