Caodong school

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Caodong school (Chinese: 曹洞宗; pinyin: Cáodòng zōng; Wade–Giles: Ts'ao-tung-tsung) is a branch of the Chinese Chan school.

The school emphasized sitting meditation (Ch: zuochan, Jp: zazen), and the "five ranks" teaching. During the Song dynasty, Caodong masters like Honzhi developed "silent illumination" (mozhao) meditation.[1]

It is one of the Five Houses of Chán.[1]


The key figure in the Caodong school was founder Dongshan Liangjie (807-869, 洞山良价, Jpn. Tozan Ryokai) and his heir Caoshan Benji (840-901, 曹山本寂, Ts'ao-shan Pen-chi, Jpn. Sōzan Honjaku).[1][web 1] Some attribute the name "Cáodòng" as a union of "Dongshan" and "Caoshan". The "Cao" may also be from Cáoxī (曹溪), the "mountain-name" of Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor of Chan, as Caoshan was of little importance unlike his contemporary and fellow Dharma-heir, Yunju Daoying.


The Caodong school was founded by Dongshan Liangjie and his Dharma-heir Caoshan Benji. Dongshan traced back his lineage to Shitou Xiqian (700-790), a contemporary of Mazu Daoyi (709–788). Sayings to the effect that Shitou and Mazu were the two great masters of their day date from decades after their respective deaths. Shítóu's retrospective prominence owes much to the importance of Dongshan Liangjie.[2] Shítóu does not appear to have been influential or famous during his lifetime:

He was a little-known teacher who led a reclusive life and had relatively few disciples. For decades after Shitou's death, his lineage remained an obscure provincial tradition.[3]

In the 11th century the Caodong-school nearly extinguished.[4] Dayang Jingxuan (942-1027), the last descendant of the Caodong-lineage passed on his dharma-transmission via Fushan Fayuan, a teacher from the Linji school, to Fayuan's student Touzi Yiqing (1032-1083),[5] who was born five years after Jingxuan's death.

During the Northern Song (960-1127) the Caodong was not successful in the social elite. The Linji school and Yunmen school dominated Chán.[4] It was Touzi Yiqing's student Furong Daokai (1043-1118) who was a successful monastic, and revived the Caodong school.[6]

His dharma "grandson" Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157) became very successful among elite literati in the Southern Song (1127-1279), when the Imperial Court decreased their influence on society, and Chán schools became dependent on elite literati for support. Under Hongzhi and Zhengzie Qingliao, the Caodong school was revived and became one of the major traditions of Song dynasty Chan.[1]

These Song era teachers taught a practiced termed "silent illumination" or "serene reflection" (Ch: 默照禅) which relied on the doctrine of inherent enlightenment and buddha-nature. Since Buddha was seen as something already present in the mind, all that one needed to do was to let go of all striving and this was achieved by silently sitting in meditation.[1]

The success of the revived Caodong school drew opposition from Linji school figures like Dahui Zonggao, who promoted the Hua Tou method of koan practice, and attacked silent illumination as quietistic.[7]

In 1227 Dōgen Zenji, a former Tendai student, studied Caodong Buddhism under Tiantong Rujing, and returned to Japan to establish the Sōtō sect.[8] His lineage incorporates not only the dharma-transmission via Fushan Fayuan, but also Linji dharma-transmissions via Eisai and his student Myozen, a teacher of Dogen, and the Linji dharma-transmission of Dahui Zonggao via the Nōnin school.[9]

Lineage chart

See also


Written references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Buswell & Lopez 2014, p. 166.
  2. Poceski 2007, p. 97–98.
  3. Poceski 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schlütter 2008, p. 79.
  5. Schlütter 2008, p. 80.
  6. Schlütter 2008, p. 79-81.
  7. Schlütter 2008.
  8. 道元和日本曹洞宗 (in 中文). Archived from the original on 2014-02-14.  Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  9. Bodiford 1991, p. 428.

Web references

  1. "Origin of Caodong School" (in 中文). June 3, 2009. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 


  • Bodiford, William M. (Winter 1991). "Dharma Transmission in Soto Zen: Manzan Dohaku's Reform Movement". Monumenta Nipponica. Sophia University. 46 (4): 423–451. doi:10.2307/2385187. ISSN 0027-0741. JSTOR 2385187. 
  • Ferguson, Andy (2011), Zen's Chinese Heritage. The Masters and their Teachings, Wisdom publications 
  • Poceski, Mario (2007), Ordinary Mind as the Way: the Hongzhou School and the Growth of Chan Buddhism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-531996-5 
  • Schlütter, Morten (2008), How Zen became Zen. The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, ISBN 978-0-8248-3508-8 

External links

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