Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Teachings of Master Wuzhu

My studies of the Ancient Masters have led me to Chinul, Zongmi, Yanhsou, and now to an obscure Chan Master named Wuzhu. Very little is known about this fascinating Chan figure, which makes Wendi L. Adamek's The Teachings of Master Wuzhu: Zen and Religion of No-Religion all the more valuable. In this book, Adamek, Professor of East Asian Buddhism at the University of Sydney, paints a portrait of a true iconoclast, a Zen Master who eschews all forms of ritualism, recitation, and sutra study. In the same vein as Mazu, Wuzhu insists that the Absolute is immanent rather than transcendent; and so Wuzhu's Bao Tang school will resonate with anyone interested in Mazu's Hongzhou school.

Adamek provides an accessible yet scholarly introduction to her translation of the Lidai fabao ji, the Bao Tang core text that provides glimpses into Wuzhu's enigmatic character. Here she places Wuzhu inside of the cultural and religious milieu of Tang dynasty China, which contextualizes his revolutionary approach. But it's in the Lidai fabao ji that Wuzhu's true brand of Zen emerges. Here Wuzhu's "religion of no-religion" reveals itself, as he jettisons ritualism and devotionalism altogether. This bare bones Zen, what Wuzhu calls "formless practice," anticipates Dogen's "just sitting" by almost four centuries.

One vital passages that illustrates Wuzhu's Bao Tang Zen is: "Regard nonobstruction as repentance. Regard no-thought as the precepts, nonaction and nothing to attain as meditation, and nonduality as wisdom. Do not [however,] regard the constructed ritual arena as the bodhimanda."

This could be considered nothing short of heresy in Tang dynasty China, even from a Chan Master. Which makes me appreciate Wuzhu all the more. He was trying to capture what he saw as the true Dharma, stripped of its devotional and ritualized accretions. This is something I think that many Western Buddhists can appreciate.

If you are at all like me, and strive to know the true Dharma, then you will find Wuzhu a kindred spirit. I recommend The Teachings of Zen Master Wuzhu to all Zen students, but especially those who seek spiritual resonance rather than mere intellectual knowledge in the writings of the great masters.

Special thanks to the publicity department of Columbia University Press for the opportunity to review this book.



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