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Daman Hongren

Daman Hongren – The Fifth Patriarch of Ch'an

Daman Hongren (Traditional Chinese: 大滿弘忍; Hànyǔ Pīnyīn: Dàmǎn Hóngrěn; Wade-Giles: Ta-man Hung-jen) is the Fifth Patriarch of Chinese Ch'an after Bodhidharma and the immediate successor of Dayi Daoxin, the Fourth Patriarch of Ch'an. He lived from 601–674. He stepped into the shoes of his master Daoxin and brought his master's work of creating a Ch'an monastic community to fruition.

Like with all the early Chinese Ch'an patriarchs, many facts about Hongren's life are unclear and his biography is embellished with legend added posthumously. The following is based on traditional Ch'an sources.

Hongren was born in Huangmei County under the administration of Huanggang City in eastern Qizhou (Hubei province). It borders Anhui province to the east and Jiangxi province to the south across the Yangtze River. He was of a wealthy family with the surname Chou.

The Records of the Teachers and Disciples of the Laṅkāvatāra record that Hongren's father abandoned his family, but Hongren showed great filial duty in caring for his mother. Hongren left home at either age seven or twelve to become a monk. Hongren's family manor was later converted to a monastery.

Hongren's life is similar to that of many of the early Chinese patriarchs: leaving home young to become a monk, sitting in meditation for long stretches of time, growing past the sutras (Indian Buddhist scriptures), achieving Enlightenment, and passing his teachings to a successor.

The Transmission of Light records that he came from Daoxin's home province and he impressed Daoxin greatly at the age of fourteen when Daoxin met him on the road to Huangmei:

Daoxin: "What is your name?"
Hongren: "I have an essence, but it is not a common name."
Daoxin: "What name is it?"
Hongren: "It is the essence of Buddhahood."
Daoxin: "Have you no name?"
Hongren: "None, because essence is empty."

Following this exchange, Daoxin passed the dharma and Bodhidharma's robe and bowl to Hongren to make him the Fifth Patriarch of Ch'an.

Hongren followed Daoxin until the latter's passing in 651. He was likely with Daoxin when Daoxin resided at the Great Woods Temple (Traditional Chinese: 塔林斯; Hànyǔ Pīnyīn: Tǎlín sī; Wade-Giles: Ta-lin szu or Ta-lin ssu) on Mount Lu and studied with the Buddhist master Zhikai for ten years. Hongren also likely accompanied Daoxin to Mount Shuanfeng, one of the "Twin Peaks" of Huangmei, where the latter resided at East Mountain Temple (Traditional Chinese: 東山寺; Hànyǔ Pīnyīn: Dōngshān sì; Wade-Giles: Tung-shan szu) and taught Ch'an Buddhism for thirty years and established the first community of monks in China.

Following Daoxin's death, Hongren moved to Dong-Shan, "East Mountain," the easternmost of the "Twin Peaks." He continued Daoxin's practice of founding monastic Ch'an communities in which monks and nuns worked in agricultural fields and cultivated practical and administrative skills as well as engage in regular dhyāna (meditation) practice. Ch'an practice was thus extended beyond meditation to all aspects of daily life.

Hongren spent the rest of his life on Mount Huangmei. It is said that eight to nine of every ten Buddhist monks in China, over seven hundred, studied under Hongren at East Mountain Temple. Among his most famous students were: Luzhou Faru, who was his first Dharma heir and successor; Yuquan Shenxiu, who replaced Faru as his successor and became the "first" Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an; and Dajian Huineng, the official Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an. Emperor Daizong (January 9, 727 – June 10, 779) of the Tang dynasty honored Hongren with the posthumous honorific of Daman ("Great Abundance").

Hongren was held in great regard by later Ch'an followers in the ancient capital cities of Chang'an and Luoyang in the early eighth century, when Ch'an transitioned from a rural base to the center of Chinese power in the major Chinese urban areas and the Tang dynasty imperial court.

The teachings of Daoxin and Hongren were called the "East Mountain Teachings" (Traditional Chinese: 東山法門; Hànyǔ Pīnyīn: Dōngshān Fǎmén; Wade-Giles: Tung-shan Fa-men; "East Mountain Dharma Gate"). Though Hongren was regarded as a master of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (text with the actual words of Buddha), he did not base his teachings solely on this Sutra. He also added parts of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra as well as the Heart and Diamond Sutras.

Hongren's principal teaching was that the Pure Mind is clouded by "discriminating thinking, false thoughts, and ascriptive (a group in which status is based on a factor other than achievement) views." Purging false thoughts and maintaining a steady awareness of one's state of enlightenment ensures that Nirvana occurs.

Hongren marks the start of a new period of Chinese Ch'an marked by strong master-disciple relationships and the expanding of spiritual practice beyond Indian dhyāna meditation practices. Hongren's spiritual practice was founded on the "gradual enlightenment" teachings of his teacher, Daoxin.

Hongren and his monastery came to symbolize the great philosophical debate between Gradual Enlightenment (jian jiao 漸教) or Gradual Path (Sanskrit: Karamavrittya; क्रमवृद्धि) and Sudden Enlightenment (dun jiao 頓教) or Sudden Path (Sanskrit: Yugapad; युगपद्) that broke out during the first half of the eighth century in China. The debate is immortalized in a poetry contest Hongren sponsored and its two principal contestants: Shenxiu and Huineng.

After Hongren's passing in 674, Ch'an Buddhism divided into two schools, a northern branch falsely attributed to Shenxiu that favored the gradualist approach and a southern branch headed by Huineng that advocated the sudden teaching. The two schools each viewed their leaders as the Sixth Patriarch of Ch'an. The Northern versus Southern School of Ch'an controversy was first ignited by an obscure monk named Heze Shenhui, who was supposedly a student of both Shenxiu and Huineng. Shenhui emphasized his connection to Huineng and sparked the controversy as part of a personal crusade to have Huineng named as the Sixth Patriarch over Shenxiu and himself as the Seventh Patriarch over Shenxiu's selection of Songshan Puji. The southern school eventually came to dominance and Huineng is seen as the official Sixth Patriarch today. Shenhui himself was soon forgotten, but his influence continues.

Two meditation techniques taught by Hongren are mentioned in the Treatise on the Essentials of Cultivating the Mind. Hongren is said to have taught, "Look to where the horizon disappears beyond the sky and behold the figure one*…. It is good for those beginning to sit in meditation, when they find their mind distracted, to focus their mind on the figure one."

* The Chinese calligraphy character for one (一; yi) is a horizontal line, resembling a horizon and used by Chinese Buddhists to represent the unity of the mind and Buddha nature.

Hongren also taught that the meditator should observe his/her mental processes: "View your own consciousness tranquilly and attentively, so that you can see how it is always moving, like flowing water or a glittering mirage…. Until its fluctuations dissolve into peaceful stability. This flowing consciousness will disappear like a gust of wind. When this consciousness disappears, all one's illusions will disappear along with it… "

The tradition of Ch'an Buddhism and Shaolin martial arts are continued in martial arts classes for men, women, and children offered by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.


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