Shen-hui and the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment in Early Ch'an Buddhism

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Shen-hui and the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment in Early Ch'an Buddhism
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Citation: McRae, John R. "Shen-hui and the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment in Early Ch'an Buddhism." In Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Buddhist Thought, edited by Peter N. Gregory, 227–78. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991. First published 1987 by University of Hawai'i Press.

Abstract

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The field of Ch'an studies has seen some very lively disputes over the course of the twentieth century, but there has been general agreement on the proposition that the doctrine of sudden enlightenment represents the highest expression of the doctrinal mainstream of early Chinese Ch’an Buddhism. Although there is some quibbling regarding details and specific interpretations, scholars working in this field often describe the history of the doctrine of sudden enlightenment within Ch’an in terms of three subjects: (1) Hui-neng’s doctrine of sudden enlightenment as shown in his "mind verse" (hsin-chieh) in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Liu-tsu t'an-ching); (2) Shen-hui’s campaign in opposition to the gradual teaching of the Northern school and in support of the public recognition of Hui-neng as sixth patriarch; and (3) the continuation of the spirit of Hui-neng in the teachings and religious practice of Ma-tsu, Shih-t'ou, and the later Ch’an tradition
      Research done in recent years has shown that the traditional interpretations of these three subjects are all substantially incorrect, although the implications of these findings have not yet been fully realized. The history of early Ch'an is in the process o f being thoroughly rewritten, but it is already clear that the doctrine of sudden enlightenment and the dispute between the sudden and gradual teachings should no longer be used as yardsticks by which the religious message of Ch'an and its widespread acceptance in T'ang dynasty China are understood. (McRae, "Shen-hui and the Teaching of Sudden Enlightenment in Early Ch'an Buddhism," 227)