Rinzai Gigen

Linji Yixuan
Japanese painting of Linji Yixuan (Jap. Rinzai Gigen).
School Ch'an
Born unknown
Died 866 CE
Senior posting
Title Ch'an Master
Religious career
Teacher Huangbo Xiyun

Linji Yixuan (simplified Chinese: 临济义玄; traditional Chinese: 臨濟義玄; pinyin: Línjì Yìxuán; Wade–Giles: Lin-chi I-hsüan; Japanese: Rinzai Gigen; died 866 CE) was the founder of the Linji school of Chán Buddhism during Tang Dynasty China.

Línjì yü lu

Information on Linji is based on the Línjì yü lu (臨済錄; Japanese: Rinzai-roku) the record of Linji. The standard form of these sayings was not completed until 250 years after Linji's death and likely reflect the teaching of Chán in the linji-school at the beginning of the Song Dynasty rather than those of Linji's in particular.[1]

The contains stories of his interactions with teachers, contemporaries, and students. The recorded lectures are a mixture of the conventional and the iconoclastic. Despite the iconoclasm, the Linji yü lu reflects a thorough knowledge of the sutras. Linji's teaching-style, as recorded in the Linji yü lu, was exemplary of the development Chán took in the Hongzhou school (洪州宗) of Mazu and his successors, such as Huangbo, Linji's teacher.[2]

The Línjì yü lu is an example of the encounter-dialogue genre which emerged during the Tang Dynasty. Together with the lineage charts and the koan-collections it became a central part of the literary genres sustaining the Traditional Zen Narrative, portraying eccentric shouting teachers beating their students, uttering incomprehensible koans.[2] Though this image appeals to the modern western reader[3], its development was part of the position Chán held during the Song Dynasty as dominant, and state-controlled form of religion. It was instrumental in upholding the claim of being the true Buddhist teaching[4][5], but also functional in 'expressing the inexpressible'.[4]


According to the Línjì yü lu, Linji was born into a family named Xing (邢) in Caozhou (modern Heze in Shandong), which he left at a young age to study Buddhism in many places.

Also according to the Línjì yü lu, Linji was trained by the Chan master Huángbò Xīyùn (黃蘗希運), but attained kensho while discussing Huángbò's teaching during a conversation with the reclusive monk Dàyú (大愚). Linji then returned to Huángbò to continue his training after awakening. In 851 CE, Linji moved to the Linji temple in Hebei, where he took his name, which also became the name for the lineage of his form of Chán Buddhism.

Linji's teaching style

Main articles: Zen and Chinese Chán


Linji is reputed for being iconoclastic, leading students to awakening by hitting and shouting.[2]

The methods ascribed to Linji in the Linji yü lu included shouting and striking, most often using the fly-whisk that was considered a symbol of a Chán master's authority:

The Master [Linji] saw a monk coming and held his fly whisk straight up. The monk made a low bow, whereupon the Master struck him a blow. The Master saw another monk coming and again held his fly whisk straight up. The monk paid no attention, whereupon the Master struck him a blow as well.[6]

Examples of Linji's iconoclasm include the following:

Followers of the Way [of Chán], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.[7]

The buddhist teachings are assaulted in fierce comments:

Those who have fulfilled the ten stages of bodhisattva practice are no better than hired field hands; those who have attained the enlightenment of the fifty-first and fifty-second stages are prisoners shackled and bound; arhats and pratyekabuddhas are so much filth in the latrine; bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts for donkeys.[8]

Three Mysterious Gates

Chán faced the challenge of expressing its teachings of "suchness" without getting stuck into words or concepts. The alleged use of shouting and beating was instrumental in this non-conceptual expression - after the students were well-educated in the Buddhist tradition.[9]

Linji is described as using The Three Mysterious Gates to maintain the Chán emphasis on the nonconceptual nature of reality, while employing sutras and teachings to instruct his students:[9]

  1. The First Gate is the "mystery in the essence"[10], the use of Buddhist philosophy, such as Yogacara to explain the interpenetration of all phenomena.
  2. The Second Gate is the "mystery in the word"[10], using the Hua Tou[lower-alpha 1] for "the process of gradually disentangling the students from the conceptual workings of the mind".[10]
  3. The Third Gate is the "mystery in the mystery"[10], "involving completely nonconceptual expressions such as striking or shouting, which are intended to remove all of the defects implicit in conceptual understanding".[10]

References in popular culture

The titular story of Volume 2 of Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima's manga comic Lone Wolf and Cub revolves around Linji's saying "if you meet a buddha, kill the buddha," in which the protagonist must overcome his self to assassinate a living buddha.

See also



Written references



Further reading

External links

  • Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 47, No. 1985 The Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association online Chinese character text of The Record of Linji (臨濟録 Linji Lu)
  • Japanese translation of Linji
  • The record of Linji. Translation by Ruth Fuller Sasaki, and introduction by Yanagida Seizan
  • The Zen Teaching of Rinzai (a.k.a. The Record of Rinzai) Translation by Irmgard Schloegel Text
Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Huangbo Xiyun
Rinzai Zen patriarch Succeeded by
Xinghua Cunjiang

Template:Navbox Zen

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