Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism

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The Chan (Zen in Japanese) school began when, in seventh-century China, a small religious community gathered around a Buddhist monk named Hongren. Over the centuries, Chan Buddhism grew from an obscure movement to an officially recognized and eventually dominant form of Buddhism in China and throughout East Asia. It has reached international popularity, its teachings disseminated across cultures far and wide.
In Monks, Rulers, and Literati, Albert Welter presents, for the first time in a comprehensive fashion in a Western work, the story of the rise of Chan, a story which has been obscured by myths about Zen. Zen apologists in the twentieth century, Welter argues, sold the world on the story of Zen as a transcendental spiritualism untainted by political and institutional involvements. In fact, Welter shows that the opposite is true: relationships between Chan monks and political rulers were crucial to Chan's success. The book concentrates on an important but neglected period of Chan history, the 10th and 11th centuries, when monks and rulers created the so-called Chan "golden age" and the classic principles of Chan identity. Placing Chan's ascendancy into historical context, Welter analyzes the social and political factors that facilitated Chan's success as a movement. He then examines how this success was represented in the Chan narrative and the aims of those who shaped it.
Monks, Rulers, and Literati recovers a critical period of Zen's past, deepening our understanding of how the movement came to flourish. Welter's groundbreaking work is not only the most comprehensive history of the dominant strand of East Asian Buddhism, but also an important corrective to many of the stereotypes about Zen.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Welter's Monks, Rulers, and Literati is a much needed and very readable work that presents a rich and multifaceted picture of the development of Chan and significantly advances our understanding of it. It is a must-read for every scholar interested in Chinese Buddhism. I will also be highly useful in graduate seminars and even in upper-level undergraduate courses."--Journal of Chinese Religions

Albert Welter's Monks, Rulers, and Literati critically examines the formation of Chan transmission records (denglu) that were produced in the Song period. By demonstrating the degree to which the Chan narrative was shaped by considerations of court and literati patronage, his analysis lays bare the process by which the Chan tradition constructed some of its central myths. His study joins a distinguished list of critical studies that open a window on the historical reality of the Chan tradition.--Daniel A. Getz, Jr., co-editor of Buddhism in the Sung

"This is a fascinating and very important study of the history of the development of the Chan/Zen monastic institution as seen through a careful reading of the denglu or "transmission records." While other books have examined the institution or the literary texts of Chan, this is the very first work in English to provide a socio-political historical account based on a group of writings that is crucial for understanding how Chan Buddhism took hold and became the dominant religious movement in the Song dynasty. Welter explores in detail which monks were responsible for the spread and how and why they garnered support from public officials and literati, and clarifies the boundary line between mythical narrative and factual history presented in the records. Anybody interested in role of Chan/Zen in Chinese society will want to read and digest the contents of this book."--Steven Heine, author of Opening a Mountain: Koans of the Zen Masters

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195175219
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/20/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 334
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Albert Welter is Professor of Asian Religions at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. He is the author of The Meaning of Myriad Good Deeds: A Study of Yung-Ming Yen-Shou and the Wan-Shan T'ung-Kuei Chi (1994).

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Introduction and background
1 The historical and geographical context of Chan's official acceptance 3
2 Official recognition of Chan Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty 25
Pt. II Factional motives and literati influences in the creation of Chan narratives
3 Chan transmission records and factional motives in the Tang Dynasty 41
4 Chan transmission and factional motives in the Patriarch's Hall anthology (Zutang ji) 59
5 Chan transmission and factional motives in the Jingde (Era) transmission of the lamp (Jingde Chuandeng lu) 115
6 Literati influences on the compilation of Chan records : the Jingde (Era) transmission of the lamp and the Tiansheng (Era) expanded lamp record 161
7 Literati interpretations of Chan Buddhism in early Song China 209
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