‘Study Effortless-Action’

Rethinking Northern Song Chinese Chan Buddhism in Edo Japan

in Journal of Religion in Japan
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Today there is a distinction in Japanese Zen Buddhist monasticism between prayer temples and training centers. Zen training is typically thought to encompass either meditation training or public-case introspection, or both. Yet first-hand accounts exist from the Edo period (1603–1868) which suggest that the study of Buddhist (e.g., public case records, discourse records, sūtra literature, prayer manuals) and Chinese (poetry, philosophy, history) literature may have been equally if not more important topics for rigorous study. How much more so the case with the cultivation of the literary arts by Zen monastics? This paper first investigates the case of a network of eminent seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholar-monks from all three modern traditions of Japanese Zen—Sōtō, Rinzai, and Ōbaku—who extolled the commentary Kakumon Kantetsu 廓門貫徹 (d. 1730) wrote to every single piece of poetry or prose in Juefan Huihong’s 覺範恵洪 (1071–1128) collected works, Chan of Words and Letters from Stone Gate Monastery (Ch. Shimen wenzichan; Jp. Sekimon mojizen). Next, it explores what the wooden engravings of Study Effortless-Action and Efficacious Vulture at Daiōji, the temple where Kantetsu was the thirteenth abbot and where he welcomed the Chinese émigré Buddhist monk Xinyue Xingchou (Shin’etsu Kōchū 心越興儔, alt. Donggao Xinyue, Tōkō Shin’etsu 東皐心越, 1639–1696), might disclose about how Zen was cultivated in practice? Finally, this paper asks how Kantetsu’s promotion of Huihong’s “scholastic” or “lettered” Chan or Zen might lead us rethink the role of Song dynasty (960–1279) literary arts within the rich historical context of Zen Buddhism in Edo Japan?




Wang (2011) suggests that a close colleague of Huihong’s, Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 (1045–1105), meant it when he said he read 10,000 books in his library.


See, for example, Heine (2012), Rowe (2004, 2011), Covell (2006) and, of course, Reader and Tanabe (1998).


Welter (2010: 72–73 and 2011: 26) is especially fond of the translation of wenzi chan as scholastic. Cf. Gimello (1992).


Cf. Parker (1995, 1997, 1999a, 1999b), Huang (2005), Asami (2007: 21–25), Yanagida (1987: 89), Tamamura (1952: 149–190). See also Hu (2007), Chisaka (2002), LaFleur (1983) and especially Kraft (1992: 7, 151–152, 163–167) on Chan of words and letters in Japan.


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