Establish Yourself In The Ground Of Dharma

Establish Yourself In The Ground Of Dharma

This week in our Vine of Obstacle Zen practice period, we are studying the 46th ancestor, Danxia Zichun (丹霞子淳, Vermillion Mist Pure Child; J. Tanka Shijun; 1064–1117) through Keizan's Record of the Transmission of Illumination. In this post, I'll give you a tiny bit of background about Danxia and then quote one passage from his teaching that Tetsugan Sensei and I touched on in our dharma talk on Sunday, but here I'll quote Danxia more fully.

As for background, Danxia doesn't seem to have made much of an impact in his lifetime, possibly because his famous teacher, Daokai, outlived him by about a year. Danxia died at just 53 with no time out of the shadow. So much so that Danxia's most famous students became known as the Three Sage Grandchildren of Daokai.

These three sages were:

  • Huizhao Qingyu (1078-1140) was senior and probably the most well-known of the three in his lifetime (pretty much unknown today). He outlived his teacher, Danxia, by 20 years.
  • Zhenjie Qingliao (1088-1151; English, Tall Reeds Purity Field; Japanese, Tanka Shijun) through whom the surviving Soto lineage to Dogen in several generations and to the present flows. Qingliao was also the monk that Dahui harshly criticized for his silent illumination proclivities. He outlived his teacher, Danxia, by 30 years.
  • Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157) now probably the most well-known Caodong lineage teacher of the Song dynasty. Hongzhi’s lineage was also transmitted to Japan where it was associated more with the Rinzai Five Mountain system than with the Dogen Soto line. Hongzhi's lineage died out both in China and Japan after a several generations, but Hongzhi's teaching is still talked about today. For example, see Taigen Leigton's Cultivating the Empty Field and Guo Gu’s Silent Illumination. He outlived his teacher, Danxia, by 40 years.

A sample of Danxia's teaching

You should realize that this is the last day of your life.

Have you prepared yourself for today’s matter?

You cannot prepare by studying the sūtras and teachings, you cannot prepare by reciting from your Chan notebooks, and you cannot prepare by maintaining a clever mind.

Precisely at this time when you are dying and all confused, forgetting instantly everything you remembered in the past—at this point it is necessary that you establish yourself in the ground of dharma, and it is no use trying to do it in a superficial manner. Right away, for twenty-four hours a day, you should all prepare for it by ceasing and resting.

You must completely let go of all worldly concerns and sit totally still in the “dry wood hall.” You must die a turn and then in this death establish everything in the whole universe.

From Morten Schlutter's How Zen Became Zen [modified]