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The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism
by Bernard Faure
The Will to Orthodoxy is a reworking of Fauré’s doctoral dissertation, defended in Paris in December 1984. In many ways it is complementary to John McRae’s book published at the same time. The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch ‘an Buddhism. The approaches of Faure and McRae are heavily influenced by the historical criticism of Chan undertaken by Yanagida Seizan. Faure says that he was unable to rework his entire book to allow for all the new data contributed by McRae (pp. vii—viii). His hope is that by tossing this study into the hopper of Chan history he may provide the elements of some future synthesis (p. viii).
This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is a dense, careful1 reasoned study of what is usually called “Northern Chan (Zen) Buddhism.” which is also known as the Dongshan or Lankavatara school. It is a serious and thoughtful study of the Northern school, placing the evolution of this school within the intellectual. political, social, and economic context of eighth-century Tang China. During this period, the Chan school was established as an orthodoxy, with the successive emergence of two branches, the Northern and the Southern. Traditional accounts give ascendancy to the Southern school. Faure critiques almost every aspect of what we might call their official narrative. He rehabilitates the Northern tradition against the centuries-old prejudices that emerged within later Chan in China, Korea, and Japan that favored the Southern school of sudden enlightenment under Huineng and Shenhui over the Northern school of gradual enlightenment un der Shenxiu and his disciples. This view claimed that the orthodox lineage had passed from the fifth patriarch, Hongren (601—674 CE.), to Huineng, the sixth patriarch (638-713 cE.).
Fauré is after the dangerous oversimplifications that have emerged because of Shenhui’s powerful attack on the Northern school at the Great Dharma Assembly of Huatai. The polemics of the attack, Fauré maintains, conceal the doctrinal continuity between the two schools as well as the diversity of Chan thought in that period (p. s. “Even when we accept certain established demarcations and lines of separation. they do not always follow the lines marked out by tradition” (p. 9). Instead of sharply drawn lines with respect to doctrine and practice. there is variety and often a concern for synthesis. Fauré’s very helpful genealogy of Chan masters descended from Hongren highlights a collateral transmission of Dharma to a number of disciples, rather than one single orthodox line from Hongren to Huineng (pp. 18—19). Fauré says that the germ of the ultimate opposition between the Northern and Southern schools exists in the question of upaya (skillful means). “Does the use of expedients reveal faithfulness to or betrayal of the spirit of Bodhidharma’s teaching?” (p. 154). Fauré concludes that a careful examination of the texts reveals that the Northern school’s doctrine cannot be summed up simply as gradualism, any more than that of the Southern school can be regarded as completely subitist (sudden or abrupt) (pp. 177-178). In order to correct the traditional narrative, Faure says it is important to reconstruct the point of view of the Northern school. This is possible to do by examining the epigraphic sources and the relative abundance of documents about the Northern school among the Dunhuang manuscripts. Fauré is also interested in the wider geographic setting of Chan and frequently mentions that Chan, as a pattern of thought and practice. spread throughout Central Asia, Tibet, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan during the Tang (p. 6).
With his encyclopaedic knowledge of both primary and secondary sources Faure calls into question almost every aspect of the official narrative. He provides an exhaustive set of endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. Fauré also shows an excellent grasp of the intellectual, social, political, and economic milieu in which these events took place. His careful analysis of the political situation at the Imperial Court, especially during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian, is impressive. Fauré says the new Buddhism symbolized by Shenxiu was successful, in large part, because it arrived on the scene at precisely the right time. “It fitted perfectly into the revolutionary’ movement undertaken by Empress Wu and the group of leaders she assembled around her” (p. 32). Fauré painstakingly examines all available evidence. Often because of the fragmentary nature of what is left, he is cautious and tentative in his conclusions. Given what he has to work with, this makes good sense. He builds a solid case for his revisionist history, and in his last chapter, which is clear and to the point, he carefully restates the conclusions reached in the preceding chapters and presents a coherent revisionist narrative.
The book is divided into three major sections. The first part presents the biography and thought of Shenxiu. It was Shenxiu, or rather the school that considers him its founder, who established the conditions for the controversy that would divide Chan and largely determine the way it would see itself (p. ii). With the biography of Shenxiu as his foundation, Fauré says we must discard all previously accepted suppositions. “Clearest among these are the distortions that have come down to us through Shenhui” (p. 13). Fauré’s second part studies the way in which the Northern school, after Shenxiu, tried to adapt to new circumstances: changes in imperial policies, the rise of rival schools, and changes in the nature of its followers. What Fauré stresses is the eclecticism that lies at the base of the Northern school’s doctrine and constitutes both the main reason for its influence in Japan and one of the traits that separates it most clearly from the rival school of Shenhui (p. u). Fauré says this eclectic spirit, which was shared by the principal representatives of the Northern school, was probably one factor in the school’s lack of resistance to the vigorous attacks launched by Shenhui and his partisans in the name of sectarianism and other key ideas (p. 144).
The third part of the book is dedicated to the Record and its author, Jingjue. This later work was one of the documents rediscovered at the beginning of the twentieth century in a cave at the Dunhuang Oasis on the Silk Road, and purports to be a history of Chan. Fauré, however, thinks its primary purpose was to promote the Lankavatara school to which Jingjue belonged (p. ii). Fauré says he chose to focus on the Record for several reasons. It gives a clear idea of the state of the Chan tradition at the beginning of the eighth century, just before the schism that would divide Chan into the Northern and Southern schools (p. 7). The Record is also one of the first attempts to draw up a Chan patriarchal lineage through the transmission of the Lankavatara-sutra, traditionally associated with Bodhidharma, the first Chinese patriarch. Fauré carefully examines this connection and finds it tenuous. Most Western interpreters of “Zen thought,” he says, see in this genealogical concern only a concession—and a secondary one at that—to the spirit of the times. But the truth is in fact quite the opposite: it is precisely this matter of ancestral relationships that determined from the outset the main lines of [thel Chan/Zen pattern of thought’ (pp.1-2). The patriarchal tradition is a product of people on the margins, a result of their desire to become the party of the orthodox (p. 9). Possessing a patriarchal genealogy going back to Bodhidharma was one of the main characteristics of Chan.
The first effort along these lines appears in the death notice for Faru (one of Hongren’s students). “The six patriarchs are listed: Bodhidharma, Huike, Sengcan, Daoxin, Hongren, and Faru himself. The Chuan fa bao ji takes up this genealogy and develops it further, adding Shenxiu as the seventh and outlining in its preface the entire lineage back to its Indian beginnings” (pp. 152—153). Faure says that even today, “in the great Japanese Zen monasteries, the complete list of patriarchs from Buddha Sakyamuni to the current Zen master (roshi) is recited before each morning’s zazen session, and the memorization of this lineage is one of the first tasks of all novices” (p. 2). Fauré comments concerning the lineages that the rejection of the Northern branch as a collateral branch—an interpretation permitted by Shenhui’s claim of a transmission to a single heir—creates an other substantial inconsistency. “It invalidates the entire later tradition of Chan, based as it is on a double lineage going back not to the legitimate successor to the Sixth Patriarch, Shenhui, but to his two ‘fellow disciples,’ Nanye Huairang and Qingyuan Xinsi” (p. 178).
After his exhaustive examination of all the data, Fauré suggests that it might be better to talk about several Northern and Southern schools (p. 179). His analysis of the Northern school makes clear that a number of diverse trends and possibilities existed. “In the widest sense, there are at least four distinct, even rival currents” in the Northern school (p. 179). Faure says the name “Southern school” simply serves to designate all those who, in one way or another, tried to call into question the status quo within Chan (p. 179). The Southern school itself soon experienced centrifugal disintegration (p. 179). Fauré treats as fictional the traditional line of demarcation, in both philosophy and practice, between the two schools that was set in motion by Shenhui’s attack at Huatai (p. 180). For example, the prime importance that Chan (especially in its Japanese version, Zen) later gave to seated meditation derives in large part from the joint influence of the Northern school and Zongmi, and is not what Huineng and Shenhui emphasized (pp. 79-8o). Fauré suggests that Shenhui “remains a disciple of Shenxiu, and it seems significant that his relationship with Huineng has recently come into question” (p. 180). “He is clearly not the revolutionary figure that dominated Chan during the eighth century, as Ru Shi [an earlier twentieth-century scholar] saw him” (p. 180).
In conclusion, Fauré says that the official narrative, in depicting the Northern school as a heterodoxy, could make it a scapegoat in the sense that the real orthodox tradition from Shenhui represented a purified Chan without its gradualist elements. The official narrative established a definitive orthodoxy that minimized the ever-present deviant risks of intellectualism, quietism, and secularization (p. 182). This exorcism, Fauré says, ‘has permitted the maintenance to our own time of the myth of an idealized, ‘pure’ Chan, a doctrine uncontaminated by its relationship to history, a school from which power connections would be, if not completely rejected, at least subordinated to the search for a transcendent truth. This was the thesis supported by Suzuki Daisetsu during his controversy with Hu Shi” (p. 182). When it comes to Zen, Fauré thinks it is important to point out that the systematic use of methods such as “cases” (koan) and/or seated meditation (zazen) actually constitutes a disguised form of gradualism, no different in any way from that of the Northern school (p. 182).
Fauré’s book redresses many of the injustices suffered by the Northern school. This work is part of a growing body of scholarly research that is bringing new understanding to a very old and inaccurate story of how Chan divided into what is called, in Japan, the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen Buddhism. For those seriously interested in that phase of Chan history, this indeed is a very worthwhile book.
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