Yuanwu Keqin was born into the Lo family of P'eng-chou, Szechuan, in 1063. His family was well-educated in Confucianism, a sign of acquaintance with the Chinese civil service. Nevertheless, Yuanwu Keqin choose a Buddhist career and entered Miao-chi monastery. He ended his formal studies under Wu-tsu Fa-yen (10247-1104) when he was in his forties.
Yuanwu Keqin was closely involved in the literati circles.
Starting from the year 1112 on, Yuan-wu started to lecture on the Pai-tse sung-ku ("One Hundred Old Cases and Verses [to the Cases]"), compiled by Xuedou Zhongxian (Wade–Giles: Hsueh-tou Chung-hsien; Japanese: Setcho Juken) (980–1052). These lectures resulted in the Pi-yen lu, the "Blue Cliff Record".
The Blue Cliff Record gives clear instructions about the correct approach to Ch'an kung-an. Yuan-wu went as far as to annotate the poems line by line, to make clear the correct reading of Hsueh-tou's appended verses, which are complex, because of the rich use of symbolism, and the allusions to Chinese secular literature and to Ch'an history.
According to the Chán-tradition, the Blue Cliff Record gained such a popularity, that Dahui Zonggao burned all the copies he could lay hands on, and the wooden printing blocks.
Cleary, J. C.; Cleary, Thomas (1994), Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu, Shambhala Publications
Hsieh, Ding-Hwa Evely (1994), "Yuan-wu K'o-ch'in's (1063-1135) Teaching of Ch'an Kung-an Practice: A Transition from the Literary Study of Ch'an Kung-an to the Practical K'an-hua Ch'an", Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Volume 17, Number 1, Summer 1994
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, ISBN978-0-8248-3508-8