Lidai fabao ji

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Lidai fabao ji (Chinese: 歷代 法寶 記), translated as The Record of the Dharma-Jewel Through the Generations, is a late-eighth-century Chan Buddhist text that was discovered amoung the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early twentieth century.[1]

The Lidai fabao ji is the only remaining relic of the Bao Tang Chan school of Sichuan, China. The text presents a history of Chan Buddhism in China along with a biography of the eighth-century Chan master Wuzhu in Sichuan.[1]

Topics that make the Lidai fabao ji distinctive are:[1]

  • discussion of formless practice,
  • accounts female practitioners,
  • the influence of Daoist metaphysics, and
  • connections with early Tibetan Buddhism.

Text history

The Lidai fabao ji was probably written between 774 and 780 at the Bao Tang monastery in Yizhou, by an anonymous disciple (or disciples) of the Chan Master Wuzhu (714 - 774 ), who is described the text as the founder of the Baotang monastery.[2] Wuzhu himself claimed to be a student of the charismatic Korean Chan master Wuxiang (684 - 872 ). Wuxiang was known as the founder of another Chan school in Sichuan, the Jingzhong school of Chengdu.[2]

While the Bao Tang lineage can not be traced after the time of Wuzhu's direct disciples, the Lidai fabao ji is preserved in a large number of manuscripts from the Dunhuang collection, and it is also quoted in a number of other texts from the Dunhuang collection.

According to Adamek, the large number of texts and fragments of Lidai fabao ji found in the Dunhuang manuscripts, as well as evidence that the text had been dispersed to Tibet and Turfan, indicates that the text was not a negligible work.[2]

Outline of text

Editornote image from pexelsdotcom 60x40px.png Editor's note: This section is from the Polish Wikipedia article (see bottom of page)

The beginning of the text includes a description of a dream of Emperor Ming from the Han dynasty, as a result of which he decides to bring Buddhist texts to China. This is followed by a description of the rivalry between Buddhists and Taoists in the use of magical powers.

Another topic is a short presentation of Shakyamuni Buddha and a quote from Taoist work from the third century Huahu jing (Book on the conversion of barbarians). Then follows the second version of the legend about the Emperor Mingu.

After a brief digression with the anecdote about the well-known monk Huiyuan (334 - 417), quotes from two known sutras appear and then a quotation from the V-century translation of a work (most probably a Chinese compilation) showing the transmission of Dharma from Buddha to the 23rd generation in India and Kashmir. This "chapter" is supplemented by the authors of Lidai fabao ji to the 29th generation - Bodhidharma, the founder of the Dharma transmission line that ran to the Bao tang school.

Then there is a discussion with the rival Dharma transmission line shown in another 8th-century text - Lengqie shizi ji (Chronicle of masters and students of the Lankavatara Sutra). Next, the authors argue with the origin of this transmission line. It is more or less 1/10 of the total work.

From this part emerge biographies of the 6 Patriarchs of the Chan: Bodhidharma (died 530), Huiki ( 487 - 593), Sengcana (died 606), Daoxina (580 - 651), Hongrena (602 - 675) and Huineng (638 - 713).

Then follows the text about the fourth-century Dao'an monk ( 312 - 385 ), continued by a long series of quotations from Indian sutras and apocryphal Chinese works. The repetition of the transfer of cloak and Dharma by Hongren to Huineng follows.

Then comes the most famous part of this text, that is, the handover of Huineng's robe, which is in the hands of Empress Wu Zetian ; here are short biographies of Zizhou Zhishen ( 609 - 702 ) and his successors Zizhou Chuji (Tang Chuji) ( 669 - 736 ). Then there is a more extensive biography of the Korean master Wuxianga (c. Musanga), teacher Wuzhu, but also Mazu Daoyi . The next passage is devoted to the discussion promoter School South Hezego Shenhui ( 688 - 770) with various interlocutors. This part from Bodhidharma to Shenhui occupies about 30% of the total.

The remaining 60% of the work was given to the founder of Baotang school - Baotang Wuzhu. This part begins with the dramatic speech of the Dharma master, then follows the biography of his early years and wandering, through the transmission of Dharma and Huineng's robe (actually Bodhidharma's garments), until he is recognized as the legitimate heir of Wuxiang after his death. Then, to the end of the text, there are fragments of his speeches, his conversations with students and guests on various topics. This work ends with the death of Wuzhu.[2]

Influence of this text

Influence with Chan Buddhism

According to contemporary scholar Wendy Adamek, this work was a prototype of two types of Chan texts, although its scope is narrower:

  • yulu - "written statements" that contain masters' speeches, poetry and interactions with students.
  • chuadeng lu - "chronicles of the transmission of the lamp", containing the lines of the Dharma transmission, but more importantly also the secret messages from the mind to the mind from the master to the student.[3]

According to Albert Welter, Lidai fabao ji strongly supports Huinega and the South School; this shows that he is in this matter under the influence of Heze Shenhui. Thus, it contributed to the final victory of the southern Chan and the doctrine of sudden enlightenment.[4]

Influence on Tibetan Buddhism

According to Seizan Yanagida, the Chan school was introduced to Tibet around the time of Sino-Tibetan peace treaty of 822.[5] Yanagida states that the Tibetans became acquainted with the Chan, and especially with the story of Huinenga, through the Lidai fabao ji, which was translated into Tibetan in the 8th century.[6] According to Yanagida, all quotations of Chan thinkers in the texts and phrases of lamas usually come from this work.[5]

Equal treatment of women

The Lidai fabao ji is distinctive for including accounts female practitioners.[1]

Nina Wise writes:

During an era when laywomen occupied the lowest rung of an entrenched hierarchical spiritual system, the Bao Tang welcomed them into its fold. Within the Lidai fabao ji are the only full-fledged accounts in any of the early Ch’an texts of women as disciples of Ch’an. This and other clues in the literary style have led Wendi to wonder if Wu Zhu’s female disciples may have had a hand in the actual writing of the Lidai fabao ji. Their authorship would be one possible explanation for the text’s anonymous attribution; nearly all other texts of this era were attributed to specific authors.[7]

Translation into English

The following English transation is available:

  • Wendi L. Adamek: The Mystique of Transmission. On Early Chan History on Its Contexts. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007 (Part II of this text contains an annotated translation)

Wendi Adamek has also written the following commentary:

  • Wendi L. Adamek: The Teachings of Master Wuzhu: Zen and Religion of No-Religion . New York: Columbia University Press, 2011


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 The Mystique of Transmission (Columbia University Press)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Adamek 2007.
  3. Adamek 2007, pp. 10, 11.
  4. Welter 2006.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Yanagida 1983.
  6. Note: we need to clarify if this text was translated into Tibetan. (This assertion is from the Polish Wikipedia article.)
  7. Sudden Awakening by Nina Wise


  • Welter, Albert (2006), Monks, Rulers, and Literati. The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism, Oxford: Oxford University Press 
  • McRae, John R. (1986), The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chan Buddhism, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0-8248-1056-2 
  • Adamek, Wendi L. (2007), The Mystique of Transmission. On an Early Chan History and Its Context, New York: Columbia University Press 
  • Yanagida, Seizan (1983), "The Li-Tai Fa-Pao Chi and the Ch'an Doctrine of Sudden Awakening", Early Ch'an in China and Tibet, Berkeley: Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series, ISBN 0-89581-152-9 

External links

This article uses material from Lidai fabao ji on Polish Wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (view authors). Wikimedia-logo black 35px.png