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Daoxin: Creating a Chinese religion

The new sophistication, urbanization, and political stability that marked the Tang dynasty was reflected in the change in Chan—from a concern chiefly of nomadic dhyana teachers hiding in the mountains to the focus of settled agricultural communities centered in monasteries.

The growth in Chan toward an established place in Chinese life began to consolidate under the Fourth Ancestor, Dayi Daoxin (Tao-hsin) (580-651), whose life spanned the Sui and the early Tang dynasties.

Although the Fourth Ancestor's teachings are not well known he is recognized for:

  • his dedication to meditation
  • forming the first self-supporting monastery
  • combining Chan practice with more popular Buddhist practices, thus broadening its appeal


Sit earnestly in meditation!

Daoxin appears to have been particularly dedicated to meditation, practicing it more avidly than had any dhyana master since Bodhidharma. He supposedly devised and promoted new techniques to help novices achieve intensive meditation. The following excerpt of his teaching illustrates his fervor for dhyana.

Sit earnestly in meditation! The sitting in meditation is basic to all else. By the time you have done this for three to five years, you will be able to ward off, starvation with a bit of meal. Close the door and sit! Do not read the sutras and speak to no man! If you will so exercise yourself and persist in it for a long time, the fruit will be sweet like the meat which a monkey takes from the nutshell. But such people are very rare.

A manuscript discovered early in this century in the Buddhist caves at Tunhuang purportedly contains a sermon by the Fourth Ancestor entitled "Abandoning the Body'

The method of abandoning the body consists first in meditating on Emptiness, whereby the [conscious] mind is emptied. Let the mind together with its world be quieted down to a perfect state of tranquility; let thought be cast in the mystery of quietude, so that the mind is kept from wandering from one thing to another. When the mind is tranquilized in its deepest abode, its entanglements are cut asunder. The mind in its absolute purity is like the Void itself.

The text goes on to quote both Laozi and Zhuangzi, as well as some of the older sutras, and there is a considerable reference to Nagarjuna's Emptiness. This text, real or spurious, is one more element in the merging of Taoism and Buddhism that was early Chan, even as its analysis of the mind state achieved in meditation anticipates later Chan teachings.