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Chan/Zen Studies in English: the State of the Field
Hakuin's Daruma

Bernard Faure
original source

The following comments focus on a certain number of works which, despite the vague nature of their object, can be grouped under the name Chan/Zen. I have retained, in the abundant and unequal literature relative to this domain, only the most significant contributions of the last four decades, and it goes without saying that these notes do not claim to be objective or exaustive. As any exercise of this kind, these comments reflect the normative conceptions of their author.

Brought to the attention of the sinological world by the work of the Chinese historian Hu Shih in the thirties, Chan/Zen studies truly blossomed only after the Second World War; that is, almost half a century after the discovery of the Dunhuang manuscripts. Apart from a few exceptions, Chan/Zen has remained the territory of Japanese and Americans scholars. Before presenting the works of the latter, a few words about their European precursors are in order.

As early as 1923, Paul Pelliot, in a seminal essay modestly entitled "Notes on some artists of the Six Dynasties and the Tang," examined the background of the legend of Bodhidharma. In 1947, Paul Demiéville published "The Mirror of the Mind," in which he compared the use of the mirror metaphor in the Chinese and Western philosophical tradition. This article, which inaugurated a series of studies on "subitism" and "gradualism," has exerted a profound influence on the development of Chan studies in the U. S.

In 1949, Jacques Gernet, stimulated by Hu Shi's works, published a translation of Shenhui's "Dialogues"; then, in a rich article published in 1951, he described the eventful biography of this figure. The following year, Demiéville published his monumental Concile de Lhasa, in which he attempted to unveil the history of the controversy over subitism, which animated the enigmatic Council of Tibet (which some scholars today localize, not in Lhasa, but in the BSam yas Monastery, while others deny that such Council ever took place). This work, divided in two parts (doctrinal and historical), is a precious source of information on early Chan, and in particular on the Northern School, to which the Chinese protagonist in the controversy, Moheyan, was heir. It is regrettable that Demiéville did not follow up on his initial project, which was to dedicate a second volume to a study of the Chan doctrine. However, in subsequent years, he continued to give lectures at the Collège de France and to publish articles on this topic. It is curious, however, that while that his influence in France remained small, despite the publication in 1973 of two volumes of his collected essays on Chinese Buddhism and sinology, he was beginning to be read in Japan and in the U. S. Among the repercussions of his work in France, we must nevertheless mention the publication in 1970 of a special issue of Hermes on Chan, a second edition of which, greatly expanded (1985), includes not only translation of basic Chan/Zen texts, but a few important articles on Chinese Chan (by Paul Demiéville, Nicole Vandier-Nicolas, Catherine Despeux) and its influence in Tibet (Guilaine Mala).

In the United States, the work of Walter Liebenthal on Shenhui (1953) and the Vajrasamâdhi-sûtra, despite (or because of) its originality, is on the whole unreliable. It is only with the translation of the Platform Sûtra by Philip Yampolsky in 1967, accompanied by a scholarly introduction on the legend and the genesis of the Chan patriarchal tradition, that the study of Chan earned its academic credentials. Yampolsky was the first to introduce to American scholars the recent research of Yanagida Seizan - who published, in the same year, his monumental study on the historical works of early Chan (Shoki zenshû shisho no kenkyû). It was also the collaboration of Yanagida and Iriya Yoshitaka that allowed Ruth Fuller Sasaki and Miura Isshû to publish Zen Dust, a work rich in information on Chan/Zen, but difficult to use because of its hybrid character. Another scholar influenced by Japanese scholarship was Heinrich Dumoulin, whose History of Zen Buddhism (1963) provided a useful introduction to the history of Chan/Zen. This history, augmented and revised, has been recently reedited and published in two volumes (Dumoulin 1988-90).

However, it is during the last two decades that studies have multiplied, still strongly influenced by Yanagida's work. These studies were also written in reaction against the appropriation of Zen by the counter-culture of the Sixties. The first task was to free Zen from its association, spread by Suzuki and his epigons, the kind of "Oriental mysticism" denounced in France by René Etiemble under the name of "Zaine."

To understand the direction taken by these studies, we must first place ourselves in the postwar context. The study of the Chan manuscripts from Dunhuang experienced a revival when the Chinese historian Hu Shih, after a long political interlude, took up again his research on Shenhui and Chan. Very soon, however, his historicist approach led him to run up against Suzuki, who had not forgotten the severe review of his Essays on Zen almost twenty-five years earlier - an anonymous critique published in the Times Literary Supplement which he had wrongly attributed to Hu Shih (see Barrett 1989). At any rate, Suzuki reproached Hu Shih for his historicism in a debate which opposed him (in 1953) to the Chinese historian in the columns of the journal Philosophy East and West. The positions of the two protagonists were deeply entrenched: according to Hu Shih, Chan is merely one religious movement among others, and its development was an integral part of the political history of the Tang. According to Suzuki, however, Zen transcends history, and historians are by definition reductionists (Suzuki 1953, Hu Shih 1953).

It was in order to go beyond this rather sterile antinomy that Yanagida began to publish his works. Although he seems to have at first taken side with Hu Shih, he was nevertheless not content with the Hu's historicism. Hu Shih was actually well aware of these divergences when, in a letter addressed to Yanagida, he compared the latter's Buddhist ideal to his own atheism. The originality of Yanagida's position soon asserted itself, when he criticized the excesses of the historicist critique of Chan made by Sekiguchi Shindai, a Tendai historian who insisted on showing that all the "histories" of Chan are fraudulent. For Yanagida, although traditional Chan historiography cannot claim the status of a truthful narrative, can it be dismissed as an empty fabrication? Yanagida criticized both the mythifying narrative of the "Histories of the Lamp" and the de-mythifying history of hyper-historicism, and attempted to emphasize the religious creativity of those "inventions." True, his Shoki zenshû shisho no kenkyû seems, through its rigorous application of textual criticism, to belong in the historicist tradition, but Yanagida takes care to nuance his position in the preface to this work.

Early Chan

Western scholars who have taken their cues from Yanagida have, however, essentially retained his historical critique of the origins of Chan. What mattered, above all. was a consolidation of the results of this revisionist history which allowed, in the light of the documents from Dunhuang, for a retrieval, to bring out of the dungeons of oblivion, actors famous in their own time, like Shenhui, Shenxiu, and other masters of the Northern School; but this also led to a denouncement of the myth of the origins of this Chan "en mal d'histoire." As characteristic products of this phase, we can mention the works of John McRae, Jeffrey Broughton, and Bernard Faure on Northern Chan, of Robert Buswell on the apocryphal Vajrasamâdhi-sûtra, and the various collections of essays published by the Kuroda Institute under the direction of Peter Gregory. Griffith Foulk also questioned the still prevailing image of an early Chan largely independent of Tang Buddhist institutions (Foulk 1987).

Furthered by the reproduction on microfilm of the Dunhuan manuscripts, the study of early Chan rapidly became a fecund domain. We must note however that, despite the existence of microfilm collections in several American universities like Berkeley and Cornell, and the publication a few years ago in Taiwan of a photographic edition of the Dunhuang baozang, American scholars, contrary to their Chinese, Japanese and French scholars, have not yet made a concerted effort in the critical study of these manuscripts. For different reasons, Chan studies and "Dunhuang-ology" have remained separate fields on both sides of the Atlantic.

Among the important contributions to the American discovery of Chan, let us mention Early Chan in Tibet and China (Lai and Lancaster 1983), and Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought (Gregory 1987a). The first work contains, among others, the translation of two important articles by Yanagida, one concerning the Lidai fabao ji and the Chan school in Sichuan, and another on the emergence of the "Recorded Sayings" (yulu) of classical Chan; as well as a survey of the studies on Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang by Ueyama Daishun. The second work opens with a translation of essays by Demiéville and R. A. Stein on Chinese and Tibetan "subitism."

The question of the relationship between Chan and Tibetan Buddhism was also the object of a number of studies, for instance Jeffrey Broughton's "Early Ch'an Schools in Tibet." The collection in which this essay appeared, Studies in Ch'an and Hua-yen, edited by Gregory and Gimello, also contained essays by Luis Gómez on the teaching of Moheyan, the Chan master studied by Demiéville in Le concile de Lhasa, and by John McRae on the Niutou (Oxhead) School (Gregory and Gimello 1983).

In 1986, Gregory edited another volume dealing with the reciprocal influences of various Chinese Buddhist schools regarding meditation. The lion's share was nevertheless given to Chan, with essays on Chan and Pure Land (Chappell), on the "One-Practice samâdhi" (Faure), on the "secret" of Chan meditation (Bielefeldt), and on the kôan technique in Korean Son (Buswell).

While bearing testimony to the increasing erudition of Chan studies, these works still represent by and large an essentially doctrinal approach of the Buddhist tradition, and in the end make little effort to place Chan in its broader socio-religious context. The same is true for the work of McRae on the Northern School and the formation of Chan, published the same year (McRae 1986). In this well-documented study, McRae attempted to rehabilitate Northern Chan, which was accused by Shenhui of representing a form of gradualism and merely a collateral lineage of Chan, thus inferior to the direct lineage of the Southern School, represented by Shenhui and his master Huineng. McRae showed that the Northern School had nothing to envy in its rival regarding subitism, or legitimacy (on this question, see also Faure 1988).

McRae's recent work on Shenhui provides a synthesis of former studies in the light of archeological and iconographic discoveries concerning Shenhui. Following Yanagida, McRae uses in particular the recently discovered portrait of Shenhui to analyze the development of Chan in the Buddhist kingdom of Nanzhao (modern Yunnan). Furthermore, he undertakes an annotated translation of Shenhui's complete works, which will supersede the partial translation by Gernet.

Shenhui's colourful personality could not fail to arouse the interest of historians, from Hu Shih and Yanagida to Gernet and McRae. This attention, beginning with Hu Shih, was soon to be attracted to another complex figure, which was a self-proclaimed heir to Shenhui and a contemporary of Linji Yixuan, thus located at the divide between early Chan (represented by Dunhuang manuscripts) and "classical" Chan (known by the "Recorded Sayings" and the "Histories of the Lamp"): namely Guifeng Zongmi (780-841), the first "historian" of Chan and a patriarch of both Huayan and the Southern School. As early as 1975, Jeffrey Broughton offered a translation, unfortunately still unpublished, of Zongmi's major work on Chan, his General Preface to the Chan canon which he planned to (and perhaps did) compile (Broughton 1975). Other studies on Zongmi have been published by Jan Yün-hua and Peter Gregory (Jan 1972, 1977; Gregory 1987 b). The latter has also recently published two important books on Zongmi, which locate him, not only in the religious tradition of Mahâyâna Buddhism, but more broadly in the Chinese intellectual tradition - by analyzing in particular his critique of Confucianism and Daoism (Gregory 1991, 1995)

Among other available translations, let us mention those of the Erru sixing lun (a work attributed to Bodhidharma; see Jorgensen 1979, C. Cleary 1986, Faure 1986a), of the Xiuxin yao lun (attributed to the fifth patriarch Hongren; see Pachow 1963), of Du Fei's Chuan fabao ji, Shenxiu's Guanxin lun (McRae 1986), and the Wusheng fangbian men (McRae 1986), of the Lengqie shizi ji (C. Cleary 1986; see also partial translation in Chappell 1983, and French translation in Faure 1989), of the Xianzong ji (attributed to Shenhui; see Zeuschner 1976), of the Dunwu zhenzong yaojue (in Cleary 1986) and of the Jueguan lun (Tokiwa 1973).

In contrast with the relative abundance of studies on early Chan, based on the Dunhuang documents, there are for the time being only a few studies concerning classical Chan. Let us mention, however, William Powell's work on Dongshan Liangjie and Caoshan Benji, the founders of the Caodong school (better known under its Japanese form, Sôtô); and of Urs App on Yunmen, founder of the Yunmen school (Powell 1986, App 1989). For some obscure reason, Linji Yixuan (d. 867), who had been so well studied (and translated) by Yanagida and Demiéville, has not yet been the object of any in-depth study in English. More generally, the same is true for the entire literature of "Recorded Sayings" — whose difficulty, it is true, is sufficient to make the bravest hesitate. The situation might however be about to change. Judith Berling, in a 1987 article, tackled the yulu as a particular literary genre, while Daniel Gardner, in a recent article, attempted to place the Chan dicta against the background of Confucian yulu. In both cases, the yulu of Chan lose a part of their specificity (Berling 1987, Gardner 1991; see also Yanagida 1983b and McRae 1992). In his study on the Chan master Jiefan Huihong, Gimello showed the close relationship between adepts of "literary Chan" (wenzi chan) and Confucian circles during the Song. A similar impression can be drawn from the dissertation of one of his students, Huang Chi-chiang, on another great Song master, Qisong. The dissertation of Miriam Levering on Dahui Zonggao examines the lay context of the teaching of this master, who played such a particular role in the systematization of the kôan maieutics (Levering 1987a).

The tendency to integrate Chan into more general problematiks, noted in the case of the yulu, can also be observed in several recent conferences, which took as their themes pilgrimages and sacred sites in China, religious change from the Tang to the Song, Buddhist soteriology, apocrypha in Chinese Buddhism, Buddhist hermeneutics, or Korean Buddhism in East Asian context.

Studies dealing with Chan during the later periods (Yuan, Ming, Qing) are still too rare. We will note, however, Yü Chün-fang's article on Zhongfeng Mingben, her monograph on Zhuhong (Yü 1981, 1982; see also Hurvitz 1970), and Hsu Sung-pen's work on Hanshan Deqing (Hsu 1979, see also Wu Pei-yi 1975).

Studies on Dôgen

The second pole of Chan/Zen studies is undeniably the work and thought of Dôgen (1200-1253), the founder of the Japanese Sôtô school. Actually, the works of many Western specialists of Dôgen belong as much to the domain of comparative philosophy as to that of Chan/Zen studies proper.

Until the late Sixties, the work of Dôgen was practically unknown in the West, and the man himself had been eclipsed in the Rinzai version of Zen history spread by Suzuki. Then came the academic discovery of Dôgen by Kim Hee-jin and Abe Masao. This discovery was made possible by the thesis of Watsuji Tetsurô (1889-1960), taken up by most Japanese scholars, which posited that this medieval Zen master was one of the greatest Japanese thinkers of all times.

In his Dôgen Kigen: Mystical realist, Kim Hee-jin studied Dôgen according to the perspectives of modern philosophy, thus initiating a tendency that would find its expression in Dôgen Studies, edited by William LaFleur (LaFleur 1985). But it was above all Abe Masao who, while continuing the missionary work of Suzuki, contributed to the reinterpretation of Dôgen according to the philosophical perspective of the " Kyôto School." By trying to "free" Dôgen from "centuries of fundamentally blind and hagiolatric treatment," to use LaFleur's formula, scholars have too often been content with seeing him as primarily a philosopher (or even the "incomparable philosopher," in Thomas Kasulis's terms), rather than as the historical founder of the Sôtô sect.

In his preface to Dôgen Studies, LaFleur advocated a diversified approach to Dôgen and his thought—relying on the methodologies not only of philosophy, but also history, literary criticism, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology. However, with the exception of Bielefeldt's historical analysis and of the concluding remarks, of a sociological content, by Robert Bellah, contributions to this volume remained of an essentially philosophical nature. How could one imagine, when reading these essays, that Dôgen, this allegedly "rationalist" thinker, was also the author of various texts describing the prodigies he witnessed?

Dôgen has thus been associated too rapidly with the Kyôto School, not to mention recuperated by it, and studied almost exclusively from the viewpoint of comparative philosophy. The interest for the Kyôto School was also stimulated by the translation of various works by Nishida Kitarô and his main disciple, Nishitani Keiji. LaFleur recently edited a volume of essays by Abe Masao, the main representative of this school in the United States. Abe himself also recently published a collection of his essays on Dôgen (Abe 1992). Although the philosophical interpretation of Dôgen's thought is perfectly legitimate, and sometimes fecund (see for instance Maraldo 1985, Stambaugh 1990), it tends to relegate to a position of secondary importance other interpretations, just as important, which have at least the merit of not idealizing Dôgen and which attempt to restore this figure in all his existential complexity.

An alternative to this philosophical reductionism is offered by Carl Bielefeldt, who remains truthful to Yanagida's approach when he tries to interpret Dôgen's thought within the intellectual and historical context of his time. Recently, following Yanagida, several Japanese scholars have begun to question the traditional account of the origins of Sôtô Zen, showing in particular the importance of a movement which was carefully occluded by Dôgen and his partisans, that of the "Bodhidharma school" (Darumashû) — several texts of which have been discovered recently. On the basis of these documents, we can now place Dôgen in its proper cultural context (see Faure 1987, Heine 1994).

Regarding translations of this author, we must first mention the precise, if not always elegant, translations of several fascicles of the Shôbôgenzô by Norman Waddell — some in collaboration with Abe Masao; two translations of Dôgen's diary while in China, the Hôkyôki, by Waddell and James Kodera, respectively; and the translation of Dôgen's meditation manual, the Fukan zazengi, by Bielefeldt. The translation of the Shôbôgenzô by Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens, while it has the merit of being complete, is unfortunately of a mediocre quality; the same is true of Yokoi Yûhô's translation. Another partial translation by the latter is of interest for its regrouping of certain particularly ritualistic fascicles that represent Dôgen's doctrine toward the end of his life and give him a decidedly less "philosophical" image (Yokoi 1976). The same is true of the recent translation of his "Pure Rule," the Eihei shingi (Leighton and Okumura 1996)

Other Themes

Just like the revision of early Chan history, which led to a questioning of "classical" Chan and the Recorded Sayings, the study of the historical background of Dôgen has led to a reevaluation of Zen during Kamakura and later periods. After a long infatuation with Dôgen and other great reformers of Kamakura Buddhism (Shinran, Nichiren), we are now witnessing a progressive shift of research toward less conspicuous figures, who were nonetheless important for the society of the time, like Dainichi Nônin, Yôsai (var. Eisai), Shinchi Kakushin, Enni Ben'en, Keizan. David Pollack compared two Zen masters of the fourteenth century, Musô Soseki and Kokan Shiren, and translated the most representative poems of the Five Mountains literature. Kenneth Kraft has also published a monograph on the Rinzai master Daitô Kokushi, while Faure recently published a study on the visionary elements in Keizan's life and work. For the following periods, several studies and translations already exist concerning the poet-monks Ikkyû Sôjun and Ryôkan (Arntzen, Sanford, Covell, Yuasa, Abe Ryûichi), and Hakuin Ekaku, Suzuki Shôsan, Bankei Dôtaku , Mujaku Dôchû (Yampolsky, Tyler, Waddell, App). Although the Zen of the Muromachi and Edo periods is still relatively unknown, the situation is rapidly changing. In particular, the important work of William Bodiford on the expansion and the popularization of Sôtô in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries sheds light on the relationships between this school and popular culture (Bodiford 1993). In a 1992 article, Bodiford also studied the various conceptions regarding transmission in Sôtô Zen.

As we can see, the works published on Zen, like those on Chan, may be characterized by a "methodological individualism," which approaches Chan/Zen through its most well-known or original representatives. However, new objects, or even new methods, are progressively being adopted. Thus, although her approach cannot be characterized as feminist, Miriam Levering focuses on the role of women in the Chan tradition, and in particular in the school of Dahui Zonggao. Other scholars have undertaken to write an institutional history of Chan/Zen. The first attempt of the kind was published years ago by Martin Collcutt, who studied the Zen institution of the " Five Mountains," the great Zen monasteries in Kyoto and Kamakura. Despite its qualities, Collcutt's work still remained tributary of the Japanese conception of an originally pure Zen, whereas Foulk has shown the ideological nature of this conception of Zen origins.

The work of Robert Buswell has begun to fill the gap in regard to Korean Son. Judged heterodox by Buddhist ideologues and historians like Nukariya Kaiten, Son has been ignored far too long. Buswell has greatly contributed to a better knowledge of that form of Chan, first by translating the works of Chinul, the main Son representative; then by revealing the Korean origins of a Chan apocryphal scripture already studied by Liebenthal, namely the Vajrasamâdhi; and, more recently, by publishing an "ethnographic" study of Son monastic life.

However, the major lacuna is still the absence of a general history of Chan in China and neighbouring countries, which would include the most recent data and problematiks. Dumoulin's recent attempt, although laudable, still relies on many traditional clichés - like that of the Indian origin of Zen, reflected in the very title of his work - and a too historicist and teleological vision of the tradition (Dumoulin 1988-1990). This book, with its rich documentation, remains essentially a reference work, contributing to spread certain aspects of Yanagida's work among a Western academic audience.

Questions of Method

Chan/Zen studies are on the whole divided between textual/philological and historical approaches on the one hand, and hermeneutical and philosophical approaches on the other. In this sense, they have not succeeded in going beyond the paradigm established by Hu Shih and Suzuki in their well-known controversy.

The philological-historical approach remains predominant in the field of Buddhist Studies. It emphasizes literati traditions and tends to rely heavily on Sino-Japanese erudition. Many Ph. D. dissertations are still monographs of the "Life and works of so-and-so" variety.

The hermeneutical approach, influenced by Gadamer and Ricoeur, is characteristic of Religious Studies as it developed in the U. S. It focuses on the interpretations of religious phenomena and on the meaning of symbols. It has not on the whole greatly influenced Chan/Zen historians. On the other hand, several scholars like Peter Gregory, David Chappell and Robert Buswell have focused on a properly Buddhist or Zen hermeneutics. Gregory has studied in great detail the hermeneutic system of doctrinal classification (panjiao) elaborated by Zongmi. The question of hermeneutics was at the center of a conference organized by Donald Lopez in 1984, which led to the publication of Buddhist Hermeneutics (Lopez 1988).

The philosophical approach remains the main method used to understand Buddhist and Confucian texts, and this approach sometimes hinders the development of other methods. Some of the major texts of the Buddhist tradition, and in particular Chan texts or texts related to Chan, have been in this way reduced to a philosophical perspective that is alien to them. One example of half-baked philosophical comparativism is Edward Shaner's The Bodymind Experience in Japanese Buddhism, which turns the founders of Shingon and Sôtô into precursors (or disciples?) of Husserl.


At the present time, we are still lacking works considering Chan/Zen as a complex cultural system, and trying to place it in situ. We may hope that the evolution of Chan/Zen studies will go in that direction, as is already the case for the study of other religious trends (see for instance Grapard 1992). Long considered as a province of Buddology or of Orientalism (in their Sinological or Japanological versions), Chan/Zen studies are now opening to current debates active in the History of Religions and human or social sciences (in particular literary criticism and anthropology).

It has become obvious that traditional disciplines (like Sinology or History of Religions) must face a rapid dissolution of their object (the self-contained culture of Chinese elites, or the experience of some homo religiosus), and the constant pressure of external methodologies (in particular those imported from sciences). The borders between various disciplines are being questioned in the name of an interdisciplinary approach (which too often remains a pious wish), while their ideological implications are submitted to criticism (witness the debate on Orientalism initiated by Edward Said). Thus, Chan/Zen studies must learn to accept these challenges, by making good use of methods, and confronting problematiks that were until now alien to them.

In the domain of intellectual history, the debate on individualism and holism, triggered by the work of Louis Dumont, has had some repercussions in the Buddhological and Sinological fields (Collins, Munro). Regarding more precisely Chan, let us mention the study of Wu Pei-yi on the individuation process in the religious and intellectual history of China, which calls to mind the work of Michel Foucault on the genesis of Western individualism. Wu Pei-yi in particular placed some Chan texts in the context of the emergence of Chinese individualism (Wu 1990).

The impact of the hermeneutical approach on Buddhist Studies has led several scholars, like John Maraldo, Carl Bielefeldt, Griffith Foulk, and more recently Dale Wright, to question the Sino-Japanese historiographical tradition. Maraldo examined the historicist presuppositions of several Japanese historians of early Chan, and advocated a more inclusive approach that would take into account what Gadamer called the "history of effects" (Wirkungsgeschichte) of the Buddhist tradition. Taking his cues from Yanagida, Maraldo also emphasized the need to consider "historical documents" as literary artifacts. A similar viewpoint was proposed by Dale Wright (1991). Finally, a survey of the main methodological alternatives is made in two recent publications by Faure (1991 and 1993a).

The anthropological aspects of Chan/Zen are discussed by Sharf and Faure, who show in particular the importance of the cult of relics and study the role played by mummies and other "figures of the double" in Chan (Sharf 1992, Faure 1991). Sharf also shows the centrality of rituals such as "ascending the Hall," while Faure studies the evolution of Chan/Zen attitudes toward death. Bodiford, likewise, focuses on the funerary rituals of the Sôtô school (Bodiford 1992).

These new tendencies are less dependent on Japanese perspectives. Such is the case in particular with the anthropological approach which, demarcating itself from purely textual studies, tries to study the relationships between Chan/Zen and local or popular religion, or of various studies dealing with Chan/Zen ritual or monastic institutions. Aiming essentially at placing Chan/Zen in the context of Sino-Japanese Buddhism and local cults, this approach is in reaction against the spiritualist tendency of traditional historiography and against historicist reductionism. Indeed, Chan emerged as an orthodoxy by excluding the diversity of local cults and by paradoxically constituting a new textual canon — the Recorded Sayings and other Histories of the Lamp. Admittedly, we have not even begun to understand this literature, and it is at this task that Japanese scholars like Yanagida are working. But it is also important, in parallel, to attempt to recover (and not cover up) the voices which have been silenced, either within this canonical literature itself, or outside of it. In order to do this, we must turn toward critical methods other than traditional hermeneutics, and to other documents (like ritual texts, manuals of monastic discipline, epigraphic documents, hagiographical records, kirigami and other transmission documents, iconography, etc.). In his Studies, Yanagida started from a hagiographical collection outside Chan, the Xu gaoseng zhuan (Supplement to the Biographies of Eminent Monks). It is to these hagiographical collections, so rich in many respects (and not only from Yanagida's historiographical viewpoint), that we must now return. One of them, the Song gaoseng zhuan, will soon be available in John Kieschnick's translation, and will be a precious source for a non-sectarian reevaluation of Chan.

If the anthropological perspective is distinct from Japanese works on Zen, insofar as it does not rely directly on philological and textual approaches, it does not by any means imply a repudiation of such approaches, but rather a complementarity’s. Indeed, the questions raised today in several domains — doctrinal, historical, philosophical — are in many respects questions initially raised by Yanagida Seizan.

The textual/philological approach is perhaps not as distant from the ritual approach as it may seem. One of the ritual metaphors shared by Chan and other Chinese religious traditions is the notion of a hierogamy, an accord between the two parts — divine and human — of the ritual, distinct and complementary like the two tesserae of imperial insignia (fu). This symbolism of the tesserae, which is actually that of the symbol itself, has been well studied in the Daoist context by Max Kaltenmark, in his article on Lingbao talismans (Kaltenmark 1960) . It is probably not a coincidence that the same symbolism underlies Yanagida's relations with a Chan text like the Zutang ji. Telling of a recent visit to the Korean monastery Haein-sa, where the original woodblocks of this text are preserved, Yanagida commented: "The wooden blocks are not just some object. They are one half of the living founder and as such they are waiting for the other half to pay its respects.... Each word and phrase of the Zen text is looking for its other half, wants to be united with its reader — isn't this the innermost of the innermost?" (Newsletter 2, 1991: 10). This textual double is not, cannot be, a mere object; it is the ritual shifter which allows the "fusion of horizons" aimed at by any "researcher" worthy of this name: "In a sense, the woodblocks at the Haein monastery are the negative of the Collection from the Founder's Hall [Zutang ji], and I am the positive. As with man and woman where each forms half of a body in search of its other half, I roamed about for half a century in search of the other half of myself" [ibid., 8].

No doubt there is still a long way to go before grasping all the implications of this "innermost of the innermost" to which Yanagida seems to invite us. What is sure is that the historicist approach which has prevailed until now is no longer sufficient. But, there is also no question of us falling into the kind of ahistorical "mysticism" to which Suzuki claimed to convert us. An ideological critique is more than ever necessary, but it must take into account religious motivations, and not simply treat them as typical cases of false consciousness. For this, we need to consider Chan/Zen as a "total social phenomenon" (Marcel Mauss's "fait social total"), and to place it in its various contexts - cultural, economic, social, artistic, ritual, etc, and no longer merely political.


This article originally appeared in a special issue of the Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie on Chan/Zen, published as special tribute to Professor Yanagida Seizan. Since then, a number of important essays have been written. I can just mention a few here:

On early Chan, the most important work is undoubtedly Wendi Adamek's dissertation, which sheds new light on the Lidai fabao ji. John McRae's study and translation of Shenhui's, soon to be published, will also modify significantly our perception of the "founder" of Southern Chan. John Kieschnick's study of the eminent monks (Kieschnick 19, although not focused on Chan proper, provides a lot of fascinating materials on early Chan monks.

Regarding Dôgen, there have been a few new translations of the Shôbôgenzô, but the best is still to come, with the major translation project undertaken by Carl Bielefeldt and Griffith Foulk under the auspices of the Sôtô Shûmuchô. This project aims at no less than presenting the first truly scholarly translation of this text.

And of course, it is no longer possible to think of the Kyôto School without taking into account the sharp criticisms (and in particular Sharf's criticism) of this school, as presented in Rude Awakenings. (Sharf 1994).

Selected Bibliography on Chan/Zen

Bernard Faure

Abe Masao. 1985. Zen and Western Thought. William R. LaFleur, ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Abe Masao. 1992. A Study of Dôgen: His Philosophy and Religion.. New York: State University of New York Press.

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