Traces of his activities for the next twenty-five years were lost, the Chuanfa Baochi (Annals of the Transmission of the Dharma-treasure) claim that Shenxiu studied the Buddhist regulations (vinaya) and ceremonies and devoted himself to the practice of meditation (dhyāna) and the development of wisdom (prajñā ). In 651 he began to study under Hongren. The aforementioned Ch’uan fa-pao chi states that he studied with Hongren for six years, thereby leaving in 657, before the arrival of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng, with whom Shenxiu supposedly had the famous verse-writing contest. (see below)
It is not clear why, but sometime around 665-668, Shenxiu was banished by the emperor and remained incognito for some ten years, returning to public notice between 676-679. He initially took up residence at the monastery Yü-ch’üan-ssu but soon was one built for him, the Monastery of the Six Perfections (Tu-men ssu) where spent the next quarter century.
In late 700 the Empress Wu invited Shenxiu to the capital at Luoyang to teach Chan Buddhism. His welcome in 701 was by all accounts quite spectacular. The Annals of the Transmission of the Dharma-treasure describe Shenxiu’s path being bedecked with flowers and the master riding on a litter of the type reserved for the imperial family. In an unprecedented gesture, the Empress knelt before the Chan master, touching her forehead to the ground in great reverence. The Annals go on to say that “From princes and nobles down, everyone [in the capital] took refuge in him.”
For the last five years of his life, Shenxiu traveled between the two capitals of Luoyang and Chang'an, preaching the Buddhist Dharma before passing away at his monastery, Tumen Si, sitting in meditation on February 28, 706. The leng-ch’ieh shih-tzu chi (Records of the Teachers and Disciples of the Lankavatara) state that his last words were ch’u-ch’u chiao, which Professor Seizan Yanagida translates as “the teachings of the expedient means have been made direct” The reigning Emperor Zhongzong (705-710) granted the posthumous title Ta-t’ung ch’an-shih (Greatly Penetrating Dhyāna Master), only the second time in Chinese Buddhism and the first for three hundred years that this imperial honour had been bestowed.
This verse writing contest was used by Shenhui (684-758) (Wade-Giles: Shen-hui; Japanese: Kataku Jinne) to malign Shenxiu and his so-called "Northern School" as being gradualist and was instrumental in the split of Chan into "gradualist" and "sudden" schools.
Shenxiu was highly educated and studied the Buddhist scriptures assiduously. He re-interpreted the scriptures as metaphors of “skilful means” (Sanskrit: upāya; Wade Giles: fang-pien) for “contemplation of the mind”, advocating the attainment of Buddhahood in all daily activities, here and now. Every act was seen as religious practice. For example, he saw simple activities, like taking a bath, as a religious act. He taught that soap used to clean away dirt “is actually the ability of discrimination by which one can ferret out the sources of evil within oneself.” Cleaning the mouth with toothpicks is “nothing less than the Truth by which one puts an end to false speech.” Overt religious activities such as burning of incense were seen as “the unconditioned Dharma, which ‘perfumes’ the tainted and evil karma of ignorance and cause it to disappear.”
In meditation practice, Shenxiu taught that the student should develop the innate ability of the mind “to illuminate and understand all things” and to see the emptiness of all things. He taught that there is a profound stillness and tranquility in all things. A “Northern School” text known as the Five Skillful Means states: “in purity there is not a single thing…Peaceful and vast without limit, its untaintedness is the path of bodhi (बोधि). The mind serene and enlightenment distinct, the body’s serenity is the bodhi tree.”
Even though Shenxiu and the “Northern School” were subsequently attacked as teaching a gradualist approach to enlightenment, the Kuan-hsin lun (Treatise on the Contemplation of the Mind), a text which is “unquestionably written by him [Shenxiu]” clearly states: “It does not take long to witness this (i.e., to realize sagehood); enlightenment is in the instant. Why worry about your white hair (i.e., about your age)?” Shenxiu’s exhortations to constant, unremitting practice gave Shenhui the opening to attack the teaching as “gradualist”. In any case, the vilification of Shenxiu by Shenhui occurred some thirty years after Shenxiu’s death. During his lifetime, and especially his relatively brief teaching in the capital cities of the Tang Dynasty, Shenxiu’s teachings were received with widespread acceptance and reverence. The influence of Shenxiu’s teachings on subsequent Chan doctrine and practices is still a somewhat open question.
Caught in the act ; Asia's largest drama festival, Theatre Utsav's 11th edition, is being held now, rightly inaugurated by the 96-year-old actor Zohra Segal.
Jan 19, 2009; Asia's largest drama festival, Theatre Utsav's 11th edition, is being held now, rightly inaugurated by the 96-year-old actor...