Mazu Daoyi

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This article is about the Chan master. For the Taoist goddess, see Mazu (goddess).
Also, Baso redirects here. For the island, see Baso (island).
Mazu Daoyi
School Chan Buddhism
Born 709
Died 788
Senior posting
Title Chan master
Religious career
Teacher Nanyue Huairang

Mazu Daoyi (709–788) (Chinese: 馬祖道一; pinyin: Mǎzŭ Dàoyī; Wade–Giles: Ma-tsu Tao-yi, Japanese: Baso Dōitsu) was an influential abbot of Chan Buddhism during the Tang dynasty. The earliest recorded use of the term "Chan school" is from his Extensive Records.[1] Master Ma's teaching style of "strange words and extraordinary actions"[2] became paradigmatic Zen lore.


His family name was Ma - Mazu meaning Ancestor Ma or Master Ma.[3] He was born in 709 northwest of Chengdu in Sichuan. During his years as master, Mazu lived in Jiangxi, from which tool the name "Jiangxi Daoyi".[4]

In the Transmission of the Lamp, compiled in 1004, Mazu is described as follows:

His appearance was remarkable. He strode along like a bull and glared about him like a tiger. If he stretched out his tongue, it reached up over his nose; on the soles of his feet were imprinted two circular marks.[5]

According to the Transmission of the Lamp, Mazu was a student of Nanyue Huairang (677-744) at Mount Heng in Hunan[6][7]

A story in the entry on Nanyue Huairang in the Transmission of the Lamp is regarded as Mazu's enlightenment-account, though the text does not claim it as such.[8] An earlier and more primitive version of this story appears in the Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall which was transcribed in 952:

Reverend Ma was sitting in a spot, and Reverend Rang took a tile and sat on the rock facing him, rubbing it. Master Ma asked, "What are you doing?" Master [Huairang] said, "I'm rubbing the tile to make it a mirror." Master Ma said, "How can you make a mirror by rubbing a tile?" Master [Huairang] said, "If I can't make a mirror by rubbing a tile, how can you achieve buddhahood by sitting in meditation?"[9][a]

This story echoes the Vimalakirti Sutra and the Platform Sutra in downgrading purificative and gradualist practices instead of direct insight into the Buddha-nature.[10]

Mazu's Hongzhou school

Main article: Hongzhou school

Mazu became Nanyue Huairang's dharmasuccessor. Eventually Mazu settled at Kung-kung Mountain by Nankang, southern Kiangsi province,[11] where he founded a monastery and gathered scores of disciples.[12]

Traditionally, Mazu Daoyi is depicted as a successor in the lineage of Huineng, since his teacher Nanyue Huairang is regarded as a student and successor of Huineng. This connection between Huineng and Nanyue Huairang is doubtful, being the product of later rewritings of Chan history to place Mazu Daoyi in the traditional lineages.[13]

Mazu Daoyi is perhaps the most influential teaching master in the formation of Chan Buddhism.[14] While Chan became the dominant school of Buddhism during the Song dynasty, the later Tang dynasty and Mazu Daoyi's Hongzhou school became regarded as the "golden age" of Chan.[15] The An Lushan Rebellion (755-763) led to a loss of control by the Tang dynasty, and metropolitan Chan began to lose its status while "other schools were arising in outlying areas controlled by warlords. These are the forerunnersof the Chan we know today. Their origins are obscure; the power of Shen-hui's preaching is shown by the fact that they all trace themselves to Hui-neng."[16]

Six Patriarchs
Huineng (638-713)
(Hui-neng, Jpn. Enō)
Nanyue Huairang (677-744)
(Nan-yüeh Huai-jang, Jpn. Nangaku Ejō))
Mazu Daoyi (709-788)
(Ma-tsu Tao-i, Jpn. Baso Dōitsu)
Nanquan Puyuan (748-835)
(Nan-ch'üan p'u-yüan, Jpn. Nansen Fugan)
Baizhang Huaihai (720-814)
(Pai-chang Huai-hai, Jpn. Hyakujō Ekai)
Zhaozhou Congshen (778--879)
(Chao-chou Ts'ung-shen, Jpn. Jōshū Jūshin)
Huangbo Xiyun (d.850)
(Huang-po Hsi-yüan, Jpn. Ōbaku Kiun)
Guishan Lingyou (771-853)
(Kuei-shan Ling-yu, Jpn. Isan Reiyū)
Linji Yixuan (d.866)
(Lin-chi I-hsüan, Jpn. Rinzai Gigen)
Guiyang school
Linji school

This school developed "shock techniques such as shouting, beating, and using irrational retorts to startle their students into realization".[17][18] These shock techniques became part of the traditional and still popular image of Chan masters displaying irrational and strange behaviour to aid their students.[19][20] Part of this image was due to later misinterpretations and translation errors, such as the loud belly shout known as katsu. In Chinese "katsu" means "to shout", which has traditionally been translated as "yelled 'katsu'" - which should mean "yelled a yell"[web 1]

During 845-846 Emperor Wu-tsung persecuted the Buddhist schools in China:

It was a desperate attempt on the part of the hard-pressed central government, which had been in disarray since the An Lu-shan rebellion of 756, to gain some measure of political, economic, and military relief by preying on the Buddhist temples with their immense wealth and extensive lands.[21]

This persecution was devastating for metropolitan Chan, but the Chan school of Ma-tsu and his likes survived, and took a leading role in the Chan of the later Tang.[21]


Mazu Daoyi's teachings and dialogues were collected and published in his Jiangxi Daoyi Chanshi Yulu "Oral Records of Chan Master Daoyi from Jiangxi".[b]

Buddha Nature

Though regarded as an unconventional teacher, Mazu's teachings emphasise Buddha-nature:

[L]et each of you see into his own mind. ... However eloquently I may talk about all kinds of things as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges, the Mind shows no increase... . You may talk ever so much about it, and it is still your Mind; you may not at all talk about it, and it is just the same your own Mind.[22]

Shock techniques

Mazu Daoyi, in order to shake his students out of routine consciousness, employed novel and unconventional teaching methods. Mazu is credited with the innovations of using katsu (sudden shouts),[23] keisaku (unexpected strikes with a stick)[24] and unexpectedly calling to a person by name as that person is leaving. This last is said to summon original consciousness, from which enlightenment arises.[25] Mazu also employed silent gestures,[14][26] non-responsive answers to questions, and was known to grab and twist the nose of a disciple.[27] Utilizing this variety of unexpected shocks, his teaching methods challenged both habit and vanity, a push that might inspire sudden kensho.[14]

Subitism and dhyana (zazen)

A well-known story depicts Mazu practicing zazen but being rebuked by his teacher, Nanyue Huairang, comparing seated meditation with polishing a tile.[28] According to Faure, the criticism is not about dhyana as such, but "the idea of "becoming a Buddha" by means of any practice, lowered to the standing of a "means" to achieve an "end"".[28] The criticism of seated dhyana reflects a change in the role and position of monks in Tang society, who "undertook only pious works, reciting sacred texts and remaining seated in dhyana".[29] Nevertheless, seated dhyana remained an important part of the Chan tradition, also due to the influence of Guifeng Zongmi, who tried to balance dhyana and insight.[29]

Use of koans


Mazu appears in early Chan anthologies of lineage, encounter dialogue and koans:[30]

Other anthologies where Mazu appears include:

  • Records of Pointing at the Moon (compiled 1602),
  • Recorded Saying of the Ancient Worthies (compiled 1271),
  • Records of the Regular Transmission of the Dharma (1062).[e][f]


Mazu was particularly fond of using the kōan "What the mind is, what the Buddha is." In the particular case of Damei Fachang, hearing this brought about an awakening. Later this same statement was contradicted by Mazu when he taught the kung'an "No mind, No Buddha".:[34]

A monk asked why the Master [Mazu] maintained, "The Mind is the Buddha." The Master answered, "Because I want to stop the crying of a baby." The monk persisted, "When the crying has stopped, what is it then?" "Not Mind, not Buddha", was the answer.[35]

Other examples of kōans in which Mazu figures are as follows:

When sick Mazu was asked how he felt; he replied, "Sun Face Buddha. Moon Face Buddha."[36]

P'ang asked Mazu, "Who is it who is not dependent upon the ten thousand things?" Matsu answered, "This I'll tell you when you drink up the waters of the West River in one gulp".[37]

A monk asked Mazu, "Please indicate the meaning of Ch'an directly, apart from all permutations of assertion and denial." Mazu told him to ask Zhiang. Zhiang paused, then said for him to ask Baizhang. Baizhang seemed to say he didn't understand. The monk returned to Mazu and related what happened. Mazu observed dryly that Zhiang had white hair, while Baizhang's was black.[38]


Among Mazu's immediate students were Baizhang Huaihai (720-814)[g][h][i] Nanquan Puyuan (748-835), and Damei Fachang (752-839).

A generation later his lineage through Baizhang came to include Huangbo Xiyun (d.850), and his celebrated successor Linji Yixuan (d.866).[41] From Linji Yixuan derived the Linji school and the Japanese sect, the Rinzai school.

A second line was Guishan Lingyou (771-853), to whom the Guiyang school was named, and therein Yangshan Huiji (807-883).

Six Patriarchs
Huineng (638-713)
(Hui-neng, Jpn. Enō)
Nanyue Huairang (677-744)
(Nan-yüeh Huai-jang, Jpn. Nangaku Ejō))
Mazu Daoyi (709-788)
(Ma-tsu Tao-i, Jpn. Baso Dōitsu)
Nanquan Puyuan (748-835)
(Nan-ch'üan p'u-yüan, Jpn. Nansen Fugan)
Baizhang Huaihai (720-814)
(Pai-chang Huai-hai, Jpn. Hyakujō Ekai)
Zhaozhou Congshen (778--879)
(Chao-chou Ts'ung-shen, Jpn. Jōshū Jūshin)
Huangbo Xiyun (d.850)
(Huang-po Hsi-yüan, Jpn. Ōbaku Kiun)
Guishan Lingyou (771-853)
(Kuei-shan Ling-yu, Jpn. Isan Reiyū)
Linji Yixuan (d.866)
(Lin-chi I-hsüan, Jpn. Rinzai Gigen)
Guiyang school
Linji school


The Hung-chou school has been criticised for its radical subitism.

Guifeng Zongmi (圭峰 宗密) (780–841), an influential teacher-scholar and patriarch of both the Chán and the Huayan school claimed that the Hung-chou tradition believed "everything as altogether true".[42]

According to Zongmi, the Hung-chou school teaching led to a radical nondualism that believed that all actions, good or bad, are expressing the essential Buddha-nature, but therefor denies the need for spiritual cultivation and moral discipline. This was a dangerously antinomian view as it eliminated all moral distinctions and validated any actions as expressions of the essence of Buddha-nature.

While Zongmi acknowledged that the essence of Buddha-nature and its functioning in the day-to-day reality are but different aspects of the same reality, he insisted that there is a difference. To avoid the dualism he saw in the Northern Line and the radical nondualism and antinomianism of the Hung-chou school, Zongmi’s paradigm preserved "an ethically critical duality within a larger ontological unity",[43] an ontology which he claimed was lacking in Hung-chou Chan.


  1. ^ MacRae cites Sodōshū [Anthology of the patriarchal hall], edited by Yanagida Seizan (Kyoto: Chūbun shuppansha 1972), at 72 a14-b3
  2. ^ For these Extensive Records of the dialogues of Mazu, see volume 119 of Wan-tzu hsu-tsang-ching [Newly Compiled Continuation of the Buddhist Canon] (Taipei: Hsin-wen-feng 1977), reprint of Dainippon zoku zokyo
  3. ^ Mazu appears at koans #3 (at 25-28), #53 (255-259), #73 (324-328). At #53 Mazu discusses "wild ducks flying" with Baizhang Huaihai (WG: Pai-chang Huaihai). This collection was brought to Japan by Sōtō Zen master Dogen Kigen (1200-1253), and thereafter has received intense scrutiny, being recognized as the "foremost of Zen texts" by the Rinzai Zen school.[32]
  4. ^ Koans from the Gateless Gate text are presented, with Mazu (under his Japanese name Baso) quoted at #30 (at 114) and #33 (at 117)
  5. ^ These and other sources for Mazu Daoyi are given by Chang Chung-yuan in his Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism (New York: Pantheon 1969; reprint Vintage 1971) at 308-309.
  6. ^ Erudition can be suspect in Ch'an/Zen. "I know that erudition disturbs enlightenment", wrote Keizan Zenji (1268-1325) of the Soto school in the Book of the Transmission. He quotes the Kegon Sutra, "A poor man who counts another's treasure cannot have his own. Erudition is like this." Cited by Jiyu Kennett in her Selling Water by the River. A Manual of Zen Training (New York: Pantheon 1969; reprint Vintage 1972) at 38-39.
  7. ^ Baizhang drafted a new set of vinaya meant especially for Chan monks. Edward Conze, A Short History of Buddhism (London: George Allen & Unwin 1980) at 89.
  8. ^ Baizhang composed the saying: "A day without work, a day without food." [39]
  9. ^ Baizhang was "a dedicated disciple of Mazu and served as his attendant for twenty years." [40]


Book references[edit]

  1. ^ Heng-ching 1992, p. 51 n.68.
  2. ^ Dumoulin 2005-A, p. 166.
  3. ^ Suzuki 1974, p. 104.
  4. ^ Chung-Yuan 1971, p. 148 & 177; 130.
  5. ^ Dumoulin 1965, p. 97.
  6. ^ a b Chang.
  7. ^ Perkins 1999, p. 161-162.
  8. ^ McRae 2003, p. 80-82.
  9. ^ McRae 2003, p. 81.
  10. ^ McRae 2003, p. 81-82.
  11. ^ Chang 1971, p. 148-149, 177.
  12. ^ Chang 1971, p. 152.
  13. ^ McRae 2003, p. 82.
  14. ^ a b c Schuhmacher and Woerner (editors) 1991, p. 141.
  15. ^ McRae 2003, p. 18-21.
  16. ^ Yampolski 2003-A, p. 11.
  17. ^ Kasulis 2003, pp. 28–29.
  18. ^ Chang 1967.
  19. ^ McRae 2003.
  20. ^ Heine 2008.
  21. ^ a b Yampolski 2003-A, p. 15.
  22. ^ Suzuki 1974, p. 109.
  23. ^ Chang 1971, p. 131-132.
  24. ^ Chang 1971, p. 133-134.
  25. ^ Chang 1971, p. 88-89, 134-135.
  26. ^ Suzuki 1974, p. 110.
  27. ^ Chang 1971, p. 135, 150 (answers), 132 (nose).
  28. ^ a b Faure 1997, p. 73.
  29. ^ a b Faure 1997, p. 74.
  30. ^ Ch'en 1964, p. 403.
  31. ^ Cleary 1992.
  32. ^ Cleary 1992, p. 1.
  33. ^ Reps 1958, p. 3-130.
  34. ^ Dumoulin 1965, p. 91-99.
  35. ^ Chang 1971, p. 150.
  36. ^ Cleary & 1992 25.
  37. ^ Schuhmacher and Woerner (editors) 1991, p. 168 (P'ang Yün).
  38. ^ Cleary 1992, p. 324-325.
  39. ^ Schuhmacher and Woerner (editors) 1991, p. 166.
  40. ^ Cleary 1992, p. 256.
  41. ^ Watson 1993.
  42. ^ Gregory 2002, p. 236.
  43. ^ Gregory 2002, p. 239.

Web references[edit]


  • Abe, Masao (1975), Zen and Western Thought, University of Hawaii 
  • Ch'en (1964), Buddhism in China. A historical survey, Princeton University 
  • Chung-Yuan, Chang (1971) [1969, New York, Pantheon 1969], Original Teachings of Ch'an Buddhism. Selected from "Transmission of the Lamp", Vantage )
  • Cleary, Thomas (ed., transl.) (1992), The Blue Cliff Record, Boston: Shambhala 1992 
  • Cowie, A.P.; Evison, A. (1986), Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary, Beijing: The Commercial Press 
  • Heinrich Dumoulin, Heinrich (1965), A History of Zen Buddhism, Random House McGraw-Hill 
  • Dumoulin, Heinrich (2005-A), Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1: India and China, World Wisdom Books, ISBN 978-0-941532-89-1  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Faure, Bernard (1997), The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism, Stanford University Press 
  • Gregory, Peter N. (2002), Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism, University of Hawai’i Press, Kuroda Institute, (originally published Princeton University Press, 1991, Princeton, N.J.), ISBN 0-8248-2623-X 
  • Heine, Steven (2008), Zen Skin, Zen Marrow 
  • McRae, John (2003), Seeing Through Zen. Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism, The University Press Group Ltd, ISBN 978-0-520-23798-8 
  • Perkins, Dorothy (1999), Encyclopedia of China, New York: Facts on File 1999 
  • Reps, Paul (1958), Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Rutland/Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle 1958 
  • Schuhmacher and Woerner (editors) (1991), Fischer-Schreiber, Ehrhard, Diener, ed., The Shambala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Michael H. Kohn (trans.), Boston: Shambala 
  • Shih, Heng-ching (1992), The Syncretism of Ch'an and Pure Land Buddhism, New York: Peter Lang 1992 
  • Suzuki, D.T. (1974) [1934, Kyoto, Eastern Buddhist Society], Manual of Zen Buddhism, Ballantine 
  • Watson, Burton (ed., transl.) (1993), The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi. A translation of the Lin-chi Lu, Boston: Shambhala 
  • Yampolski, Philip (2003-A), Chan. A Historical Sketch. In: Buddhist Spirituality. Later China, Korea, Japan and the Modern World; edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass  Check date values in: |date= (help)
Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Nanyue Huairang
Rinzai Zen patriarch Succeeded by
Baizhang Huaihai