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Blue Cliff Record

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The Blue Cliff Record (Chinese: 碧巖錄; pinyin: Bìyán Lù; Japanese: 碧巌録; rōmaji: Hekiganroku; Korean: 벽암록; romaja: Byeokamrok; Vietnamese: Bích nham lục) is a collection of Chan Buddhist kōans originally compiled in Song China in 1125, during the reign of Emperor Huizong, and then expanded into its present form by Chan master Yuanwu Keqin (1063–1135; Japanese pronunciation: Engo).[1]

The book includes Yuanwu's annotations and commentary on 100 Verses on Old Cases (頌古百則), a compilation of 100 kōans collected by Xuedou Chongxian (980–1052; 雪竇重顯, Setcho).[1] Xuedou selected 82 of these from The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp, with the remainder selected from the Yunmen Guanglu (雲門廣録, Extensive Record of Yunmen Wenyan, 864–949).

Name and origin[edit]

The Blue Cliff Record derives its name from the temple where Yuanwu Keqin wrote most of his commentaries, the Blue Cliff Cloister (碧巖院, Bìyán Yuàn) in Hunan.[2] The work was originally called Xuedou's Juko (ju, verse; ko, old koans) before its Blue Cliff Record title was attributed.[1]

Yuanwu first presented it as a series of lectures to his students between 1111 and 1117. It appears these lectures occurred during the traditional 90-day summer retreats, as can be seen from his introduction to the 100th Case, where he writes: "All summer I've been verbosely making up complications... and tripping up all the monks in the land."[2] Written a hundred years before The Gateless Gate, the Blue Cliff Record contains appended verses to each koan, added by Xuedo to point out their hidden meaning. Yuanwu 's commentaries were added to tempt students trying to understand Zen conceptually and intellectually instead of by their own immediate experience.[1]

The composite work consisting of the one hundred cases, along with poetry added by Xuedou and prose commentary by Yuanwu, is collectively known as the Blue Cliff Record.[3]

Later developments[edit]

Yuanwu's successor, Dahui Zonggao (1089–1163), wrote many letters to lay students teaching the practice of concentrating on koans during meditation, but Dahui did not explain and analyze koans. Oral tradition holds that Dahui noticed students engaged in too much intellectual discourse on koans, and then burned the wooden blocks used to print the Blue Cliff Record to "rescue disciples from delusion".[4]

The text was reconstituted only in the early 14th century by a layman, Zhang Mingyuan (張明遠, Chō Mei-en).[4][5] One of Zhang's sons became ill during this time, and others believed that it was an omen meaning that Zhang should not have re-released the book. However, an elder named Feng Zizhen (馮子振) comforted Zhang and encouraged him for his work.[6] Some of Yuanwu's capping phrases and possibly some of Xuedong's capping phrases were lost due to the incomplete source material available to Zhang.[7]

On its republication, the Blue Cliff Record again became one of the most influential works of Zen literature.[7]

Dogen and Japan[edit]

Another key legend regards Dōgen (1200–1253), who brought the Caodong school of Chan to Japan as the Sōtō sect of Zen. After an extended visit to China for the purpose of studying Chan, on the night before his planned return to Japan, Dogen came across the Blue Cliff Record for the first time, and stayed up all night making a handwritten copy of the book. Given the size of the book, this story is most likely apocryphal; but Dogen is still credited with introducing the collection to Japan,[8] where it had a wide circulation.[9] The Blue Cliff Record became the central text in Japanese Zen by the Muromachi period of 1336 to 1573.[7]

Literary qualities[edit]

The Blue Cliff Record was a subtle and literary text, with wide-ranging philosophical implications, in contrast to the more straightforward nature of The Gateless Barrier.[10] The Gateless Gate is normally studied before Blue Cliff Record because it is a shorter, simpler text, but all the cases in both texts are independent and could be studied in any sequence.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d K. Sekida, Two Zen Classics (1977) p. 18-20
  2. ^ a b Sullivan, Matthew Juksan (2021). The Garden of Flowers and Weeds: A New Translation and Commentary on the Blue Cliff Record. Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish Book Publishing Company. pp. xxxvii–xxxviii. ISBN 978-1948626491.
  3. ^ Yuanwu (2021). The garden of flowers and weeds : a new translation and commentary on the Blue Cliff record. Matthew Juksan Sullivan. Rhinebeck, New York. pp. xxx–xxxi. ISBN 978-1-948626-50-7. OCLC 1246676424.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ a b Heine, Steven (2016). Chan Rhetoric of Uncertainty in the Blue Cliff Record. Oxford University Press. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-19-939777-8.
  5. ^ K. Sekida, Two Zen Classics (1977) p. 19
  6. ^ 藍, 吉富. "大慧宗杲焚燒《碧巖錄》事件的歷史評述" (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 2016-07-01. 張明遠聞說之後,詢之於海粟老人馮子振。馮氏除了安慰他之外,並以佛教口吻讚美他印書這一善行。
  7. ^ a b c Sullivan, Matthew Juksan (2021). The Garden of Flowers and Weeds: a New Commentary on the Blue Cliff Record. Monkfish Book Publishing Company. pp. xli. ISBN 9781948626491.
  8. ^ H. Tanabe, Philosophy as Metanoetics (1986) p. 126
  9. ^ M. Y Zeami, On the Art of the N_ Drama (1984) p. 121
  10. ^ Z. Shibayama, The Gateless Barrier (2000) p. xv
  11. ^ K. Sekida, Two Zen Classics (1977) p. 17

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]