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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
69 spring 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Reviews These days, some of the most exciting and illuminating writing about Zen comes from scholars, who are often also practitioners. We’ve reached the point where any discussion of Zen that doesn’t take into account new findings about its literary and cultural history looks like quaint mythologizing, instead of something that can be refined through new research and deepening insight. We can now add to this growing body of helpful work Morten Schlüt- ter’s How Zen Became Zen, which if it doesn’t quite live up to its title, admira- bly fulfills its subtitle, The Dispute Over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China. In the traditional narrative, the Tang dynasty saw the greatest flourishing of Chan (pronounced Zen in Japanese), and the following Song dynasty was a time of institutionalization and decline. Schlütter makes clear, however, that it was in the Song, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, that some of the things we most take for granted about Chan and Zen crystallized, and he highlights a dispute over the fundamental question— What is practice for?—that persists to the present day. In a nutshell, Schlütter proposes that in the first part of the Song dynasty, the Linji (Rinzai) school had become domi- nant, but there was little sense of sectari- anism within Chan. Most practice was monastic, and most of it involved the study of gongans (koans). The later Song saw the development of the Caodong (Soto) school, which advocated a form of meditation called silent illumination. Schlütter describes this as “meditation whose object was to achieve a mental quietude that allowed the already per- fect Buddha-nature that everyone inher- ently possesses to naturally manifest itself.” Silent illumination de-empha- sized enlightenment as a breakthrough event, instead stressing stillness and the absence of thought; seated meditation was called “facing the wall.” Schlütter makes it clear that while silent illumina- tion had antecedents, it was the creation of a group of Song dynasty teachers that included silent illumination’s most famous Chan proponent, Hongzhi Zhengjue. According to Schlütter, this is the moment when the tensions between gradual and sudden enlightenment, cul- tivation and breakthrough, Soto and Rinzai, that have so characterized Zen discourse fully emerged. In response to Joan Sutherland is a teacher in the Zen koan tradition and the founder of the open Source network of communities. She lives in Santa Fe, new Mexico. Sudden vS Gradual enliGhtenment reviewed by Joan sutherland How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over enlightenment and the Formation of chan Buddhism in song-Dynasty china By morten schlütter Kuroda institute, University of Hawaii press, 2008 304 pages; $48 (hardcover) woodenBodhisattva,Chinesesongdynasty(960-1279)photo:shanghaiMuseuM