How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China
304pp. April 2010
How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China
Author: Schlutter, Morten;
How Zen Became Zen takes a novel approach to understanding one of the most crucial developments in Zen Buddhism: the dispute over the nature of enlightenment that erupted within the Chinese Chan (Zen) school in the twelfth century. The famous Linji (Rinzai) Chan master Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163) railed against "heretical silent illumination Chan" and strongly advocated kanhua (koan) meditation as an antidote. In this fascinating study, Morten Schlütter shows that Dahui’s target was the Caodong (Soto) Chan tradition that had been revived and reinvented in the early twelfth century, and that silent meditation was an approach to practice and enlightenment that originated within this "new" Chan tradition. Schlütter has written a refreshingly accessible account of the intricacies of the dispute, which is still reverberating through modern Zen in both Asia and the West. Dahui and his opponents’ arguments for their respective positions come across in this book in as earnest and relevant a manner as they must have seemed almost nine hundred years ago.

Although much of the book is devoted to illuminating the doctrinal and soteriological issues behind the enlightenment dispute, Schlütter makes the case that the dispute must be understood in the context of government policies toward Buddhism, economic factors, and social changes. He analyzes the remarkable ascent of Chan during the first centuries of the Song dynasty, when it became the dominant form of elite monastic Buddhism, and demonstrates that secular educated elites came to control the critical transmission from master to disciple ("procreation" as Schlütter terms it) in the Chan School.

2 illus.

Studies in East Asian Buddhism Series
Published in association with the Kuroda Institute
“Having challenged established ideas and provided insights into the development of Song Chan traditions, this book will serve as a vital point of departure for future Chan studies. It is an important book that specialists of East Asian Buddhism and Chinese intellectual history can ill afford to ignore. It will be required reading for all students of Chan/Zen. I would also recommend this book, written clearly and in an engaging style, to nonspecialists who might be interested in the topic.” —China Review International (16:4, 2009)

"[This] book has much to say to scholars of Song institutional and intellectual history as well as to those who study Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan." —Journal of Asian Studies (68:4, November 2009)

"Its solid, sophisticated, and original research is undeniably outstanding. Schlütter presents us with many innovative and insightful observations and conclusions on the doctrinal and soteriological issues behind the enlightenment dispute, which greatly enhance our understanding of the development of Song Chan Buddhism. His exhaustive search and use of all available, relevant primary materials and well-crafted application of philological and sociohistorical approaches are especially remarkable. Theachievements of this excellent work will serve to inspire the field for many years to come." —H-Buddhism (October 2009)

"How Zen Became Zen is thoughtprovoking, and it clarifies and deepens our understanding of a lively, influential time in the history of Zen. Where it challenges some of the tradition’s narrative about itself, we should welcome the illumination." —Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (spring 2009)

"This is an important book that will significantly contribute to our knowledge of Song-dynasty Buddhism. It joins a growing body of work that seeks to place the development of Buddhism (and particularly Chan) within its broader social and cultural history. Schlütter’s research into a wide range of source materials is meticulous and thorough. Because of the important connections he draws among the state, independent (or local) literati, and Buddhist monks, this work has the potential to appeal to a wide audience of scholars beyond the field of Buddhism, including social, institutional, and intellectual historians of the Song." —Ellen Neskar, Sarah Lawrence College

"Scholars have been telling each other for years that it was during the Song dynasty in China (960–1279) that Zen, or Chan, Buddhism achieved its true ‘golden age,’ but it is only with Morten Schlütter’s wonderful new book that we get an explanation of how this was actually so. Based on very thorough and in many ways groundbreaking new research, Schlütter weaves an intricate and convincing fabric of relationships between Chan approaches to meditation and self-cultivation, styles of lineage transmission and monastic administration, and interaction with lay leaders and political systems. This book is a delightful read book that will form a cornerstone of Chan studies for years to come."—John McRae, author of The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chan Buddhism and Seeing through Zen

Author: Schlutter, Morten;
Morten Schlütter is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa.
Read the introduction (PDF).