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Patriarchs on PaperA Critical History of Medieval Chan Literature$
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Alan Cole

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520284067

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520284067.001.0001

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Chan—What Is It?

(p.1) Introduction
Patriarchs on Paper

Alan Cole

University of California Press

This introductory chapter begins the history of Chan literature in the late seventh century when a cycle of narratives appeared asking readers to believe that a perfect and final understanding of Buddhism had been brought to China by an Indian monk named Bodhidharma. These narratives also explained how Bodhidharma, once in China, installed this wisdom, suddenly and totally, in a Chinese monk named Huike, who then transmitted it to his disciple Sengcan in a similarly miraculous manner, and Sengcan in turn transmitted it to his disciple Daoxin, and so on, thereby generating a continuous track of perfectly realized Chinese masters—all of whom supposedly gained the same enlightenment that the Buddha had won back in India some 1,000 years earlier. It is this complex historical claim, slowly pieced together by mid-Tang authors, that has been essential to Chan ideology down to the present.

Keywords:   Chan literature, Buddhism, Bodhidharma, Chinese masters, mid-Tang authors, Chan ideology

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