This week in our Vine of Obstacle Zen practice period, we are studying the 46th ancestor, Danxia Zichun (丹霞子淳, Vermillion Mist Pure Child; J. Tanka Shijun; 1064–1117) through Keizan’s Record of the Transmission of Illumination. In this post, I’ll give you a tiny bit of background about Danxia and then quote one passage from his teaching that Tetsugan Sensei and I touched on in our dharma talk on Sunday, but here I’ll quote Danxia more fully.
Click here to support my Zen teaching practice at Patreon of which translations and writings like this are one facet. You will also find an advertisement free version of this post there.
As for background, Danxia doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact in his lifetime, possibly because his famous teacher, Daokai, outlived him by about a year. Danxia died at just 53 with no time out of the shadow. So much so that Danxia’s most famous students became known as the Three Sage Grandchildren of Daokai.
These three sages were:
Huizhao Qingyu (1078-1140) was senior and probably most well-known in his lifetime (pretty much unknown today). He outlived Danxia by 20 years.
Zhenjie Qingliao (1088-1151; English, Tall Reeds Purity Field; Japanese, Tanka Shijun) through whom the surviving Soto lineage to Dogen in several generations and to the present flows. Qingliao was also the monk that Dahui harshly criticized for his silent illumination proclivities. He outlived Danxia by 30 years.
Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157) now probably the most well-known Caodong lineage teacher of the Song dynasty. Hongzhi’s lineage was also transmitted to Japan where it was associated more with the Rinzai Five Mountain system than with the Dogen Soto line. Hongzhi’s lineage died out both in China and Japan after a several generations, but Hongzhi’s teaching is still talked about today. For example, see Taigen Leigton’s Cultivating the Empty Field and Guo Gu’s Silent Illumination. He outlived Danxia by 40 years.
A sample of Danxia’s teaching
You should realize that this is the last day of your life.
Have you prepared yourself for today’s matter?
You cannot prepare by studying the sūtras and teachings, you cannot prepare by reciting from your Chan notebooks, and you cannot prepare by maintaining a clever mind.
Precisely at this time when you are dying and all confused, forgetting instantly everything you remembered in the past—at this point it is necessary that you establish yourself in the ground of truth, and it is no use trying to do it in a superficial manner. Right away, for twenty-four hours a day, you should all prepare for it by ceasing and resting.
You must completely let go of all worldly concerns and sit totally still in the “dry wood hall.” You must die a turn and then in this death establish everything in the whole universe.
From Morten Schlutter’s How Zen Became Zen
Dōshō Port began practicing Zen in 1977 and now co-teaches with his wife, Tetsugan Zummach Sensei, with Vine of Obstacles Zen, an online training group. Dōshō received dharma transmission from Dainin Katagiri Rōshi and inka shōmei from James Myōun Ford Rōshi in the Harada-Yasutani lineage. He is also the author of Keep Me In Your Heart a While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri. Dōshō’s translation and commentary on The Record of Empty Hall: One Hundred Classic Koans, was published in 2021 (Shambhala). His third book, Going Through the Mystery’s One Hundred Questions, is now available. Click here to support the teaching practice of Dōshō Rōshi.