Ch'an Masters: Patriarchs and other great Zen masters of ancient China
"What Is Spiritual
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Presented by Poetry
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The Teachings of Sudden Illumination
By the CH'AN MASTERS in ancient China
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Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Gautama Buddha's teaching on
sudden illumination from India to China circa 530 AD. Hui-neng identified
him as the twenty-eighth patriarch or successor to the transmission of the
dharma (teaching, law, way) descending from Gautama Buddha, and the
first patriarch in China. After Bodhidharma came Hui K'o, who was succeeded
by Seng-Ts'an, Tao-hsin, Hung-jen, and then Hui-neng. These six men are
considered the Grand Masters or Patriarchs of Ch'an.
By the time Hui-neng became enlightened, the dhyana (meditation) sect
had already split into two branches, with the school in northern China, and
its teaching that the process of enlightenment is gradual, flourishing for a
while under royal patronage.
After Hui-neng's death in 713 AD the southern school, with its emphasis on
sudden illumination, continued to be very active. Among those Ch'an-na
(Chinese pronunciation of dhyana) or Ch'an masters, Ma Tsu was one of
the most important. Hui Hai became a student of Ma Tsu, eventually being
referred to by the master as a "great pearl."
Huang Po was fourth in direct line of descent from Hui-neng, dying as late as
850 AD after transmitting the wordless dharma to Lin Chi, who founded
the Zen (Japanese pronunciation of Ch'an) school that still flourishes in
Japan under the Japanese pronunciation of his name, Rinzai.
The directory to the left will take you to the inspiring teachings of many of
these Ch'an masters. See the "Maximum Systems" page on the Self-Discovery
Portal for common denominators between Ch'an and other systems aimed at