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Ch'an Masters of Ancient China

Bodhidharma is credited with transmitting Gautama Buddha's principles on sudden illumination from India to China about 530 AD. Hui-neng, the sixth and last patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism, identified Bodhidharma as the twenty-eighth patriarch to the transmission of the dharma (the teachings of Buddha) and the first patriarch in China. Hui K'o succeeded Bodhidharma. He in turn was followed by Seng-Ts'an, Tao-hsin, Hung-jen, and then Hui-neng. These six men are regarded as the Grand Masters or Patriarchs of Ch'an.

By the time Hui-neng attained enlightenment, the dhyana (Sanskrit:  ध्यान; meditation) sect had already diverged into two branches that took root in northern and southern China respectively. The school in northern China taught that the process of illumination is gradual. It thrived for a time under royal patronage. In contrast, the southern school stressed sudden enlightenment.

Following Hui-neng's death in 713 AD, the southern school continued to be very active. Among the Ch'an masters or Ch'an-na (Chinese pronunciation of dhyana), Ma Tsu was one of the most prominent. An important disciple of Ma Tsu’s was Hui Hai, who was regarded as a "great pearl".

The fourth successor of Hui-neng was Huang Po, who passed away about 850 AD after teaching the wordless dharma to Lin Chi (Rinzai in Japanese). Lin Chi in turn founded the Japanese Zen school that continues to flourish in Japan.  The Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple continues the tradition of Ch'an Buddhism in its martial arts classes.


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