An Ancient Soto Master’s Praise for the Record of Linji

An Ancient Soto Master’s Praise for the Record of Linji November 1, 2021

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Tetsugan Sensei and I are living now in what we call the Neyaashi Zen Hermitage, near Duluth, Minnesota – a sweet returning home for us. We continue to work with our students through the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training, an innovative and intense method of householder practice.

I’m also working on another book and finding the hermitage to be a great place for writing. The book is Going Through the Mystery’s One Hundred Questions, which as the title suggests, includes a student’s one-hundred questions, his teacher responses, with verses added by the teacher’s attendant. You’ve probably not heard of the student, Yuantong (圓通, n.d.), but his teacher, Wansong Xingxiu (萬松行秀, 1166–1246), was a Caodong (Japanese, Soto) master well-known for what is commonly known as The Book of Serenity. (1)

The attendant was Linquan Conglun (林泉從倫, n.d.), who produced two important koan collections, Empty Valley Collection that built upon select koans with verses by Touzi Yiqing (投子義青, 1032–1083, Japanese, Tosu Gisei), and Empty Hall Collection with select koans and verses by Danxia Zichun (丹霞子淳, 1064–1117, Japanese, Tanka Shijun), both important teachers in the surviving Soto lineage.

Surprisingly, in The Record of Linji, Thomas Yuho Kirchner notes that the version of the text that was probably published in the early 14th century was accompanied by a preface by Linquan. (2) This provides more spice to the history of The Record of Linji, a text with a long and sordid past. 

While searching the Chinese Canon for background on Linquan, I stumbled upon his above mentioned preface and was shocked and overjoyed by the energy of Linquan’s praise for Linji. I first share my translation with you and then close with an explanation.

Linquan’s Preface to The Record of Linji

“The school of Caoxi [the Sixth Ancestor] is organized to purify what wells up and to share the inexhaustible flow. (3) The Nanyue branch is majestic and lofty, and extends continuously without end, a vehicle like clouds piling up, with branches and leaves sprouting and thriving, nonstop shade for humans and gods, illuminating the Way of the ancestors. 

“No words express it. You must know ‘the meaning is not in the words.’ No scent is its scent. The fruit of faith is not having opinions. This all inclusive principle, extremely incomparable, is its Way. [However,] a thread remains, leaving an impact on those involved. 

“Thus, the founder, Linji, used the true dharma eye, the clear bright mind of nirvana. Great wisdom and great compassion flourished, turning the great pivot, applying the great function. [His] staff and shout completely cut off ordinary mind – a flash of lightning, a shooting star. At last, a harsh and sudden yank out of the secondary. 

“Then is a memorial recollection allowed? It’s wrong to go to Korea wishing a phoenix will hurry to the heavens. 

“Not leaving a subtle footprint, passing and escaping through the profound barrier, through the three realms, bewildering disciples, [Linji] returned to the one true absolute reality. Under the heavens, [his] brilliance flowed and there were none who didn’t gaze upward with admiration as [he] became the one school’s ancestor with principle just as it should be. 

“Now, Chan Master Xuetang, eighteenth generation descendant of Linji, pulled [the Record of Linji] together. I had searched Hebei [near Beijing] and Jiangnan [south of the Yangtze]. Then by accident the original arrived from Yuhang [in southern China]. Like a poor person obtaining a jewel, like being in the dark and obtaining a lamp, I leaped and jumped around cheering, extremely grateful. I gave away the cloth for robes, so that I could set up printing blocks and distribute [the Record], giving to all the various Buddhist monasteries this one extraordinary thing. Truly, so very rare! Look!

“Reject the golden sound of the four oceans and know with certainty these pearls of wisdom with value difficult to repay. 

“Virtuous Mongol Dynasty, second year, second forty-fourth year in the sixty year cycle; Dadu [modern Beijing], Bao-en Chan Monastery, abbot, successor of the ancestors; the solemn preface of Linquan Old Man Conglun, washing hands, burning incense.” (4)


The first point in this rich and effusive introduction is the connection Linquan makes with Caoxi, the Sixth Ancestor, and his seventh generation successor, Nanyue branch, and the eleventh generation successor, Linji, all “illuminating the Way of the ancestors.” (5)

In the second paragraph, “…the meaning is not in the words” (意不在言) is a direct quote of a line from one of the Caodong founders, Dongshan Liangjie, and his “Jewel Mirror Samadhi.” The next line of the poem, “but a pivotal moment brings it forth” (來機亦赴) is hinted at as another point of connection between Dongshan and Linji. (6) Here we have the ancestral founders of both the Caodong and Linji lineages singing the same tune. 

Linquan then summarizes the abrupt teaching style of Linji, and how he strongly emphasized the primary, and wonders, tongue in cheek, if it’s okay, then, to slip into the secondary and eulogize the great teacher. 

Linquan then cites the monk who got the new The Record of Linji published, Chan Master Xuetang Puren (雪堂普仁, n.d.), who also hailed from near modern Beijing and was closely involved with the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan dynasty. It seems likely that Linquan and Xuetang would have been acquainted, and if so it seems likely that Linquan’s search for The Record of Linji preceded Xuetang’s republishing of  it. 

In any case, Linquan reports searching all over and not finding a copy of the The Record of Linji. Then a copy unexpectedly arrived from southern China, bringing him such tremendous joy that the old man jumped up and down. I imagine this joy was aroused because in The Record of Linji he recognized not only the depth and power of Linji’s Zen, but also that it conveyed the same one dharma light that was transmitted to him through Wansong and the Caodong succession. This now brings tears to my eyes too. Linquan even honor’s Linji with the highest of praise, calling him “the one school’s ancestor.” 

Linquan then relates how he was so determined to get this text in the hands of practitioners that he sold off the monastery’s stock of cloth, presumably for the making of Buddha’s robe.

This text, after all, is just the robe. This robe is just this text. 

(1) 從容錄, Congrong Lu; Japanese, Shoyoroku, or The Record of Going Easy.

(2) Chinese, Linji lu; Japanese, Rinzai roku; based on the teachings of Linji Yixuan, 臨濟義玄, died, 866)

(3) Dajian Huineng (大鑒惠能, 638 – 713).

(4) T47n1985_001 [0495a05]

(5) Nanyue Huairang (南嶽懐譲, 677–744).

(6) Dongshan Liangjie (洞山良价, 807–869)

Dōshō Port began practicing Zen in 1977 and now co-teaches with his wife, Tetsugan Zummach Ōshō, with the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training, an internet-based Zen community. Dōshō received dharma transmission from Dainin Katagiri Rōshi and inka shōmei from James Myōun Ford Rōshi in the Harada-Yasutani lineage. Dōshō’s translation and commentary on The Record of Empty Hall: One Hundred Classic Koans, is now available (Shambhala). He is also the author of Keep Me In Your Heart a While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri.

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