Module III
The Golden Age of Chinese Zen

Defining a lineage

Regardless of their new prestige and independence, the new Chan teachers of the Southern School still were subject to the deep-rooted Chinese yearning for a lineage. For any Chan school to have respectability nationwide, it had to be able to trace its lineage back to Huineng and his Baolin temple at Shaozhou. Unfortunately this turned out to be difficult, since by the time Huineng actually came to be recognized as the Sixth Ancestor, he had been dead for half a century and there were few Chinese who even knew firsthand of his existence—and none besides Shenhui who ever claimed to have studied under him.

How then could he be made the founder of the Chan schools blooming all over China? In writing Chan's history after the fact, two masters who we will not present, Nanyue Huairang, (Nan-yueh Huai-jang) [677-744) and Qingyuan Xingsi (Ch'ing-yuan Hsing-ssu) (d. 740), were made the missing links between Huineng and the two schools of Chan that would one day become Japanese Rinzai and Soto, respectively.

We begin the Classical Period with Mazu and Shitou, who comprise the root of all subsequent Zen schools and lineages down to the present day. Lineage histories credit Shitou's lineage — sometimes remembered as the "Hunan school" — with establishing three of the so-called Five Houses of Chan — the Caodong (Japanese: Soto), Yunmen (Japanese: Unmon) and Fayan (Japanese: Hogen) lines of the teaching. Mazu's Hongzhou school was the precursor of the Linji (Japanese: Rinzai) and Guiyang schools.