Dongshan and Caoshan

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The Linji and Caodong schools

The ultimate concern of both Linji and Caodong doctrines was enlightenment. The difference was that Caodong masters believed quiet mediation was the way, rather than the mind-shattering techniques of Linji. Caodong (Soto Zen) strives to sooth the spirit rather than deliberately instigate psychic turmoil, as sometime the Linji (Rinzai). The aim is to be in the world but not of it; to occupy the physical world but transcend it mentally.

A British scholar, Sir Charles Eliot, suggests as well that whereas Linji "regards the knowledge of the Buddha nature . . . as an end in itself, all-satisfying and all engrossing" the [Caodong] . . . held that it is necessary to have enlightenment after enlightenment, that is to say that the inner illumination must display itself in a good life." Caodong, he suggests, took an interest in what you do, in distinction to Linji's focus on inner wisdom.

As we will see in the next module, today the Caodong/Soto sect is differentiated from the Linji/Rinzai primarily by its methods for teaching novices. There is no disagreement about the goal, merely about the path. Caodong's real contribution was essentially to revive the approach of Northern Chan, with its stress on meditation, intellectual inquiry, stages of enlightenment, and the idea that Chan is not entirely inner-directed but may also have some place in the world at large. This is the real achievement of Caodong, and the quality that enabled it to survive and become Soto.