Five Houses of Chan

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The Five Houses of Chan (also called the Five Houses of Zen) were the five major schools of Chan Buddhism that originated during Tang China. Most Chán lineages throughout Asia and the rest of the world originally grew from or were heavily influenced by the original five houses of Chán.

Following a government suppression of Buddhism in 842, only two schools emerged: Linji and Cao-dong.[1][2]

The Five Houses

The five houses were each defined by a unique method of teaching. Each school's methods were significantly different from the others, though it was not unheard of for teachers from one school to use the methods of another.[3]

Guiyang school

The Guiyang school (潙仰宗 Guíyáng, Jpn. Igyō) was the first established school of the Five Houses of Zen.[3] Guiyang is named after master Guishan Lingyou (771–854) (Kuei-shan Ling-yu, Jpn. Isan Reiyū) and his student, Yangshan Huiji (807-883,[4] or 813–890) (Yang-shan Hui-chi, Jpn. Kyōzan Ejaku).

Guishan was a disciple of Baizhang Huaihai, the Chinese Zen master whose disciples included Huangbo Xiyun (who in turn taught Línjì Yìxuán, founder of the Linji School).[5] After founding the Guiyang School, Yangshan moved his school to what is now modern Jiangxi.

The Guiyang school is distinct from the other schools due to its use of esoteric metaphors and imagery in the school's kōans and other teachings.[3]

Over the course of Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Guiyang school, along with the Fayan and Yunmen schools were absorbed into the Linji school. Chán master Hsu Yun, however, attempted to revive absorbed lineages. The attempt was successful regarding the Guiyang school, Hsuan Hua being its most known modern representative.

Linji school

The Linji (Chinese: 临济宗; pinyin: Lín jì zōng) was named after Chán master Línjì Yìxuán, who was notable for teaching students in ways that included shouting and striking in an attempt to help students reach enlightenment. The Linji school is the predominant Chinese Chán school.[6]

Caodong school

The Caodong school was founded by Dongshan Liangjie and his Dharma-heirs in the 9th century. Some attribute the name "Cáodòng" as a union of "Dongshan" and "Caoshan" from one of his Dharma-heirs, Caoshan Benji; however, the "Cao" could also have come from Cáoxī (曹溪), the "mountain-name" of Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor of Chan. The sect emphasized sitting meditation, and later "silent illumination" techniques.

In 826 Korean Seon Master Doui, a student of Sixth Ancestor of Chan Huineng, brought Chan/Seon (Korean Zen) to Korea and founded the "Nine Mountain Seon Monasteries" which adopted the name Jogye order.

In 1227 Dōgen Zenji, a former Tendai student, studied Caodong Buddhism and returned to Japan to establish the Sōtō school. The Caodong school is still a respectable Chinese Chán school and is second only to Linji in number of monks and temples.

Fayan school

The Fayan school (法眼宗) was named after Chinese Chán Master Fayan Wenyi (Fa-yen Wen-i), who lived from 885 to 958.

Yunmen school

The Yunmen school was named for Yunmen Wenyan. The school thrived into the early Song Dynasty, with particular influence on the upper classes, and culminated in the final compilation of the Blue Cliff Record. Later during the Song Dynasty, the school was absorbed into the Linji school. The lived on into the modern era through Master Hsu Yun (1840–1959).

The Five Houses during the Song Dynasty

Over the course of Song dynasty (960–1279), the Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunmen houses were gradually absorbed into the Linji house. Caodong was transmitted to Japan in the 13th century from Ven. Rujing of Tiantong Temple to Ven. Dōgen leading to the creation of the Sōtō Zen school.


  1. Gethin 1998, p. 263.
  2. Harvey 2013, p. 222.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ferguson, Andrew E. (2000). Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-86171-163-7. 
  4. Koole 1997, p. 207.
  5. Ven. Jian Hu. "Buddhism in the Modern World" Stanford University, May 25, 2006, p. 1
  6. Master Sheng-yen and Dan Stevenson (2001). Hoofprint of the Ox: Principles of the Chan Buddhist Path as Taught by a Modern Chinese Master. ISBN 9780195152487. Archived from the original on 11 January 2023. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 


  • Ferguson, Andrew E. (2000), Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings, Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications, pp. 126–127, ISBN 0-86171-163-7 
  • Book icoline.svg Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press 
  • Book icoline.svg Harvey, Peter (2013), An Introduction to Buddhism (Second ed.), Cambridge University Press 
  • Koole, Boudewijn (1997), Dōgen Kigen: De Schatkamer van het Oog van de Ware Leer. Eerste selectie uit de Shōbōgenzō, met toelichtende informatie, Utrecht/Antwerpen: Kosmos-Z&K Uitgevers 

Further reading

  • McRae, John (2003), Seeing Through Zen, The University Press Group Ltd 
  • Yampolski, Philip (2003a), Chan. A Historical Sketch. In: Buddhist Spirituality. Later China, Korea, Japan and the Modern World; edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass