2 of 6

Developing a Chan monastic system

Buddhist monasteries had long been governed by
 a set of rules known as the vinaya, inherited from the Buddhism of India. Although the Chinese Buddhist schools were almost all Mahayana in origin, they seem to have followed the monastic rules of Theravada Buddhism, since the latter were clearer and more easily understood. Baizhang decided to merge the two sets of rules and from them to devise a new set of guidelines specifically for Chan, thereby creating a code of monastic discipline that eventually would rule Zen behavior throughout the world.

Although it is difficult to say exactly what was the nature of the rules Baizhang formulated, since his original precepts have been recast a number of times down through the years, his emphasis on the creation of a self-supporting monastic establishment was, in a sense, a further sinicization of Indian Buddhism through the rejection of begging as the primary means of support.

A day without work is a day without food.

The monasteries were intended to survive on their own, since Baizhang insisted that meditation and worship be integrated with physical labor. Whereas the ideal Indian holy man was one who relied on begging, Baizhang believed that in China it was holier to work for a living. This was the core of his teachings, as symbolized in his famous manifesto: "A day without work is a day without food." Nothing could have been more sympathetically received among the Chinese, and Baizhang practiced what he preached, toiling in the fields even when he reached old age.

It is worth noting that the monasteries of early Chan are said not to have had a Buddha hall or a place for worship; rather they had only a Dharma or lecture hall, in which the master gave a talk, followed by sharp exchanges with his disciples, who often were rowdy and sometimes left at will to demonstrate their independence of mind. These were places-of irreverence and unfettered intellectual inquiry, and apparently there was no enforced study of the traditional Buddhist literature. With monasteries of their own where they could do as they pleased, the Chan masters found their rebellion complete. Theirs now was an unhampered search for the perennial philosophy.