Decline Of Zen


The blooming prosperity of Zen was over towards the end of the

Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279), when it began to fade, not being

bitten by the frost of oppression from without, but being weakened by

rottenness within. As early as the Sung dynasty (960-1126) the

worship of Buddha Amitabha[FN#58] stealthily found its way among Zen

believers, who could not fully realize the Spirit of Shakya Muni, and

to satisfy these p
ople the amalgamation of the two faiths was

attempted by some Zen masters.[FN#59]

[FN#58] The faith is based on Larger Sukhavati-vyuha, Smaller

Sukhavati-vyuha, and Amitayus-dhyana-sutra. It was taught in India

by Acvaghosa, Nagariuna, and Vasubandhu. In China Hwui Yuen (E-on,

died in A.D. 416), Tan Lwan (Don-ran, died in 542), Tao Choh

(Do-shaku), and Shen Tao (Zen-do) (both of whom lived about 600-650),

chiefly taught the doctrine. It made an extraordinary progress in

Japan, and differentiated itself into several sects, of which Jodo

Shu and Shin Shu are the strongest.

[FN#59] It is beyond all doubt that Poh Loh Tien (Haku-raku-ten)

practised Zen, but at the same time believed in Amitabha; so also Su

Shih (So-shoku), a most noted Zen practiser, worshipped the same

Buddha, Yang Kieh (Yo-keteu), who carried a picture of Amitabha

wherever he went and worshipped it, seems to have thought there is

nothing incompatible between Zen and his faith. The foremost of

those Zen masters of the Sung dynasty that attempted the amalgamation

is Yung Ming (Yo-myo, died in 975), who reconciled Zen with the

worship of Amitabha in his Wan Shen Tung Kwei Tsih

(Man-zen-do-ki-shu) and Si Ngan Yan Shan Fu (Sei-an-yo-sin-fu). He

was followed by Tsing Tsz (Jo-ji) and Chan Hieh (Shin-ketsu, lived

about 1151), the former of whom wrote Kwei Yuen Chih Chi

(Ki-gen-jiki-shi), and the latter Tsing Tu Sin Yao (Jo-do-sin-yo), in

order to further the tendency. In the Yuen dynasty Chung Fung

(Chu-ho, died in 1323) encouraged the adoration of Amitabha, together

with the practice of Zen, in his poetical composition

(Kwan-shu-jo-go). In the Ming dynasty Yun Si (Un-sei, died in 1615),

the author of Shen Kwan Tseh Tsin (Zen-kwan-saku-shin) and other

numerous works, writing a commentary on Sukhavati-vyuha-sutra,

brought the amalgamation to its height. Ku Shan (Ku-zan, died in

1657), a Zen historian and author, and his prominent disciple Wei Lin

(E-rin), axe well known as the amalgamators. Yun Ming declared that

those who practise Zen, but have no faith in Amitabha, go astray in

nine cases out of ten; that those who do not practise Zen, but

believe in Amitabha, are saved, one and all; that those who practise

Zen, and have the faith in Amitabha, are like the tiger provided with

wings; and that for those who have no faith in Amitabha, nor practise

Zen, there exist the iron floor and the copper pillars in Hell. Ku

Shan said that some practise Zen in order to attain Enlightenment,

while others pray Amitabha for salvation; that if they were sincere

and diligent, both will obtain the final beatitude. Wei Lin also

observed: Theoretically I embrace Zen, and practically I worship

Amitabha. E-chu, the author of Zen-to-nenbutsu ('On Zen and the

Worship of Amitabha'), points out that one of the direct disciples of

the Sixth Patriarch favoured the faith of Amitabha, but there is no

trustworthy evidence, as far as we know, that proves the existence of

the amalgamation in the Tang dynasty.

This tendency steadily increasing with time brought out at length the

period of amalgamation which covered the Yuen (1280-1367) and the

Ming dynasties (1368-1659), when the prayer for Amitabha was in every

mouth of Zen monks sitting in Meditation. The patrons of Zen were

not wanting in the Yuen dynasty, for such a warlike monarch as the

Emperor Shi Tsu (Sei-so), 1280-1294) is known to have practised Zen

under the instruction of Miao Kao, and his successor Ching Tsung

(1295-1307) to have trusted in Yih Shan,[FN#60] a Zen teacher of

reputation at that time. Moreover, Lin Ping Chung (Rin-hei-cha, died

in 1274), a powerful minister under Shi Tsu, who did much toward the

establishment of the administrative system in that dynasty, had been

a Zen monk, and never failed to patronize his faith. And in the Ming

dynasty the first Emperor Tai Tsu (1368-1398), having been a Zen

monk, protected the sect with enthusiasm, and his example was

followed by Tai Tsung (1403-1424), whose spiritual as well as

political adviser was Tao Yen, a Zen monk of distinction. Thus Zen

exercised an influence unparalleled by any other faith throughout

these ages. The life and energy of Zen, however, was gone by the

ignoble amalgamation, and even such great scholars as Chung

Fung,[FN#61] Yung Si,[FN#62] Yung Kioh,[FN#63] were not free from the

overwhelming influence of the age.

[FN#60] The Emperor sent him to Japan in 1299 with some secret

order, but he did nothing political, and stayed as a Zen teacher

until his death.

[FN#61] A most renowned Zen master in the Yuen dynasty, whom the

Emperor Jan Tsung invited to visit the palace, but in vain.

[FN#62] An author noted for his learning and virtues, who was rather

a worshipper of Amitabha than a Zen monk.

[FN#63] An author of voluminous books, of which Tung Shang Ku Cheh

(To-jo-ko-tetsu) is well known.

We are not, however, doing justice to the tendency of amalgamation in

these times simply to blame it for its obnoxious results, because it

is beyond doubt that it brought forth wholesome fruits to the Chinese

literature and philosophy. Who can deny that this tendency brought

the Speculative[FN#64] philosophy of the Sung dynasty to its

consummation by the amalgamation of Confucianism with Buddhism

especially with Zen, to enable it to exercise long-standing influence

on society, and that this tendency also produced Wang Yang

Ming,[FN#65] one of the greatest generals and scholars that the world

has ever seen, whose philosophy of Conscience[FN#66] still holds a

unique position in the history of human thought? Who can deny

furthermore that Wang's philosophy is Zen in the Confucian


[FN#64] This well-known philosophy was first taught by Cheu Men Shuh

(Shu-mo-shiku, died in 1073) in its definite form. He is said to

have been enlightened by the instruction of Hwui Tang, a contemporary

Zen master. He was succeeded by Chang Ming Tao (Tei-mei-do, died in

1085) and Chang I Chwen (Tei-i-sen, died in 1107), two brothers, who

developed the philosophy in no small degree. And it was completed by

Chu Tsz (Shu-shi, died in 1200), a celebrated commentator of the

Confucian classics. It is worthy to note that these scholars

practised Meditation just as Zen monks. See 'History of Chinese

Philosophy' (pp. 215-269), by G. Nakauchi, and 'History of

Development of Chinese Thought,' by R. Endo.

[FN#65] He was born in 1472, and died in 1529. His doctrine

exercised a most fruitful influence on many of the great Japanese

minds, and undoubtedly has done much to the progress of New Japan.

[FN#66] See Den-shu-roku and O-ya-mei-zen-sho.