68) Imperfect Monks

Regardless of whether they are applying Buddhist principles or displaying other kinds of knowledge, composing poetry or demonstrating well-timed wit, behaving outrageously or showing impressive integrity, it is the strengths and accomplishments of monks that are emphasized in Night Chats. We might assume from this that Huihong was intentionally trying to portray monks only in a positive light. Indeed, overall, monks are portrayed favorably, but there are accounts that highlight the character flaws, absurd behavior, and mistaken understanding of some monks.

Monks’ imperfections are revealed in a few different ways. Huihong avoids heavy moralistic statements, but he will occasionally explicitly point out shortcomings. More commonly, he cites others’ criticism of certain monks or records accounts in which their foibles are only hinted at through mockery or teasing. He seems to be most critical of scholarly monks and poet monks. A few accounts point out where the monk authors of monastic biographies lack critical evaluation or make mistakes. He criticizes Qisong Zhongling for failing to point out the inconsistent behavior of the Eastern Jin monk Huiyuan 慧遠. After noting that Qisong admonished previous scholars for undervaluing Huiyuan’s virtues, Huihong boldly states,

Is it really the case that [Qisong] Zhongling himself investigated [Huiyuan’s] affairs? When Xie Lingyun wanted to enter the [White Lotus] society, [Hui]yuan didn’t allow it, saying, “It is because your thinking is confused and you will come to a bad end.” But after Lu Xun rebelled, Yuan clasped his hand, chatting and laughing. If we say that [Hui]yuan was a good judge of people, then how could he have been in the dark with regard to Xun? If we say he wasn’t a good judge of people, then why was he clear when it came to Lingyun? 仲靈寧嘗自考其事乎?謝靈運欲入社,遠拒之曰:『是子思亂,將不令終。』盧循反,而遠與之執手言笑。謂遠知人,則何暗於循;謂不知人,則何獨明於靈運?[1]

Huihong doesn’t think Huiyuan should be portrayed as unequivocally virtuous when he is inconsistent in his judgement of people, having enough discernment and integrity to reject Xie Lingyun but willing to stay friends with a rebel like Lu Xun. Qisong was highly respected both at court and in the monastery, but this does not stop Huihong from critiquing his scholarship.

In his assessment of the character of monk poets, Huihong’s criticisms are often part of nuanced descriptions that emphasizes contradictory traits. Introducing the poetry of Huiquan, Huihong writes, “He feigned madness and was filthy, but his poetic lines were the epitome of purity and grace” 佯狂垢汙,而詩句絕清婉.[2] Or there is his description of Daoqian as a monk with a distinct style who became well known through his poetry, “but was volatile and had a shallow nature, looking down on ordinary people as if they were enemies” 然性褊尚氣,憎凡子如仇.[3] In other entries, Huihong includes a mixture of his own assessment with the critical opinion of others. We can also find cases where teasing poems or rhetorical questions indicate an underlying critical view of the monk in question. The account of the poet monk Kezun (also referred to as “Zun”) includes several of the rhetorical devises used to suggest criticism seen in Night Chats.

Kezun of Fuzhou liked to compose poetry. He would flaunt his talents to overshadow others. The monastic community made a pretense of being polite, but they didn’t really feel that way. Once he inscribed a poem on the wall of a hot springs [bath]. When Dongpo visited Mount Lu, he happened to see it and [wrote a] match.

Zun’s [poem] reads:
禪庭誰立石龍頭 Who has set up a stone dragon head in the Chan Hall?
龍口湯泉沸不休From the dragon’s mouth the hot springs gushes forth without cease.
直待眾生塵垢盡Waiting until the defilements of all living beings are purged,
我方清冷混常流for only then can I, clean and cool, mix with regular streams.”

Dongpo’s [matching poem] reads: 
石龍有口口無根The Stone dragon has a mouth, but his mouth is without a root/stem (tongue?),
龍口湯泉自吐吞In the dragon’s mouth hot springs is spewed and swallowed on its own.
若信眾生本無垢 If it is true that living beings originally are without defilement,
此泉何處覓寒溫 Then why would this spring care whether it was hot or cold?”

Following this, Zun became even more arrogant. When he visited Jinling, Foyin Yuangong [Liaoyuan] was coming back from the capital and visited there. Zun wrote a poem to present to him:
“Coming back from the capital, the road is several thousand miles,
It is exactly as if he were bringing the incense smoke from the imperial censor.
At the foot of Phoenix Mountain you knock on the thatched hut,     
Startling awake the old mountain man from his morning slumber.” 

Yuan responded in jest: 
“Sleeping meditating monks: thousands upon thousands,
in their dreams pursuing profit they run off like [incense] smoke.
I urge you sir to perk up and cultivate Chan samadhi,
In your old age, like a silk worm in its cocoon you have already gone back to sleep.”

Although Yuan’s [Foyin] poem lacks cultured restraint, he did it quickly for the occasion. 福州僧可遵好作詩,暴所長以蓋人,叢林貌禮之而心不然。嘗題詩湯泉壁間,東坡遊廬山,偶見,為和之。遵曰:〔禪庭誰立石龍頭?龍口湯泉沸不休。直待眾生塵垢盡,我方清冷混常流。〕東坡曰:〔石龍有口口無根,龍口湯泉自吐吞。若信眾生本無垢,此泉何處覓寒溫?      〕遵自是愈自矜伐。客金陵,佛印元公自京師還,過焉。遵作詩贈之曰:〔上國歸來路幾千,渾然猶帶御爐煙。鳳凰山下敲蓬咏戶,驚起山翁白晝眠。〕元戲答曰:〔打睡禪和萬萬千,夢中趨利走如煙。勸君抖擻修禪定,老境如蠶已再眠。〕元詩雖少蘊藉,然一時快之。[4]

We have seen that Huihong liked accounts of strong willed, confident monks who stood up for themselves, but he was quick to point out when they became too full of themselves. After mentioning Kezun’s tendency to be arrogant, he includes two of his poems and Su Shi and Foyin’s matching poems. Both the matching poems are meant to poke fun of Kezun. Foyin’s poem makes a direct mockery of Kezun, painting him as a lazy monk who is sleeping and daydreaming instead of meditating. Su Shi’s poem is not a personal attack, but it eclipses Kezun’s poem by suggesting the Chan understanding expressed in it does not go deep enough, a point seemingly lost on Kezun who is simply excited that his poem was matched by the great Su Shi.

Kieschnick argues that monastic biographies represent the monk as he was seen in the “monastic imagination,” as an ideal, rather than a reflection of factual reality.[5] The depiction of monks in Night Chats are undoubtedly shaped to a certain degree by Huihong’s imagination, but the result is rarely an idealized monk.

[1] LZYH 9.76 (WSB p. 84).

[2] LZYH 6.59. (This version of the lines is from WSB p. 57) (6 no. 8)

[3] LZYH 6.60. (WSB p. 58). (6 no. 11)

[4] LZYH 6.60-61. (WSB p. 61).

[5] Kieschnick, The Eminent Monk, pp. 3-4. Kieshnick’s study is primarily based on three famous collections of monastic biographies: the Gaoseng zhuan (6th century), the Xu gaoseng zhuan (7th century) and the Song gaoseng zhuan (10th century).

(Note: This is a rough draft. Not for reference or citation without author’s permission.)

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67) Dissertation Disillusion

As I’ve been focusing on general description rather than close discussion of text over the past months, I find myself longing to present a Night Chats entry in its entirety. I am sick of giving overviews, tired of being told to be careful not to get into too much detail. Every time I have to paraphrase an anecdote instead of presenting a full translation, I cringe. Why?  Reoccurring themes or possible motives are all very well, but it is the actual text, in Huihong’s words, that I find fascinating.

I have taken to my blog again simply to console myself and remember what this is all about: the value of frivolity and the importance of detail! These accounts are not trying to be earth shattering theories or profound lessons. They might not even be “true.” But ironically, the snapshots they give of human character, poetic creativity, and relationships, are in some ways even more significant than elaborate theories or lucid lessons.

Recently, I’ve been trying to paraphrase and discuss an account about Yuancai, Huihong’s eccentric uncle. In order to demonstrate a point about accounts of officials who exhibit personality flaws, I force myself to consolidate an anecdote of about 400 characters into a few measly English sentences: “One account describes Huihong’s uncle, Yuancai, boasting of his ability to dowse for water and to subdue snakes. But when his skills are put to the test in each case, he fails miserably. When Huihong mentions his deficiency in these areas in a preface for Yuancai’s book,  he gets annoyed, even though he had asked Huihong to be ‘impartial.'” Maybe a little wordy, but seems okay, right? No! It is cringeworthy when you compare it with the original account:

Yuancai was good at discussing military affairs, he advised the Music Bureau, and he was thoroughly versed in the music of all lands. He once boasted,
“When troops set up camp, they are always worried that there won’t be enough water. Recently, I heard about a method for finding wells that is extremely marvelous.”At the time, he was staying at Daqing Guan [Taoist temple], where every day he would inspect the ground and dig, but no water was to be found.  He also tried digging several feet away to check [for water] to the point that all four sides [around the temple] encountered his shovel and were full of holes. One moonlit night, the Taoist ascended the tower, looked around and frowned, saying,
“Has my temple become a cracked tortuous shell? How come there are so many holes everywhere?” Yuancai was not pleased.


Another time, when he accompanied Defender-in-Chief Guo to see his garden,  [Yuancai] boasted,
“Recently, an extremely marvelous method for eliminating snakes was passed to me. With just a recitation of a spell, the snake will hear and be trapped, just as if [I was] ordering around a small child.” Suddenly there [appeared] an extremely fierce snake. The Defender-in-Chief shouted: “Yuancai, you can put your skills to use!” The snake reared its head and rushed towards them. Yuancai didn’t try any method whatsoever; he just turned around and ran until he was huffing and puffing and dripping with sweat. He threw down his official hat, and said,
“[The snake] is the spirit of the Defender-in-Chief’s residence. It can’t be stopped!” The Defender-in-Chief only grinned.


When [Yuancai] submitted a book on music to the court, he obtained the appointment of “Chief Musician.” He had me write a postscript for the book, saying,
“When you let your brush go, you should be impartial. Don’t exaggerate my strengths just because we are uncle and nephew.”
I wrote,
“When Yuancai was among the common populace, he had aspirations for statecraft. He is good at discussing military affairs and advises about imperial music. Writing is his [secondary] pastime. But getting rid of snakes and finding places for wells are not his strengths.” When Yuancai saw this, he said angrily,
“When Sima Zi (Sima Qian) wrote the biography of Mr. Li he wrote about the exceptional things that he did. [Mr. Li’s] only mistake was to try to persuade [Han]Gaozu to enfeoff six states, so in his biography [Sima] didn’t mention it, but filled his biography entirely with his good qualities, but he still recorded [the mistake] in Zifang’s (Liu Bang’s) biography because he did not want to hide the truth. So why did you record the stuff about stopping snakes and finding wells?”  Everyone who heard this laughed until they fell over.

嘗獻樂書,得協律郎,使予跋其書曰:「子落筆當公,不可以叔姪故溢美也。」予曰:「淵材在布衣,有經綸志。善談兵,曉太樂,文章蓋其餘事。獨禁蛇、開井,非其所長。」淵材視之,怒曰:「司馬子長以酈生所為事事奇,獨說高祖封六國為失,故於本傳不言者,著人之美為完傳也。又於子房傳載之者,不欲隱實也。奈何書禁蛇、開井乎?」聞者莫不絕倒。(LZYH 9]

I’ve included the whole account with a rough translation, and I let my readers make of it what they will, which is probably what Huihong would have wished in the first place.

Of course, the work of drawing out significant points from these texts is not completely useless. But it can be difficult and unless you are very good at it, the results are often disappointing. Here we have Yuancai demonstrating some of Huihong’s “favorite” character flaws: an inflated sense of one’s abilities or arrogance, and hypocrisy. He boasts about non existent abilities, makes excuses when he fails, and gets angry when Huihong follows his directions to be impartial in his description.

But Huihong clearly adores Yuancai as a character. Yuancai’s ability to make people laugh perhaps helps to redeem him of his faults. It is hard to take him too seriously in any case. Since he is not in a high position, his personality flaws will not have negative long term effects on those beneath him.

Other accounts deal with high ranking or well-known officials. These accounts are usually not so ridiculous. While some emphasize behavior or words demonstrating virtues such as authenticity and discernment, others point to instances where officials fall short of such ideals. One account consists of some critical remarks Xu Fu 徐俯 made about the luminaries Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, and Chen Guan, pointing out that even upright gentlemen such as these have their imperfections. For each of these individuals, Xu points out a case where they didn’t live up to their professed principles. If I had my way (and time), I would include this entry in its entirety as well. You would hear about how Su Shi was willing to lay down his life in defense of his principles in writing, yet he still he sought after immortality techniques. Or Chen Guan’s occasional habit of telling peoples’ fortunes even though he prided himself on putting into practice his intentions and viewing rank and salary as dung and dirt.

Well, back to the dissertation, which progressively feels like the trashcan where I put everything I don’t want to write about!




(Note: the translation in this and any other post is not to be used without the author’s permission)







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66) Power of a Name: Huihong Adjusts to Life as an Exile

初過海自號甘露滅   “Upon first Crossing the Ocean, I called myself ‘Sweet Dew Nirvana’”

本是甘露滅                At its root, this ‘Sweet Dew Nirvana,’

浪名無垢稱               Is a drifting name, an untaintable epithet.

欲知遭鎖禁              Knowing that I face the restriction of lock and key,

正坐忽規繩                I sit in meditation and pay no attention to the norms.

海上垂鬚佛                At sea: a bearded Buddha,

軍中有髮僧                Among the troops: a monk with hair.

生涯何所似                What manner of life is this?

崖略類騰騰                It verges on that of leisure and laziness!


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65) Dahui’s Verse on Huihong: Praise or Poking Fun?

Dahui Zonggao, Huihong’s junior by nearly twenty years, would become the famous proponent of kanhua Chan (看話禪 “Observing the Phrase Chan”). But in his earlier years, he went to Huihong for editing advice. A humorous verse written on one of these meetings suggests their relationship was chummier than typically described, especially considering the age difference.  Dahui is supposed to have composed the verse while hanging out with Huihong and the official Han Ju in 1118, and according to the record, Huihong and Han Ju showed their appreciation by beating time while he chanted.[1] The verse, collected in Dahui’s discourse record under the title “In Praise of Venerable Jiyin” 寂音尊者贊, refers to Huihong by his pseudonym “Sweet Dew Nirvana” (Ganlumie甘露滅):

頭如杓面如楪.           With a noggin like a ladle, and a face like a platter,
口無舌說無竭.           His mouth without a tongue, yet his talking never stops:
是而非同而別.           True yet false; the same yet different.
種空華抽暗楔.           Cultivates empty flowers that bear ripe cherries.
死木蛇活如蝎.           A dead wooden snake is lively as a scorpion,
擊塗毒腦門裂.           Attacked with a smear of poison, his brow splits apart,
是阿誰甘露滅.           Who could this be? It’s Sweet Dew Nirvana![2]

While this verse is an “encomium” (zan贊), it is also clearly meant to poke fun. Comparing Huihong’s face to a platter and his head to a ladle is not exactly a complimentary physical description. He’s got no tongue, but never stops talking…Could this also be a jab at Huihong’s tendency towards loquaciousness? The remainder of the poem describes Huihong’s ability to embody, or perhaps transcend, contradictions, or what would be considered false dualities. The true is within the false. The same is also different. Even though he’s planted “false flowers,” a reference to the illusory nature of things, they still bear ripe dark cherries (the real is within the false). A snake that is dead like wood is as lively as a scorpion. As for the poison causing the forehead to split, I have no idea what this refers to. Another Chan allusion, I expect.

For him to write this verse, Dahui must have had an awareness of Huihong’s personality. At the very least, Dahui knew that Huihong was a monk who could take a joke. But at the same time, would he not have enjoyed being described as someone who embodied contradictions?  If the stories in the LZYH are evidence of his proclivities, Huihong enjoyed people who challenged attachment to inflexible ideas about the way things are or the way things should be.  But did Dahui admire this, or find Huihong’s enigmatic Chan talk a bit exasperating? In other words, are the lines with all the contradictions a description of the things Huihong liked to spout about, things he “never stopped talking” about, and not a complimentary depiction of Huihong’s ability to transcend such dualities?    [3]

What do you think?

[1] Dahui Pujue Chanshi nianpu大慧普覺禪師年譜 (J 1:A042.795c23- c25).

[2] “寂音尊者贊” “大慧普覺禪師贊佛祖” in 《大慧普覺禪師語錄》juan 12.

[3] The image of Huihong sitting there with Han Ju, beating time as Dahui chants the verse, whether or not based in fact, also reflects a certain perception of Huihong held by the compilers of Dahui’s nianpu.


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64)Huihong Gains a Reputation Among the Chan Monasteries

Huihong’s growing reputation within the monastic community is demonstrated by an exchange between Huihong and Kewen that took place while Huihong was studying with Kewen at Shimen Monastery, between 1094-1099. I referred to this exchange in a previous post, but at that time hadn’t found the original sources or examined it thoroughly. It turns out that both Zhengshou and Huihong have recorded the exchange, and each provides slightly different information.[1] I’ve incorporated elements of both versions in the discussion below. Huihong’s version includes the original verse that he eventually matches, and Zhengshou’s version is important because of a few added details that indicate Huihong’s mounting reputation at the time.

In the exchange, the gongan 公案 (case/koan) that Kewen refers to involves a verse by Tang monk Lingyun Zhiqin 靈雲志勤, and the reactions by his teacher, Weishan 溈山, and another Tang monk, Xuansha 玄沙. In response, Huihong comes up with his own verse, a match of Lingyun’s verse. Huihong’s verse is in the form of “Lauding Old Cases” (songgu 頌古).[2] As Natasha Heller explains, “Lauding Old Cases” are verses that evaluate earlier gongan and are the counterpart to the prose form, “Raising Old Cases” (niangu 拈古).[3]

Huihong’s version sets the exchange between himself and a visitor (ke客), not Kewen, and includes Lingyun’s original verse.[4] Huihong’s account reads:

A visitor and I discussed Lingyun’s verse about seeing peach blossoms; it reads:

三十年來尋劍客         For these thirty years, I’ve been looking for a swordsman,[5]

幾回葉落又抽枝        How many times have the leaves fallen, then sprouted new twigs?

自從一見桃花後        But ever since looking once at the peach blossoms,

直至如今更不疑        I reached my current [place] of no more doubts.

As someone who was without the marks of a great man, Old Master Weishan, said, [in response to Lingyun’s verse], ‘One who has entered through conditions will never retreat.’ Only Xuansha responded with, ‘Appropriate, quite appropriate. But I dare to maintain that Old Elder Brother [Lingyun] still has an area not fully penetrated.’ The visitor then asked me, “As for the area where he hasn’t penetrated, where is it?” So I wrote this verse:

溈山老子無大人相. 便云. ‘從緣入者. 永無退失. ’獨玄沙曰. 諦當. 甚諦當. 敢保老兄猶未徹在. 客問予. 未徹之處安在哉. 為作偈曰.

靈雲一見不再見   Having taken one look, Lingyun didn’t look again.

紅白枝枝不著華   The reds and whites, branch after branch: don’t attach to the blossoms.

叵耐釣魚船上客   Unable to endure fishing from the boat, the traveler,

卻來平地摝魚蝦   Instead comes to land to cast about for fish and shrimp.[6]

Lingyun’s verse is supposed to be a verification of his awakened state upon seeing peach blossoms. Indeed, Lingyun’s teacher, the famous Tang Master Weishan, seems to affirm a certain level of attainment, suggesting that Lingyun will not retreat since he has “entered through conditions.” But this comment, according to Huihong, demonstrates that even Weishan was “without the marks of a great man,” i.e. the characteristics of Buddha.[7] Xuansha shows his superior penetration because, although he agrees that the verse is an appropriate reflection of Lingyun’s (“Elder Brother’s”) attainment, suggests that he is not yet fully awakened (“not fully penetrated”). Xuansha’s comment becomes a gongan because it forces the student of Chan to try to penetrate deeper than Lingyun had done, even when Lingyun’s state of “no more doubts” was verified by his own teacher.

The Lauding Old Case verses written on this gongnan attempt to explain or evaluate Lingyun’s verse and Xuansha’s comment, and Huihong’s verse is no exception. [8] Huihong may be using the principle of non-attachment to respond to the question of why Lingyun hadn’t fully penetrated. In Huihong’s verse, he is suggesting that Lingyun stopped his contemplation at the peach blossoms: he only took one look. He should have continued to investigate the peach trees, using his understanding to penetrate not just the leaves and branches, but also the very blossoms themselves. Lingyun is supposed to have come to a point of “no more doubts” upon seeing those blossoms; Huihong is suggesting that he still clings to those blossoms as his means for awakening. Consequently, he says, “don’t attach to the blossoms” and makes an analogy about a fisherman, who, having given up on fishing from a boat, goes to land to try to fish. He is like Lingyun who although broken the habit of grasping at branches, still clings to the blossoms as his means of awakening. It may feel like progress to move from seeing clearly one part of the peach tree to another, culminating in awakening by seeing the blossoms, a more advanced stage of development, but Huihong implies that it is no better than a fisherman who, catching nothing from a boat, somehow thinks he will get something on the land. This explanation is only a suggested possibility of how to read Huihong’s verse as a response to the gongan; it is not meant to be a final interpretation. But it is necessary to give a sense of the depth of understanding (and literary ability) necessary to come up with one of these verses, and thus why Huihong’s verse made such an impression on his teacher and the greater monastic community.

According to Zhengshou, Huihong’s verse not only verified that he was good with words, but demonstrates that he possessed impressive insight as well. In Zhengzhou’s account, quoted below, he refers to Kewen as “Jing,” after his honorific pseudonym Zhenjing, and the Xuansha gongan is abbreviated with the phrase “Xuansha’s comment about not fully penetrating.” Zhengshou’s readers and the monks in Kewen’s assembly would have already been familiar with the gongan, making a full account unnecessary.[9]

Jing [Kewen] was concerned about the problem of [Huihong’s] extensive learning. Each time he would bring up Xuansha’s proclamation about “not fully penetrating” in order to expose [Huihong’s] doubts, Huihong would always have an answer. Jing would say, “There you go again, speaking rationally.” One day, [Huihong] was suddenly freed from his doubts. He wrote a verse and showed it to his classmates.
淨患其深聞之弊. 每舉玄沙未徹之語. 發其疑 . 凡有所對. 淨曰. 你又說道理耶. 一日. 頓脫所疑. 述偈示同學曰. [10]

The passage continues with Huihong’s verse, the same as recorded above, and concludes by describing how the exchange affected Huihong’s reputation.

Seeing [the verse], Jing felt much better. He had someone take charge of recording it in the Hall. Soon after, [Huihong] went to pay his respects to various senior [monks], and his worth was recognized by them all. It was from this point that his fame reverberated throughout the monasteries.
淨見. 為助喜. 命掌記室.未久.去謁諸老.皆蒙賞音.由是名振叢林.[11]

At the outset of Zhengshou’s account, Kewen is described as being concerned about Huihong’s extensive learning. Huihong always has a rational answer to everything, but in Kewen’s eyes, this does not denote true understanding. It is only when he comes up with this Lauding Old Cases verse that Kewen is made easy. This verse is Huihong’s ticket into the cohort of high monks. As Heller explains, “Having a working knowledge of anecdotes, exchanges, and poetry was a prerequisite for standing within the Chan tradition, and the ability to engage this material critically and creatively represented an alternative means of laying claim to Chan authority.”[12] Huihong becomes well known throughout the monasteries by means of this exchange. It his Chan insight coupled with poetic skill as represented by the verse that is appreciated by these senior monks. Still in his twenties when studying with Kewen, Zhengshou’s account demonstrates that Huihong established his reputation quite early on in his career. From this point onward, Huihong’s reputation as a monk was almost always interlaced, for better or for worse, with his identity as a poet.

[1] “Yunzhou qingliang,” JTPDL 7 (X 79:1559.333a16-a21). Huihong’s version is recorded in the Linjian lu 2 (X 87:1624.267a16-a22).

[2] Huihong’s verse was eventually collected into the Southern Song compendium Chanzong songgu lianzhu tongji 禪宗頌古聯珠通集 (The complete collection of linked pearls of Lauding Old Cases of the Chan tradition). Natasha Heller discusses this work in relation to the Yuan monk Zhongfeng Mingben in Illusory Abiding, p. 244.

[3] Ibid., pp. 257-258. I have borrowed Heller’s translations for these terms.

[4] It seems that if Huihong’s interlocutor had indeed been Kewen, as Zhengshou records it, Huihong would hardly have failed to mention it. But it is also possible that the exchange originated between Huihong and Kewen, and Huihong’s record is referring to an exchange with a visitor at a different time, but on the same subject.

[5] Although this needs confirming, I suspect this refers to someone who is good at wielding the “wisdom sword” (huijian 慧劍, or zhihui jian 智慧劍), i.e., the figurative sword that cuts through delusion.

[6] LJL (X 87:1624.267a16- a22).

[7] 大人相: Muller: Basic Meaning: a mark of a great man (i.e. a buddha); Another name for the hallmarks of a Buddha is the 32 (大人)相.

[8] For the Lauding Old Case verses on this gongan, including Huihong’s, see Chanzong songgu lianzhu tongji: 23 (X 65:1295.613c08-615c02).

[9] Here or earlier, refer to Sharf’s article on gong’an, in which he argues that they are as much about a common knowledge of scriptural allusions.

[10] “Yunzhou qingliang” JTPDL 7 (X79:1559.333a16-a18) For an alternative translation of this exchange, see Keyworth, Transmitting the Lamp, pp. 229-230. Keyworth has missed the allusion to the Lingyun gongan.

[11] “Yunzhou qingliang” JTPDL 7 (X 79:1559.333a18-a19) [Check Zhou for monks Huihong visited around this time. I know in 1090, before this he was visiting Faxiu. Don’t know if he was high monk by this time]

[12] Heller, Illusory Abiding, p. 237.

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63) Huihong Earns Zhang’s Respect

It has been mentioned how the official Zhang Shangying helped Huihong get re-ordained a second time after his first imprisonment. We have also seen how Huihong’s “close ties” with Zhang played a role getting him exiled. But what of Zhang and Huihong’s personal relationship? What drew them together?

Zhang had a very high regard for Huihong. As Zuxiu recorded it, when he first saw Huihong, Zhang described him as, “A truly exceptional figure in all the world; a remarkable person among the sages of the Song” 蓋天下之英物。聖宋之異人. How did Huihong earn such high praise?

Zhengshou gives a detailed account of an interaction between Zhang Shangying and Huihong in which they are discussing an exchange Zhang had with Huihong’s teacher, Kewen. Huihong is able to shed light on this encounter for Zhang, and Zhang is inspired to write a verse in praise of Kewen’s portrait, demonstrating his newfound appreciation for Kewen. The exchange mentions several monks, including another disciple of Kewen, Doushuai Congyue 兜率從悅(1044-1091 ), who is referred to here as Long’an Yue 龍安悅, Long’an 龍安, and Yue 悅. Kewen is referred to by his pseudonym Yun’an, and, as is customary in monk biographies, the “master” (shi 師) refers to the monk in question, in this case, Huihong.

In the second year of Chongning [1103], [Master Huihong] met Disciple Wuju, Mr. Zhang [Shangying], at Shanxi in Xia[zhou]. Zhang once said of himself that he understood the final words of Dhyana Master Long’an Yue, and the monastic community was afraid to speak with him about it. (?叢林畏與語.)

When [Zhang and Huihong] reached [this subject] in their night chats, [Zhang] said, “It is a pity that Yun’an [Kewen] didn’t know about this. The master [Huihong] asked him why that was, and Zhang said, “When I transferred from [the job of] wine inspector in Jinling to become prefect of Yuzhang, I passed by Guizong [Monastery] and saw [Kewen]. I was going to reveal [Master Long’an Yue’s words] to him, but right as I was explaining the final words, before I could finish, the Old Venerable [Kewen] got really angry and scolded: ‘This spouting-blood baldy! [Nothing but] silly words that toy with emptiness! Unbelievable!’ Having seen how angry he was, I didn’t want to go on with the explanation.” The master laughed, “Sir, you only understood the oral component of Long’an’s final words; when [Kewen’s] true medicine was right before your eyes, you couldn’t discern it.” Zhang was astonished. He clasped the master’s hands and said, “Is this what the teacher truly had in mind?” The master said, “If you doubt it, then investigate it further.” [Zhang] took out the portrait of Yun’an [Kewen] from his family collection, opened it, and wrote something for his teacher to accept.

崇寧二年。會無盡居士張公。於峽之善溪。張嘗自謂。得龍安悅禪師末後 句。叢林畏與語。因夜話及之曰。可惜雲菴不知此事。師問所以。張曰。商英頃自金陵酒 官。移知豫章。過歸宗見之。欲為點破。方敘悅末後句。未卒。此老大怒罵曰。此吐血禿丁。脫空妄語。不得信。既見其盛怒。更不欲敘之。師笑曰。相公但識龍安 口傳末後句。而真藥現前。不能辨也。張大驚。起執師手曰。老師真有此意耶。曰。疑則別參。乃取家藏雲菴頂。展拜贊之。書以授師。

其詞曰。His words read:

雲菴綱宗。Yunan’s guiding principles:
能用能照。Can be applied and can illuminate.
天鼓希聲。The rare sound of heavenly drums,
不落凡調。Does not succumb to ordinary tunes.
冷面嚴眸。A cold countenance and severe glance,
神光獨耀。The light of his spirit is unusually bright.
孰傳其真。 Who captured his likeness?
觀面為肖[1]。It resembles seeing him face-to-face.
前悅後洪。First Yue, later Hong,
如融如肇。They are just like Rong and Zhao.[2]

In the account, Zhang goes to Kewen, hoping to impress him with his understanding of Yue’s final words, a subject that other monks didn’t dare broach.[3] But Kewen’s cuts him off mid-explanation with an angry diatribe, mocking Yue (“blood-spitting baldy”) and criticizing his words. Not getting the point, Zhang still thinks it is pity that Kewen didn’t get to hear him describe Yue’s words. But Huihong interprets Zhang’s encounter with Kewen differently. He explains that although Zhang may have received Yue’s words in verbal form, he fails to recognize when he is face-to-face with a true master, Kewen, who is administering “true medicine,” in the form of a scolding. There is an aspect of lineage hierarchy here, as well. Kewen is the teacher of Yue, so Zhang should not have presumed he’d be unaware (or did not already understand) his disciple’s final words.

Zhang’s verse, inspired by the portrait of Kewen, (who had passed away one or two years before), reveals his newfound appreciation for him. In the final lines, he makes an analogy between Kewen’s two disciples, Congyue (“Yue”) and Huihong (“Hong”) and two disciples of the Later Qin translator monk Kumārajīva 鳩摩羅什, Daorong道融(“Rong”) and Sengzhao 僧肇 (“Zhao”). But even here, he is implicitly paying tribute to Kewen. “First, Kewen had Yue (as a disciple), then Hong, and they are like Kumārajīva’s disciples Rong and Zhao.” While explicitly referring to the disciples, Zhang is implying that Kewen is comparable to Kumārajīva as well.

Although Huihong was often praised for his poetry, this account shows how he could impress the literati with his Chan insight as well. But it is also interesting to note that Zhang associates Kewen’s disciples with Kumārajīva’s disciples, best known for their scholarship.


[1] Other versions have variations on this line. Xiaoying’s Luohu yelu has “觀露唯肖.” The biography of Zhang in the Jushizhuan juan has “覿露惟肖” . Incidentally, 覿面 dímiàn, means 當面;迎面;見面. And【惟肖】相似。惟,語助詞. For bibliographical references to these other accounts see the next note.

[2] Zhengshou, Jiatai pudeng lu 嘉泰普燈錄 juan 8, “筠州清涼寂音慧洪禪師.” X79n1559_p0333b18(03)~ X79n1559_p0333c04(02). Keyworth also provides his English interpretation of this exchange in his translation of Huihong’s biography in Wudeng huiyuan, see Keyworth, “Transmitting the Lamp,” pp. 232-233. See alternative versions of this account in “Zhang Tianjue zhuan” 張天覺傳, in juan 28 of the Jushizhuan juan (Biographies of Lay Disciples) , and in juan 2 of Xiaoying’s Luohu yelu, X83n1577_p0392c16(03)-X83n1577_p0393a02(00). This latter version specifies that Xia refers to Xiazhou and dates the exchange to the third year of Chongning (1103), a date which Zhou Yukai deems more feasible. See Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p. 100.

[3] Zhang Shangying was a disciple of Congyue.

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63) Huihong’s Dharma Brothers Benming & Xizu

The relationships between monks and literati have begun to receive more attention from literary scholars, but relationships within the monastic community–between monks and fellow monks–is still a little explored aspect of Song culture, especially in the case of the less prominent monks. Yet the relationships formed between members of the monastic community were very important. These relationships were essential for the spiritual health of the sangha. Whether supporting or challenging one another, monk friends played a crucial role in the development and spread of ideas and practices, and provided necessary social interaction.

Huihong’s monk acquaintances were numerous and diverse. In Zhou Yukai’s chronology of Huihong, he has gathered and provided biographical context for dozens and dozens of monks in Huihong’s circle. It is not the purpose of the work to provide analysis, but Zhou’s approach clearly shows Huihong meeting, traveling, corresponding, and exchanging poems with a wide variety of monks, and it is evident that these relationships directly or indirectly affected his writings (some monks became the subject of his writings.) Chen Zili devotes short sections to several of Huihong’s monastic friends and teachers, and gives some conclusions about these relationships. Huihong’s social life is a topic large enough for its own chapter; here I just want to give a taste of the types of relationships he had with other monks and explore in detail some of those that have received less attention.

Monks had close friends among those both in the same lineage and those outside their lineage, among those affiliated with the same Buddhist tradition (Chan, Teachings, Precepts etc.), and those of different affiliations. In this blog, I will focus on the first of these, the relationships that formed between members of the same lineage under the same teacher. The intimacy and trust expected in these relationships is evident in the form of address that was used to refer to each other. Monks of the same teacher called each other “Elder Dharma Brother so-and-so”(shixiong 師兄 or sometimes faxiong 法兄) or “Younger Dharma Brother so-and-so” 師弟, depending on seniority. (This practice is still in use today).

Huihong became close friends with two fellow disciples of Kewen of the same generation: Xizu 希祖 (style name Chaoran超然) and Benming 本明 (style name Wuchen 無塵). These monks don’t seem to have biographies of their own, but they are mentioned frequently within Huihong’s works.[1] From the biographical information that Zhou Yukai has compiled, Benming, also known as Huanzhu’an (Illusory Abiding Hut 幻住庵), eventually became blind, lived at the Huanzhu Hut at Hetang Temple, and died in 1117.[2] Xizu, or “Chaoran” as Huihong called him, was from Fenning county and eventually became abbot of Yangshan 仰山 in Yuanzhou 袁州, but his specific dates are unknown.[3] Huihong referred to both monks as his “junior dharma brothers” (shidi 師弟), and to a certain degree they became like disciples to him, a relationship that was promoted by Kewen. The first record of contact between Huihong, Xizu, and Benming is dated the third month of 1099, while they were all staying with Kewen at Baofeng Monastery 寶峰院 in Jing’an county.[4] In his miscellany, Yunwo jitan, Xiaoying records that Kewen requested four of his disciples, Huihong, Benming, Xizu, and Yi 一 , to accompany him on his outings, and quotes the verse that Kewen wrote on the occasion. [5] The story goes that Kewen declined Xizu’s request to be excused, and Xizu joked that Kewen declined because he had already included Xizu’s name in his verse! [6]

According to Xiaoying’s other miscellany, Luohu yelu, Huihong was eventually expelled from Baofeng Monastery “because he had transgressed the rules of Chan” 因違禪規, an incident discussed further in the section on Huihong’s reputation, but Huihong’s own account describes Kewen sending him off with words of praise, entrusting Benming and Xizu to his care:

When I left the mountain, the master had these words to say: “You are young and brilliant and will definitely make something of yourself one day. I, on the other hand, am already old, and may not see you again. As for those two disciples [Benming and Xizu], I’m depending on you to teach them. You can criticize them. You can scold them. But you may not part from them.” 我昔出山,子幼英發,終必有為。顧吾老矣,見子無期。指其二子,籍汝教之。譴呵皆可,不可相離。[7]

To a large extent, Huihong seems to have followed his teacher’s directions. The three monks were still together three years later, in 1102, when they heard that Kewen had passed away.[8] Huihong records that they three wept together and sent Benming on the long journey back to Baofeng to request the memorial inscription and poem. [ “僉遣本明,遠乞銘詩”].[9]

From this point until his death in 1117, Benming rarely appears in Huihong’s writings. But in Xie Yi’s preface to Huihong’s Chan miscellany, the Linjian lu, there is a reference to Benming’s role in the compilation of that work, indicating that he and Huihong stayed in close contact after Kewen’s death. Xie Yi writes,

Every time [Huihong] had lively “pure chats” with exceptional monks of the Grove, it was always about the lofty acts of worthy elders, the instructions of deceased monks, the profound ideas of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or the opinions of worthy gentlemen. Every time he heard a story, [Huihong] would record it. After ten years, he had acquired over three hundred stories. His travel companion, Master Benming, was simple and unaffected on the outside, but on the inside, he was extremely sharp. In his free time, he took what [Huihong] had recorded, divided it into two volumes and called it the Linjian lu (Accounts of the [Chan] Grove). 每與林間勝士抵掌清談。莫非尊宿之高行.叢林之遺訓.諸佛菩薩之微旨.賢士大夫之餘論。每得一事。隨即錄之。垂十年間。得三百餘事。從其游者。本明上人。外若簡率而內甚精敏。燕坐之暇。以其所錄析為上下帙。名之曰林間錄。[10]

Xie Yi’s preface was written in the 11th month of 1107, while Huihong and Xie Yi were together in Linchuan.[11]

We also know that Huihong stayed with Benming at Hetang Temple at Dayu Mountain after his return from exile in 1114. In his memorial text for the monk, Huihong mentions that on this visit Benming had already gone blind. [12] Huihong expresses deep regard for him, stating that before receiving the news of his death, it had been three months since he had last seen him. This would suggest that there was at least one more meeting between them after the 1114 visit.

In comparison with Benming, there are numerous references in Huihong’s writings to meetings and exchanges with his other dharma brother, Xizu. They continued to meet or correspond even while Huihong was accused of crimes, imprisoned and banished. Chen Zili suggests that Huihong’s relationship with Xizu was the “closest” and “the most congenial” of all of his relationships.[13] Zhou Yukai has gathered and dated dozens of interactions, indicating regular meetings and correspondence between 1099 and 1118. A sampling of these interactions follows.

A short while after Kewen’s passing, in 1103, Huihong and Xizu traveled to Baofeng to pay their respects to Kewen’s stupa.[14] The next year, they traveled to Gushan together.[15] In 1106, they sent poems back and forth recalling the recently deceased Huang Tingjian.[16] When Huihong was ill in prison, Xizu came to visit him, and the two corresponded while Huihong was in exile.[17] In 1117, they were together at Baofeng Monastery when they heard of Benming’s death, whereupon they made the three day journey to Hetang Temple 荷塘寺 in Yunzhou to pay their respects.[18] Xizu and Huihong exchanged poetry often, and Xizu is one of the friends with whom Huihong engaged in “late night chats” (yeyu 夜語).[19] One entry in the Lengzhai yehua relates a discussion they had on the topic of poetics.[20] Finally, their close relationship is particularly evident in the fact that Huihong wished to live out his old age with Xizu.[21]

Based on the number of references alone, it appears that Huihong’s contact with Xizu was much more frequent than his contact with Benming. But this may be the result of an imbalance of available sources and not an accurate reflection of Huihong’s relationship with the two monks. Zhou Yukai emphasizes that after they left Baofeng Monastery together, Xixu and Benming often accompanied Huihong, but because of the numerous poetry exchanges between Huihong and Xizu, it is much easier to trace encounters between Xizu and Huihong. Zhou refers to Xie Yi’s preface as evidence that Benming was often accompanying Huihong during these years as well.[22]

Xizu and Benming never became famous, as was the case with many of Huihong’s other acquaintances, but their relationship with Huihong represents the close bonds that could develop between disciples of the same generation with the same teacher. They are also similar to one character type present in both the Linjian lu and Lengzhai yehua: the lesser known monk. Because Huihong befriended all manner of monks, and more often than not wrote down the things they said and did, we have a more complete picture of the religious society in the Northern Song.


[1] Zhou Yukai, in his Songseng Huihong Xinglü zhushu biannian zong’an (A Comprehensive Chronological Account of Song Monk Huihong’s Movements and Writings), has referred to several of Huihong’s works in which they appear. Xizu and Benming do not appear in Keyworth’s dissertation. (Xxx check again). Their names are not mentioned in the Sengbao zheng xuzhuan or Jiatai pu denglu biographies of Huihong and Huihong’s Zixu only refers to Xizu implicitly.

[2] Zhou Yukai, Songseng Huihong, p. 13.

[3] Zhou Yukai, Songseng Huihong, p. 39. He does seem to have outlived Huihong, since if he had passed away first, Huihong would have referred to it in his writings. Zhou, p. 249, also makes a reference to Xizu still being alive after Huihong’s death.

[4] The exchanges that occurred while all three were with Kewen is recorded by Xiaoying, Yunwo jitan xxx juan 2. Zhou dates this to the beginning of the year in 1099. For his discussion, see Songseng Huihong, p.39-40. While this is the first appearance of Xizu in Zhou’s chronology, there is evidence to suggest Huihong met Benming over ten years earlier. In memorial for Benming, written in 1117, Huihong states that he and Benming had been friends for thirty-one years, putting their first meeting to 1087, when Huihong was an adolescent studying with Kewen. Huihong’s memorial is entitled, “Ji huanzhu’an Ming shidi wen” 祭幻住庵明師弟文 and can be found in Shimen wenzi chan juan 3. Zhou’s discussion is in Songseng Huihong, p.13.

[5] Xiaoying, Yunwo jitan xxx juan 2. The monk “Yi” refers to a monk whose style name was Wanhui萬回, sometimes referred to as Yi Wanhui, but this full name is lost. See Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p. 39.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Shimen wenzichan juan 30, Ji Yun’an heshang wen 祭雲庵和尚文. Zhou quotes and discusses this event in Songseng Huihong, p. 42. Despite this favorable account of the interaction between Kewen and Huihong, Huihong may have actually been forced to leave Baofeng at this time. See the “Reputation” section of this chapter, p. xxx.

[8] Zhenjing Kewen died on the 16th day of the 10th month of 1102. Zhou estimates that Huihong and his friends didn’t hear about his death until after the 11th month. See Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p. 76.

[9] Huihong, Shimen wenzi chan juan 30 “Yun’an Zhenjing heshang xingzhuang”.

[10] Xie Yi 謝逸, “Hong Juefan Linjian lu xu” 洪覺範林間錄序. See Songseng Huihong, p.121-122 for Zhou Yukai’s quotation and discussion of the preface.

[11] This is the date listed in Xie Yi’s preface (see previous note). Zhou Yukai, Songseng Huihong, pp.121 for Huihong and Xie Yi’s contact at this time.

[12] Huihong, Shimen wenzi chan juan 30, “Ji Huanzhu an Ming shidi wen” 祭幻住庵明師弟文 . Zhou quotes passages from this work in reference to Benming in Songseng Huihong, pp. 185 and 234. The visit is discussed on p. 185. Along with Huihong’s memorial text, Zhou cites Lengzhai yehua juan 10 in the entry “陳瑩中此集食豬肉鱗魚” and Huihong’s Jiyin zixu as also referring to this visit to Hetang Temple in Yunzhou, although neither explicitly mentions Benming.

[13] Shi Huihong, pp. 95-96. Chen’s section on the interactions between Xizu and Huihong can be found on pp. xx-xx. Chen devotes a section to xxx

[14] Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p. 86.

[15] Ibid., 94.

[16] Ibid., 107.

[17] For Xizu’s prison, see Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p.148, and for the correspondence while in exile, see Zhou, p.168. While in exile, Huihong sent Benming a preface in which he described his daily life in Qiongzhou, Hainan Island, and shares the news of his work on the Surangama Sutra. This is discussed in more detail below in the section on Huihong’s exile, p. xxx.

[18] Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p. 234.

[19] Zhou, Songseng Huihong, p. 184 and p. 203.

[20] Lengzhai yehua, juan 4 “五言四句得於天趣”.

[21] Zhou, Songseng Huihong, pp. 237 and 241. In his Zixu Huihong says, “I was planning to go from Xi’an to the Xiang River area and rely on my dharma relatives to live out my old age and live at Yunyan Temple” 將自西安入湘上,依法眷以老,館雲巖 before he was caught up on more political troubles. Zhou, p. 237, dates this to 1118, and states that these “dharma relatives” primarily refer to Xizu who was at Gushan 谷山in Changsha at the time. After his imprisonment in the Nanchang jail in 1118, Huihong does eventually make his way to Gushan, but this is the last reference to a meeting between the two monks in Zhou’s work.

[22] Zhou, Songseng, Huihong, p. 122.

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62) Conclusions Before Content

I don’t know how it keeps happening, but I always seem forced into writing abstracts or summaries of work I haven’t actually finished. Whether it is for conferences or grant proposals, I am always finding myself writing conclusions that I haven’t come to organically because I haven’t gone through the whole process of research and writing. I know this is not unusual in academia, but since it is very difficult for me to make any kind of argument until I’ve written a lot about the material, these abstracts get me tied up in knots. For my presentation at the Center for Chinese Studies at the National Central Library next month, I have to submit an abstract with a Chinese translation asap. But I haven’t actually prepared the paper yet. I’ve tried to come up with something sort of open ended, but that is not easy either. In the end, most of my abstract consists of giving background information that audience members will need in order to better understand my talk. I’ve included my draft below because it gives some general information that some of my readers might find helpful, but also in the hopes of getting some feedback. In the talk I am attempting to combine what I’ve done here in the past 5 months with what I have done previously on specific entries in the LZYH, but I still have a ways to go before I figure out exactly how I am going to do that. I just hope to goodness I can address the subject in the way I propose…

Night Chats with a Maverick Monk: Exploring Huihong’s Miscellany In a Biographical Context

The Northern Song monk Huihong Juefan (1071-1128) was a dharma heir of Zhenjing Kewen in the Linji Chan lineage. He had a long-standing friendship with Huang Tingjian, and was influenced by the writings of Su Shi. Of his numerous works, he is best known for his collection of Tang and Song monk biographies, the Chanlin sengbao zhuan, and his large literary collection, the Shimen wenzichan. He also produced a unique miscellany, the Lengzhai yehua (Late Night Chats from Chilly Hut), a work that, in my view, provides a one-of-a-kind representation of Huihong’s complex persona and the literary-religious world in which he lived. In my dissertation, I utilize a combination of literary analysis and cultural studies to reveal the rich tapestry of culture, religion, and social interaction seen in Huihong’s life and in his miscellany.

Although miscellanies appeared prior to the Song, once Ouyang Xiu compiled his miscellany Guitianlu in 1067, an unprecedented number of writers, both eminent literati and obscure officials alike, began publishing miscellanies. The flexibility and informality of the form allowed for a freedom of expression not available in traditional genres such as poetry and prose. The miscellany during the Song became a forum for sharing newly acquired information, social news, personal experiences, and opinions. An author could explore and share interests and ideas that were too unconventional, controversial, fragmented, or underdeveloped to fit into his other writings.

Prior to Huihong, however, monks rarely wrote miscellanies. Chan monks, for whom even writing in traditional genres was problematic, did not engage in a form considered too trivial to be included in literary collections. This is why Huihong’s case is so intriguing. He didn’t merely try his hand at the form by composing a few juan of miscellany pieces; he churned out over 150 separate entries, enough to fill ten juan. In subject matter, Huihong’s work is also unique for a Chan monk. In his entries on poetics and poets, he demonstrates keen analytical skills and a Chan-infused aesthetic sensitivity. His numerous anecdotes depict a wide-range of characters from all echelons of society, including monks, literati, officials, Taoists, beggars, and even the occasional concubine. Reading the Lengzhai yehua is like being invited to join in the leisurely “Night Chats” between “Chilly Hut” (one of Huihong’s pseudonyms) and his friends. We are treated to accounts of life in the Northern Song as viewed through the eyes of an articulate monk who was steeped in Chan and had a lively sense of humor.

During my time at the Center for Chinese Studies, I’ve focused on translating biographical material and composing a topical biography of Huihong. I’ve found that much like the miscellany he produced, Huihong’s life was discursive, full of contradiction, and viewed with a mix of admiration and criticism. Unlike existing chronological approaches, my biography aims to help clarify the different aspects of Huihong’s life by discussing them separately, as topics. This topical biography has helped illuminate underlying issues and themes raised in the Lengzhai yehua. As I will show in my presentation, a close reading within the context of Huihong’s life story highlights several reoccurring motifs that tie this discursive work together and help to suggest reasons why the form appealed to a monk like Huihong.

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61) Poems of Imprisonment

Huihong’s troubles with the law didn’t begin until 1109, after he’d been in robes for nineteen years. Although he’d been asked to leave the monastery of his teacher Kewen, there is no record that anyone had questioned his monastic credentials up until this point, notwithstanding the unorthodox way he had obtained his leaving home name.  But just after beginning his appointment as abbot of Qingliang Temple, he was faced with a series of accusations and incarcerations that continued for the next ten years, only settling down around 1119.

Huihong’s imprisonments and exile have been discussed previously. Here I want to turn to two poems Huihong wrote upon his first, and longest, imprisonment.

After being thrown in jail, Huihong wrote a gatha verse and a regulated verse poem 律詩 demonstrating how he attempted to view the dire conditions with the detachment and wisdom of a seasoned Buddhist monk.  Poetic composition becomes a way to depict, perhaps even foster, a quintessential Buddhist approach to dire circumstances while simultaneously emphasizing the severity of those circumstances.

The gatha, “Upon First Entering the Imperial Prison”, 《初入制院》makes references to the Jingangjing (Diamond Sutra). It begins with the line, “a mind that fixates on nothing” 無所住新, a paraphrase of the famous line in the Jingangjing that so impressed the 6th Patriarch Huineng. Huihong’s continues with the suggestion that an appreciation for the idea in the first line will allow one to live out their remaining years to the sound of a crystal clear song (空絃閑妙指 not sure about this).  The poem ends with an almost formulaic instruction on how to stay unperturbed no matter what you face:
了知空花間  Understanding the empty flowers in space,
無地容生死  There is nowhere that holds birth and death.
In short, the verse is suggesting that if your mind does not attach to anything, you can enjoy leisure even while in jail, singing out your remaining days even without accompaniment. If you see the illusory mirages (“flowers”) for what they are, empty, then birth and death won’t affect you wherever you are.

Although there is no mention of prison in the verse, the title frames the following instructions in the context of imprisonment. The Buddhist concepts are weaved in as an exhortation to see the fundamental illusory nature of the place, and therefore mentally transcend the restrictions and dangers it holds.

“Upon Entering the Imperial Penitentiary at Jinling” 金陵初入制院, Huihong’s poem written at this time, has a similar title and serves a similar function to the verse, but takes more literary license. It makes more specific references to his imprisonment, and not only expresses the author’s ability to see the situation in terms of Buddhist principles, but portrays him as successfully achieving a sense of freedom as a result of putting those principles into practice.

Before looking at the poem, a little background information is needed. In the first half of the poem, Huihong makes an analogy between himself and a renowned Southern Liang Dynasty 南朝梁 monk who happened to be incarcerated in the same prison centuries before. The monk, Baozhi 寶誌 (written as “保誌” in the Gaoseng zhuan), was eccentric and remarkable.

Huihong recorded Baozhi’s unusual characteristics and remarkable behavior at great length in another work, a biography. He called him “Great Bodhisattva Monk Baozhi of the Liang.”[《鍾山道林真覺大師傳》SMWZC Juan 30 vol. 2:p. 1697 of Zhang Bowei’s edition] . According to Huihong, Baozhi was found as a baby in a bird’s nest. He had a squarish face that was bright like a mirror, and birds’ talons for feet and hands. He became a temple boy at age seven and after he grew up solely practiced Chan. Eventually he became a wondering monk, letting his hair grow and walking around barefoot. Children would chase after him. Sometimes he’d beg for ale and food, at other times he’d go for days without eating. Huihong includes several stories demonstrating that the monk had super natural powers. Once Baozhi begged some mincemeat from a fish seller. The man gave him some, but silently laughed at him, whereupon Huihong stood up, spit up what he’d eaten, which then became a pool of (live) fish. Like Huihong, Baozhi frequently wrote poetry. At first no one could make any sense of his poems, but later they proved prophetic. 時時題詩初不可曉後皆有驗. Tales about him were passed around causing amazement. 相傳始驚 (?)

Rumor of Baozhi’s bizarre behavior reached the prime minister who told Emperor Wudi about him. But after he performed the miraculous feat of turning noodles into a twelve-headed Guanyin and people started clamoring to serve him, Wudi became fed up with actions that he saw as “confusing the masses” 忿其惑眾, so Baozhi was incarcerated in the Jiankang Prison, the same prison, hundreds of years later, where Huihong finds himself.  But not only was Baozhi’s spirit unaffected, he was said to have miraculously kept his physical freedom. After being locked up, he was soon seen wandering about town. Upon inspection, however, he was found in sitting in his cell.  One night he told the guard, “Outside there are two golden alms bowls full of food; you can go get them.” Sure enough, it turned out that Prince Wenhui King Jingling had sent some food over to Jiankang as an offering. 建元間異跡甚著丞相高嵩為武帝言之以禮自皖山迎至都舍於陳征虜之家輒自釐其面分披之出十二首觀世音慈嚴妙麗傾都聚觀欲爭尊事之武帝忿其惑眾收付建康獄旦夕咸見游行市里既而檢校猶在獄中其夜又語吏門外有兩輿金缽盛飯汝可取之果文惠太子竟陵王送供至建康。

Rather than making an explicit analogy between himself and Baozhi, Huihong cleverly weaves his allusion by effectively placing several references to the monk. First, he refers to being thrown into the Jiankang Prison “as before.” The Jiankang prison was the former name of the Jinling prison where Huihong now finds himself. Since this is Huihong’s first incarceration, the “as before” signals a precedent where a monk was put in the Jiankang prison.  This line signals the similarities between Huihong’s circumstances and those of the incarcerated monk Baozhi. Baozhi had children running after him; Huihong has children teasing him. Huihong sends a message for them to stop their teasing, reminding them that “the Great Hero”, a term for a Bodhisattva but here meaning Baozhi or someone with his abilities, can “play around with division bodies”, a reference to Baozhi’s ability to freely roam about outside the jail while still appearing in his cell. Using the associated stories of this imprisoned monk, in the first half of the poem Huihong establishes himself as undaunted and unrestrained by the prison walls that surrounds him. In the second half of the poem, Huihong more abstractly displays his enlightened mental state as he contemplates his circumstances with the detachment of a Chan practitioner. The full poem reads,

依然收付建康獄,As before, taken into custody at Jiankang Pen,
拴索瓏璁驚市人。My ropes and knots in a tangled mass shock the townspeople.
寄語小兒休嬲相,Send a message to the children: stop teasing me,
未妨大士戲分身。You can’t keep a Great Hero from playing around with division bodies.
懶於夢境分能所,I find no interest in distinguishing between subject and object amidst a dream-state. 
枉把情緣比客塵。It’s futile to compare guest-dust with emotional ties .
笑視死生無可揀,Laughingly, I regard life and death: no choice to be had,
目前刀鋸若為神。The knives and saws I see in front of me: what potency can they have?
SMWZC juan 11

To understand the level of insight Huihong portrays, some technical terms need to be explained. Understanding existence as a “dream-state” is a basic Buddhist perspective on the illusory and transient nature of life in the world. Living in this dream, it is pointless to go on distinguishing between “subject and object” (nengsuo 能所). Nengsuo is a Buddhist technical term used to refer to many different renditions of subject and object relationships. The term can refer to sense organs and the objects of the senses, practitioner and practice, host and dependent, mendicant and donor, and host and his guests. The relationship between subject and object is no different than that which exists between between “principle and function or cause and effect; thus the saying, ‘subject and object are one substance'” 能與所具有相即不離與體用因果之關係,故稱能所一體 [Foguang dacidian “能所” p. 4966]

Huihong’s line,  “It’s futile to compare guest-dust with emotional ties” seems to be referring to the host-guest variation of “subject and object” idea in which, “The host who knows (people) is referred to as the ‘subject who makes ties’ (nengyuan); the guest who is known is referred to as “the object of those ties”認識之主體,稱為能緣;其被認識之客體,稱為所緣.[Ibid]. In other words, the concept of “yuan” ties/affinities is integral to the host-guest relationship. Understanding that subject and object, in all its renditions, are ultimate of one substance, Huihong not only sees that making a distinction between them is futile, but even more pointless is to waste time making comparisons between all the different renditions of objects, in this case the “guest” and “emotional ties.”

Birth and death are just another type of false duality, so what choice (between them) is there really? Why grasp at life or run away from death? In this state of mind, even the implements of torture Huihong sees before him have no potency for him.

Even though Huihong comes across in his poem as undaunted, he also includes plenty of details that indicate just how dire were his circumstances. He is tied up in a mass of robes; the torture implements lying around remind him of those described in the hells; prisoners regularly faced death. He does not talk about injustice, even though we know he saw the charges he received as unfounded. Instead he views his situation using what he might have called the “dharma eye”: using proximity to birth and death, “The Great Matter,” to see through false distinctions. Is he using poetry to transform negative emotions (horror, fear, a sense of wrongful punishment) into a contemplative practice? It is reasonable to believe that the poems had both a practical and literary function for Huihong: he was better able to deal with difficult circumstances by writing poems in which he portrayed himself as successfully viewing difficulty as an illusion.


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60) Shifu or Showoff? Two Southern Song Biographies of Huihong

In discussing select biographical topics on Huihong, I am primarily relying on three Song Dynasty biographies: “The Autobiographical Note of Still Sound” (Jiyin zixu 寂音自序) written by Huihong five years before his death in 1128, and two biographies written by Southern Song monks. Although there are also Yuan and Ming Dynasty biographies of Huihong, I have intentionally avoided using these in order to focus on how Huihong was represented during or near the time when he lived, and thus show who he was both in his own eyes and from the viewpoint of monks who lived shortly after him. These three sources are supplemented with autobiographical references from Huihong’s literary collection Shimen wenzi chan, and Southern Song lay writers mentioned by Chen Zili and Zhou Yukai in their respective works on Huihong.

The two Southern Song biographies in question are “The Biography of Dhyana Master Mingbai Hong” 明白洪禪師傳 included in Zuxiu’s 租琇 Sengbao zhengxu zhuan, and Zhengshou’s “Dhyana Master Jiyin Huihong of Qingliang [Temple] in Yunzhou” recorded in his Jiaqin pu denglu. The latter biographer, Zhengshou, was born in 1147, just nineteen years after Huihong passed away. The dates of the former, Zuxiu, are unknown, (at least I have been unable to find anything definite). But by means of the fact that Zhengshou makes an explicit correction to Zuxiu’s biogrpahy, we do know that the latter was written first. In any case, these two lamp history biographies were both written just one generation after Huihong, and Zuxiu could have been alive during Huihong’s lifetime. Compared with the later Ming Xu Chuandeng lu biography of Huihong, they are short (add character count).  Both seem to draw on Huihong’s “Autobiographical Note” for basic facts such as locations, travels, and teachers. Typical of lamp histories, both give basic facts about birthplace, death, and a list of the monk’s written works. But in nearly every other particular, from social interaction to assessment of talents, they read as if they might be the biographies of two different monks.

The biography by Zuxiu, the earlier of the two, is particularly interesting. As much as he praises Huihong for his remarkable literary talents and contribution to Buddhist scholarship, Zuxiu does not shy away from suggesting that Huihong’s outspokenness, arrogance, and tendency to criticize others may have helped bring on his many political troubles, despite his innocence of any real crimes. Throughout an otherwise positive account, there is a theme of Huihong’s quick wit as both his ticket for success and the bane of his existence.

Near the beginning of the biography, Zuxiu tells the story of a missing painting of an arhat (yingzhen 應真) that finds its way back to the temple after Huihong mocks it in a poem. It is likely that Zuxiu obtained this story from Huihong’s own account in the LZYH, but he adds a piece of information that Huihong leaves out: “It was said that the arhat came back for fear of being mocked by the Venerable One!” This is the first personal anecdote that Zuxiu relates, and it sets up the subtle theme of Huihong’s potency with words. Zuxiu goes on to state in a matter-of-fact manner the monk’s unfortunate political troubles and accusations. In quoting Huihong’s “Inscription on Mingbai Hut”, Zuxiu demonstrates that Huihong was aware of his shortcomings:

My worldly bonds are heavy, and my accumulated habits bind me up. I like to discuss order and chaos, rights and wrongs, and successes and failures of the past and the present. Most of my friends ridicule me for it, only Chen Yingzhong says… 予世緣深重。夙習羈縻。好論古今治亂是非成敗。交游多譏訶之。獨陳瑩中曰。。。

Huihong continues with the verse Chen Guan wrote for him in which his friend seems to provide an excuse for Huihong’s habits. (I still need to figure out this part, but Zuxiu’s inclusion of it seems to be meant to demonstrate Huihong’s awareness of and struggle with his problematic habits.)

Zuxiu does not only dwell on Huihong’s worldly talents and problems. He is careful to show that Huihong was also an adept monk, a monk who was versed in both Chan discourse and the texts of the more scholastic schools of Buddhism:

As for his engagement with Chan and the Teachings, his discourse was remarkably fine and thorough. His talents were truly lofty. Dhyana Master Yuanwu [Keqin] considered his brush tip endowed with expedient means that have no equal. 至於出入禪教。議論精博。其才實高。圜悟禪師以為筆端具大辯才。不可及也。

Besides mentioning Huihong’s master in the beginning, this is the only reference to Huihong’s primary teacher, Kewen. But it is interesting to note that he emphasizes Kewen’s praise of the monk’s “expedient means,” i.e. his literary abilities as they manifest in service of the Dharma.

When Zuxiu includes reference to his interaction with literati, he describes Huihong in all his loquacious and charismatic glory. Using what is one of my favorite image of Huihong, Zuxiu relates,

“In company with elite gentlemen, his discussions would go on and on. Even in large crowds, he was sure to be the life of the party.”與士大夫游。議論袞袞。雖稠人廣座。至必奮席.

He also relates Huang Tingjian’s admiration for Huihong’s poems, and records Prime Minister Zhang Shangying’s unparalleled praise of the monk: “A truly exceptional figure in all the world, a remarkable person among the sages of the Song” 蓋天下之英物。聖宋之異人. This is high praise indeed, but Zuxiu follows it with his final assessment of the monk, a critique that gives us a nuanced picture of both his facilities and flaws.

But, [despite this praise], those lofty monks of ancient times who became known in the world by means of their talent and learning, although many were nearly on par with Juefan, it was definitely the case that only after they also became a pure example of integrity were they considered flawless. [[Is he suggesting that Huihong may NOT have been both a literary talent AND a pure example? It seems so.] ]

When Juefan was young he returned to the Buddha’s retinue, and as an adult, he read all the various books in depth. When we consider his output of sutra commentaries, they greatly assisted the monastery. He was extremely diligent in this [endeavor], his hand never stopping for a moment, so that his words filled the entire land. Falling into difficulties, he donned Confucian clothing, and managed to stay alive after escaping nine deaths. [I.e. like a cat with nine lives!]. After nearly twenty years [of this], he shaved his head again, never uttering a word of protest against the Buddha or altering his resolve. He was able to do this because he was a wise person. However, because he was adept at critiquing the ancients, but rather inept when it came to conducting himself (然工呵古人。而拙於用己), he couldn’t keep himself out of harms way. Rather smug about his strict adherence to the precepts, he was accused several times for crimes he was not guilty of. If his pride in his talents was just too overbearing, perhaps he brought these [difficulties] upon himself? He once said, “I don’t recognize subtle portents; I do not excel in the practice of the Dao” 道不勝習 (or does this mean “In my practicing of the Dao, I have not overcome my habits”?). This is not only a truthful account of [Hui]hong, but it also reveals how he fooled himself. Such a pity!  然古之高僧。以才學名世。殆與覺範並驅者多矣。必以清標懿範相資而後美也。覺範少歸釋氏。長而博極群書。觀其發揮經論。光輔叢林。孜孜焉。 手不停綴。而言滿天下。及陷于難。著逢掖。出九死而僅生。垂二十年。重削髮。無一辭叛佛而改圖。 此其為賢者也。 然工呵古人。而拙於用己。 不能全身遠害。峻戒節以自高。數陷無辜之罪。抑其恃才。暴耀太過。而自取之邪。嘗自謂。識不知微。道不勝習者。不獨為洪實錄。亦以見其自欺焉。惜哉!

In Zuxiu’s eyes, Huihong is a remarkable figure, resilient and diligent; he just has one fault: he doesn’t hide his awareness of his own abilities. He comes across as a bit of a showoff, and Zuxiu suspects that it is this quality that contributes to the onslaught of accusations for extraneous crimes. Certain people found him overbearing or annoying, or just too darn talented for his own good, and they were quick to find crimes they could accuse him of just to get him out of the way. And they succeeded, but only temporarily. Although trials, jail sentences, and exile were stressful and frustrating for Huihong, ultimately he didn’t let them faze his resolve for accomplishing what he deemed most important: living the life of a monk and writing.

I am not sure what Zuxiu is referring to when he says we can see Huihong fooling himself in his statement that “I don’t recognize subtle portents; I do not excel in the practice of the Dao.” Does he mean Huihong deceived himself because despite being aware of such faults, he didn’t do anything to change them? He didn’t pay more attention to signs (of trouble ahead) or work on overcoming the habits that obstructed the Dao? (I am more and more convinced that “道不勝習” means “not overcome habits in walking the Dao,” but I am still not certain. In any case, this statement should have some relation to the previous one about not recognizing subtle omens. The lines are from part of Huihong’s “Inscription on Mingbai’s Hut” that Zuxiu quotes in its entirety earlier in the biography.)

Zhengshou’s biography of Huihong gives a different picture of the monk. It focuses on Huihong’s instruction to his disciples, both lay and monastic. It is the biography of a “Shifu”, a monastic teacher tirelessly engaging in dynamic discussion with his disciples relying heavily on the sutras in his lessons. There is no mention of political troubles or problems with interpersonal relations. He doesn’t even mention the issue with Huihong’s unconventional acquisition of an ordination name. After giving a short account of the usual preliminaries of Huihong’s early life, not differing much from Zuxiu’s beginning except he leaves out the “appropriation of name” issue and makes an explicit correction to Huihong’s lay family name, Zhengshou delves into an account of Huihong’s pivotal interaction with his teacher, Kewen. Where Zuxiu told the more unconventional story of the missing arhat, Zhengshou provides the trope common in lamp histories of Chan student demonstrating his understanding to his teacher. Yet, here too, we see Huihong’s literary abilities demonstrated, albeit through the more acceptable form of Chan verse. Huihong shows his profound grasp of a case that Kewen raises in order to dispel the doubts that he thinks Huihong must have on account of his extensive learning.  The case Kewen alludes to includes a verse. Huihong responds with a verse that makes allusions to the original verse. I have not found the text with the original record of the case, and I am still trying to understand exactly what is being said, but it is clear that Huihong dispels his teacher’s concern for him. In fact, Kewen is quite pleased with Huihong’s response, and has Huihong’s verse recorded in the Hall.

Not long after this, [Huihong] went to pay his respects to various senior [monks] and his worth was recognized by them all. It was from this point that his fame reverberated throughout the monasteries.

Zhengshou’s introduction to Huihong is a demonstration of Huihong’s unequivocal abilities as a Chan monk. His literary aptitude is never explicitly remarked upon, although evident in the exchange.

The biography goes on to quote Huihong’s use of the Surangama Sutra to teach the assembly. I have not read this part closely, but it seems mostly to be quoting a passage about the origin and function of the six sense organs. Zhengshou also mentions a passage from the Dazhi dulun (calling Shiying!) that Huihong used in his teachings.

Next, Zhengshou gives a detailed account of Zhang Shangying’s interaction with certain monks and with Huihong in particular. He doesn’t quote the lines of praise that Zhang used to describe Huihong, as Zuxiu did, but he shows that Zhang was quite impressed with Huihong’s responses to his questions. For his final assessment, Zhengshou gives the prestigious monk Dahui Zonggao’s early interaction with Huihong.

When Dahui was living with the assembly, he drew near and relied on him. He always admired [Huihong’s] extraordinary awakening and expedient wisdom. 大慧禪師處眾日。嘗親依之。每欽其妙悟辨慧.

The difference in these two biographies may stem from various factors. The collection that each of them is found in needs to be looked at in order to get a sense of the conventions used by their respective authors. Does Zhengshou avoid critique in all of his biographies in the Jiatai pu denglu, for example? The way Chan and literature were viewed when each were written may also be a factor. Perhaps by the time Zhengshou was writing, the issues around a Chan monk being also a brilliant writer were not as extreme as in Zuxiu’s time. Further understanding of the lamp history literature is needed before making an accurate statement about the reasons why the accounts dwell on such different material.

Although these two accounts of Huihong are very different, they don’t actually contradict each other very much. While Zhengshou never explicitly mentions Huihong’s worldly troubles, neither does he deny them; while Zuxiu never gives accounts of Huihong’s teachings, there are plenty of references to the monk’s expertise in Buddhist scholarship, and his account gives a very clear picture of Huihong as a charismatic orator. What I appreciate about Zuxiu’s account is that it gives a picture of Huihong as a very human figure. While his literary talents might be “heaven sent” 師之才章, 蓋天稟然, he was, like the rest of us, not without a few flaws. The difficulties he faced, both internally and externally,  make his accomplishments all the more impressive.

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