It was through the propaganda of Shen-hui (684-758) that Hui-neng (d. 710) became the also today still towering figure of sixth patriarch of Ch’an/Zen Buddhism, and accepted as the ancestor or founder of all subsequent Ch’an lineages.
The first part of the book analyses the creation of the image of Hui-neng and the worship of a lacquered mummy said to be that of Hui-neng. Using the life of Confucius as a template for its structure, Shen-hui invented a hagiography for the then highly obscure Hui-neng. At the same time, Shen-hui forged a lineage of patriarchs of Ch’an back to the Buddha using ideas from Indian Buddhism and Chinese ancestor worship. The second half of the book examines the production of the hagiographies of Hui-neng , how they evolved, and the importance of ideas about authorship and the role of place. It demonstrates the influence of Confucian thought, politics and the periphery in the growth of early Ch’an hagiography and the changing image of Hui-neng.