Five Houses of Chán

The Five Houses of Chán (also called the Five Houses of Zen) were the five major schools of Chan Buddhism that originated during Tang China. Although at the time they were not considered formal schools or sects of Buddhism, they are now regarded as important schools in the history of Chán Buddhism. Most Chán lineages throughout Asia and the rest of the world originally grew from or were heavily influenced by the original five houses of Chán.

East Mountain Teaching

Huineng tearing sutras

The period of Daoxin (道信 580–651) and Daman Hongren (弘忍 601–674) came to be called the East Mountain Teaching, due to the location of the residence of Hongren at Huamgmei. The term was used by Shenxiu, the most important successor to Hongren.[1]

Shenxiu (神秀 606?-706) was the most important successor to Hongren. In 701 he was invited to the Imperial Court by Empress Wu, who paid him due imperial reverence. The first lineage documents were produced in this period.[2]

According to tradition, the sixth and last ancestral founder, Huineng (惠能; 638–713), was one of the giants of Chán history, and all surviving schools regard him as their ancestor.[3] Shenhui, a successor to Huineng claimed Huineng to be the successor of Hongren's, instead of the then publicly recognized successor Shenxiu.[4] The most prominent of the successors of Shenhui's lineage was Guifeng Zongmi[5]

Shenhui's influence is traceable in the Platform Sutra, which gives a popular account of the story of Huineng, but also reconciles the antagonism created by Shenhui. Shenhui himself does not figure in the Platform Sutra; he was effectively written out of Chán-history.[6]

From the East Mountain Teachings descend the Five Houses of Chán, via various lineages.

5 Daman Hongren (601-674)(5th Patriarch)
(WG Ta-man Hung-jen, Jpn. Gunin)
6 Yuquan Shenxiu (605?-706)
(WG Yü-Ch'uan shen-hsiu, Jpn. Jinshū)
Huineng (638-713)
(WG Hui-neng, Jpn. Enō)
7 Northern School Qingyuan Xingsi (660-740)
(WG Ch'ing-yüan Hsing-ssu, Jpn. Seigen Gyōshi)
Nanyue Huairang (677-744)
(wg Nan-yüeh Huai-jang, Jpn. Nangaku Ejō)
Heze Shenhui
(WG Ho-tse Shen-hui, Jpn. Kataku Jin'e)
8 Shitou Xiqian (700-790)
(WG Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien, Jpn. Sekitō Kisen)
Mazu Daoyi (709-788)
(WG Ma-tsu Tao-i, Jpn. Baso Dōitsu)
Southern School
(WG Ho-tse School, Jpn. Kataku School)
9 Fayan school
Yunmen school
Caodong school)
Hongzhou school
Linji school
Fifth generation: Guifeng Zongmi (780–841)
((圭峰 宗密 WG Kuei-feng Tsung-mi, Jpn. Keihō Shūmitsu)

The Five Houses

The five houses were each defined by a unique method of teaching. Each school's methods were significantly different from the others, though it was not unheard of for teachers from one school to use the methods of another.[7]

Guiyang school

Main article: Guiyang school

The Guiyang school (潙仰宗 Guíyáng, Jpn. Igyō) was the first established school of the Five Houses of Zen.[7] Guiyang is named after master Guishan Lingyou (771–854) (Kuei-shan Ling-yu, Jpn. Isan Reiyū) and his student, Yangshan Huiji (807-883,[8] or 813–890) (Yang-shan Hui-chi, Jpn. Kyōzan Ejaku).

Guishan was a disciple of Baizhang Huaihai, the Chinese Zen master whose disciples included Huangbo Xiyun (who in turn taught Línjì Yìxuán, founder of the Linji School).[9] After founding the Guiyang School, Yangshan moved his school to what is now modern Jiangxi.

The Guiyang school is distinct from the other schools due to its use of esoteric metaphors and imagery in the school's kōans and other teachings.[7]

Over the course of Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Guiyang school, along with the Fayan and Yunmen schools were absorbed into the Linji school. Chán master Hsu Yun, however, attempted to revive absorbed lineages. The attempt was successful regarding the Guiyang school, Hsuan Hua being its most known modern representative.

Linji school

Main article: Linji school

The Linji (Chinese: 临济宗; pinyin: Lín jì zōng) was named after Chán master Línjì Yìxuán, who was notable for teaching students in ways that included shouting and striking in an attempt to help students reach enlightenment. The Linji school is the predominant Chinese Chán school.[10]

Caodong school

Main article: Caodong school

The Caodong school was founded by Dongshan Liangjie and his Dharma-heirs in the 9th century. Some attribute the name "Cáodòng" as a union of "Dongshan" and "Caoshan" from one of his Dharma-heirs, Caoshan Benji; however, the "Cao" could also have come from Cáoxī (曹溪), the "mountain-name" of Huineng, the Sixth Ancestor of Chan. The sect emphasized sitting meditation, and later "silent illumination" techniques.

In 826 Korean Seon Master Doui, a student of Sixth Ancestor of Chan Huineng, brought Chan/Seon (Korean Zen)to Korea and founded the "Nine Mountain Seon Monasteries" which adopted the name Jogye order.

In 1227 Dōgen Zenji, a former Tendai student, studied Caodong Buddhism and returned to Japan to establish the Sōtō school. The Caodong school is still a respectable Chinese Chán school and is second only to Linji in number of monks and temples.

Fayan school

Main article: Fayan school

The Fayan school (法眼宗) was named after Chinese Chán Master Fayan Wenyi (Fa-yen Wen-i), who lived from 885 to 958.

Yunmen school

Main article: Yunmen Wenyan

The Yunmen school was named for Yunmen Wenyan.

The Five Houses during the Song Dynasty

Over the course of Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunmen houses were gradually absorbed into the Linji house. Linji is the only school still practiced in China,[11] while the Caodong school's teachings were brought to Japan in the 13th century and led to the creation of the Sōtō Zen school.

See also


  1. McRae 2003, pp. 33–36.
  2. McRae 2003, p. 48.
  3. 禅宗研究一百年
  4. McRae 2003.
  5. Yampolski 2003-A, p. 9.
  6. MacRae 2003, p. 63.
  7. 1 2 3 Ferguson, Andrew E. (2000). Zen's Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-86171-163-7.
  8. Koole 1997, p. 207.
  9. Ven. Jian Hu. "Buddhism in the Modern World" Stanford University, May 25, 2006, p. 1
  10. Master Sheng-yen and Dan Stevenson (2001). Hoofprint of the Ox: Principles of the Chan Buddhist Path as Taught by a Modern Chinese Master. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  11. Lusthaus, Dan (1998). "Buddhist philosophy, Chinese". Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 9 April 2012.


  • Koole, Boudewijn (1997), Dōgen Kigen: De Schatkamer van het Oog van de Ware Leer. Eerste selectie uit de Shōbōgenzō, met toelichtende informatie, Utrecht/Antwerpen: Kosmos-Z&K Uitgevers 
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