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The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan qinggui.
By Yifa
Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002. 408 pp.
reviewed by Jiang Wu, University of Arizona
The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol 2, Issue 3, Aug. 2003


This book is a study and an annotated translation of the earliest Chan monastic code in existence. This new research reflects Buddhologists' growing interests in Buddhist monastic life. Its author, Dr. Yifa, has faithfully translated this monastic code and provides an insightful introduction to Chinese monastic tradition.

The subject of the book, the Chanyuan qinggui (Rules of purity for the Chan monastery, 1103), is an edition of Chan monastic codes compiled by Zongze (d. 1107?) during the Northern Song dynasty. Immediately after its compilation, this text became extremely influential, to which Japanese pilgrims such as Eisai and Dogen attested. After the Song dynasty, although several other editions of monastic codes were compiled in order to accommodate the variety of existing practices, the influence of Chanyuan qinggui was still visible in new monastic codes such as Chixiu Baizhang qinggui, an imperial edition compiled in 1338.
book cover
Yifa's work is divided into two parts: a detailed introduction to Chinese monastic rules and to the origin of the Chanyuan qinggui and an annotated translation of the text. In the first part, Yifa successfully situates Chanyuan qinggui in the Chinese monastic tradition and delineates a clear picture of the evolution of monastic regulations in China since the translation of Mahasanghika Vinaya texts by Dharmakala in the third century. According to Yifa's study, Chanyuan qinggui is a rich collection of monastic rules and a textual reflection of monastic life. The original text of Chanyuan qinggui includes a preface and ten fascicles. Yifa chose to translate the preface and the first seven fascicles because the rest of the texts are appendices. The preface is a statement of Zongze's purpose for compiling such a text. Fascicle 1, which is the longest of the ten, stipulates the ritual protocols of everyday monastic life, such as taking precepts and attending meals and tea ceremonies. Fascicle 2 details proper procedures for offering sermons and chanting sessions and for organizing summer retreats. Fascicles 3 and 4 discuss the roles of monastic officials in detail. Fascicle 5 contains a lengthy description of how tea ceremonies are to be performed. Fascicle 6 details ritual procedures for burning incense, reading sutras, and delivering letters. Fascicle 7 sets forth rules and etiquette for abbots, who hold the most important official post in the monastery.

There are six extant editions of Chanyuan qinggui, all of which are preserved in Japan. Yifa's translation is based on an annotated edition by Japanese scholars Kagamishima Genryu, Sato Tatsugen, and Kosaka Kiyu. After comparing Yifa's translation with the original text, I find that Yifa's translation is in general reliable and elegant. In particular, Yifa has done an excellent job of rendering Buddhist ritual terms, official titles, and obscure Chan phrases into English.

Yifa's approach to Chanyuan qinggui is based on a methodology that stresses continuities rather than discontinuities within Chinese monastic tradition. This methodology has been well illustrated in her discussion of the authenticity of Baizhang's monastic codes, which has been disputed by scholars such as Griffith Foulk. Following the Japanese scholar Kondo Ryoichi, Foulk argued some years ago that Baizhang's monastic regulations (Baizhang qinggui) are a myth manufactured during the Song because no earlier sources mention the existence of such a code (see Foulk, "Myth, Ritual, and Monastic Practice in Sung Ch'an Buddhism," in Religion and Society in T'ang and Sung China, ed. by Patricia B. Ebrey and Peter N. Gregory [Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1993]). According to Foulk, Chan monastic codes were compiled largely on the basis of the existing Buddhist monastic life because Chan Buddhism was superimposed upon the existing monastic structure as a result of the conversion of Vinaya monasteries into Chan monasteries by imperial order. Describing Kondo's and Foulk's method as argumentum ex silencio, Yifa asserts that this argument is deficient because the absence of textual references is not valid proof of the nonexistence of Baizhang's monastic code. For example, as Yifa points out, although Zongze compiled Chanyuan qinggui, no other sources about Zongze actually mention his compilation. Therefore, although she is in agreement with Foulk that Baizhang's code was not a complete departure from the existing Buddhist tradition, Yifa believes that "Baizhang could have had a monastic text written for his order, as did many monks before him; however, this text could not have been given the title Baizhang qinggui" (p. 34).

Emphasis on continuities leads Yifa to rely heavily on the method of textual comparison between Chanyuan qinggui and other monastic codes. Through meticulous comparisons that are intended to identify textual parallels, Yifa has firmly established her thesis that "most of the elements of the work reach back much further in time than scholars have suspected" (p. 96). She demonstrates that, in addition to the Vinaya heritage, Chanyuan qinggui reflects indigenous Chinese influences, especially those from governmental regulation of monasteries and from Confucian ritual manuals.

In conclusion, I believe that Yifa's work is a significant contribution to the study of Chinese monastic codes. Her study of the origins of monastic codes and her annotated translation of Chanyuan qinggui provide a solid foundation for further research on the topic. I recommend this book most highly to all serious students of East Asian Buddhism.

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