Character Is the Way: The Path to Spiritual Freedom in the Linji Lu

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


This article hopes to accomplish two goals: first, it proposes a more effective framework for philosophers who engage in philosophical interpretations and constructions of Chan Buddhist texts, like the Linji Lu, to deal with challenges from historians when the integrity of those Chan texts as well as their authorship is called into question, so that a more robust intellectual space for the philosophical discourse on Chan classics can be carved out from the dominant historicist discourse. Accordingly, I argue that philosophical and historical approaches to Chan classics have divergent scholarly objectives and follow different disciplinary norms. To clarify such divergence, I propose a hermeneutical model to distinguish two sets of scholarly objects operative in history and philosophy respectively, namely original versus inherited text, historical versus textual author, and authorial versus textual intent. These scholarly objects are related, at times even overlapped but often irreducibly distinct, with the former in the pairs belonging to historians and the latter to philosophers. Second, the article puts forward an alternative interpretation of Linji’s signature teaching of sudden enlightenment by connecting Linji’s demand for immediacy in his training of disciples with the nurturing of a particular set of character traits conducive to Chan enlightenment. It argues that only those practitioners with a strong character can weather the grueling demand of the arduous spiritual journey prescribed in Chan teachings. Therefore, I describe Linji’s teaching as advocating that “character is the Way,” wherein the Way (dao 道) refers to the Chan path of enlightenment.


Sudden enlightenment Immediacy Character Original/inherited text Historical/textual author Authorial/textual intent 


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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