Zen Buddhism

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Religion was at that time fashionable in the high society of Ch'ang-an, as it is to-day in the great Catholic capitals of Munich, Vienna or Seville. When I read of Fujaku's burial another scene at once sprang into my mind, the funeral of a great Bavarian dignitary, where I saw the noblemen of Munich walk hooded and barefoot through the streets.

I shall not refer again to the Northern School of Zen. One wonders whether the founders of religions are forced by fate to watch the posthumous development of their creeds. If so, theirs must be the very blackest pit of Hell.

Let us return to the Southern School, always regarded as the true repository of Zen tradition.


baku lived at the beginning of the ninth century, and was thus a contemporary of the poet Po Ch-i. He enjoyed the patronage of a distinguished statesman the Chancellor Hai Ky, of whom the Emperor said, "This is indeed a true Confucian." It is to the Chancellor that we owe the record of baku's conversations, which he wrote down day by day. I will make a few extracts from this diary:

Hai Ky.—En could not read or write. How came it that he succeeded to the Patriarchate of Knin? The warden Shinsh was in control of 500 monks, gave lectures, and could discourse upon thirty-two different Stras and Shstras. It was certainly very strange that he was not made Patriarch.

baku (replying).—Shinsh's conception of Thought was too material. His proofs and practices were too positive.

"The master told me that when he was studying with Enkwan, the Emperor Tai Chung came dressed as a monk.[19] The master happened to be in the chapel prostrating himself before an image of Buddha. The Emperor, who thought he had learnt the lesson of Zen idealism, said to him: 'There is nothing to be got from Buddha, nothing from the Church, nothing from Man; for nothing exists. What do you mean by praying at your age?'

"baku answered him: 'I seek nothing of Buddha, the Church, or of Man. I am in the habit of praying.' The Emperor said: 'What do you do it for?' baku lost patience and struck him with his fist. 'You rude fellow,' cried the Emperor. 'Since nothing exists, what difference does it make to you whether I am rude or polite?' and baku struck him again. The Emperor retreated hastily."

In his old age baku visited his native village and stayed a year in his mother's house, without revealing his identity. After he had set out again for his monastery, his mother suddenly realised that he was her son and went in pursuit of him. She reached the shore of a certain river, only to see him disembarking on the other side. Thereupon she lost her reason and flung herself into the water.

baku threw a lighted torch after her and recited the following verses:

May the wide river dry at its source, to its very bed
If here the crime of matricide has been done;
When one son becomes a priest, the whole family is born again in Heaven;
If that is a lie, all that Buddha promised is a lie.

Henceforward the throwing of a lighted torch into the bier became part of the Zen funeral ceremony; it was accompanied by the reciting of the above verses. Probably formula, ritual, and story alike belong to a period much more ancient than Buddhism.

In the seventeenth century a Chinese priest named Ingen[8] carried the teaching of baku to Japan, where it now possesses nearly 700 temples.



Baso was a master of the ninth century. One day he was sitting with his feet across the garden-path. A monk came along with a wheel-barrow. "Tuck in your feet," said the monk. "What has been extended cannot be retracted," answered Baso. "What has been started cannot be stopped," cried the monk and pushed the barrow over Baso's feet. The master hobbled to the monastery and seizing an axe called out "Have any of you seen the rascal who hurt my feet?" The monk who had pushed the barrow then came out and stood "with craned head." The master laid down his axe.

To understand this story we must realise that the wheel-barrow is here a symbol of the Wheel of Life and Death, which, though every spoke of it is illusion, cannot be disregarded till we have destroyed the last seed of phenomenal perception in us.


baku, as we have seen, taught wisdom with his fists. When the novice Rinzai came to him and asked him what was the fundamental idea of Buddhism, baku hit him three times with his stick. Rinzai fled and presently met the monk Daigu.

Daigu: Where do you come from?

Rinzai: From baku.

Daigu: And what stanza did he lecture upon?

Rinzai: I asked him thrice what was the fundamental doctrine of Buddhism and each time he hit me with his stick. Please tell me if I did something I ought not to have done?

Daigu: You go to baku and torture him by your questions, and then ask if you have done wrong!

At that moment Rinzai had a Great Enlightenment.

Rinzai substituted howling for baku's manual violence. He shouted meaningless syllables at his disciples; roared like a lion or bellowed like a bull. This "howling" became a regular part of Zen practice, and may be compared to the yelling of the American Shakers. Upon his deathbed Rinzai summoned his disciples round him and asked which of them felt[21] capable of carrying on his work. Sansh volunteered to do so. "How will you tell people what was Rinzai's teaching?" asked Rinzai. Sansh threw out his chest and roared in a manner which he thought would gratify the master. But Rinzai groaned and cried out, "To think that such a blind donkey should undertake to hand on my teaching!"

It was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that Zen most completely permeated Chinese thought. Upon the invasion of the Mongols[9] many Zen monks from Eastern China took refuge in Japan; the same thing happened during the Manchu invasion in the seventeenth century. But by that time Zen had a serious philosophic rival.

In the fifteenth century the philosopher Wang Yang-ming began to propagate a doctrine which, in all but names, strongly resembled the philosophic side of Zen. He taught that in each one of us is a "higher nature," something which, borrowing a phrase from Mencius, he called "Good Knowledge." Of this inner nature he speaks in exactly the same terms as the Zen teachers spoke of their "Buddha immanent in man's heart." He even uses the same kind of doggerel-verse as a medium of teaching.

Rigid Confucianists, who would not have listened to any doctrine of professedly Buddhist origin, were able through Wang Yang-ming's tact to accept the philosophy of Zen without feeling that they were betraying the Confucian tradition. The followers of Yang-ming are to-day very numerous both in China and Japan. They cultivate introspection, but not the complete self-hypnosis of Zen.

In China, where Zen is almost forgotten, the followers of this later doctrine are not even aware of its derivation.


I said at the beginning of this paper that Zen is often mentioned by writers on Far Eastern Art. The connection between Zen and art is important, not only because of the inspiration which Zen gave to the artist, but also because through Zen was obtained a better understanding of the psycho[22]logical conditions under which art is produced than has prevailed in any other civilisation.

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