Philosophical Interpretations of Hongzhou Chan Buddhist Thought

  • Youru WangEmail author
Part of the Dao Companions to Chinese Philosophy book series (DCCP, volume 9)


This chapter examines some of the most important perspectives that Mazu 馬祖 and his followers hold, based on author’s reading of reliable Hongzhou 洪州 texts and utilizing contemporary philosophical insights. The first is trans-metaphysical perspective, which is embodied in the Hongzhou deconstruction of the tendency to substantialize Buddha-nature as something independent of the everyday world of human beings. Hongzhou overturns Shenhui 神會’s quasi-metaphysical understanding of the realization of Buddha-nature as intuitive awareness isolated from ordinary cognitive activities, and as the favorable ti (essence), which relies on no conditions, over the yong (function). The second is liminological perspective, which is manifested in the Hongzhou understanding of the limits of descriptive language, the relativizing of the absolute boundary between speaking and non-speaking or silence, and the use of language to play at the limits of language. The third is ethical perspective, but it demonstrates itself through a twist of the ethical and non-ethical. While the Hongzhou masters often subvert conventional moral distinctions, they advise students to practice morality merely according to shifting conditions. This relational perspective enhances Hongzhou Chan’s profound ethicality. The fourth is counter-institutional perspective, which describes the Hongzhou masters’ middle way towards institutionalization, an attitude of “being with and against” institution by walking two roads at the same time, and avoiding the extreme iconoclasm and conformism. It helps Hongzhou Chan de-stabilize the hierarchical effect of formalization and generalization, emphasize the expedient nature of institutionalized teaching and practice, and make the institution remain open to changing circumstances. These perspectives provide implications for contemporary discourse on metaphysics/ontology, philosophy of language, ethics, and critical theory about institution; however, they originally only serve Hongzhou Chan’s soteriological purpose.


Chan Hongzhou school Mazu Philosophical interpretation Soteriology 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rowan UniversityGlassboroUSA

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