Linji Yixuan

Linji Yixuan

Japanese painting of Linji Yixuan (Jap. Rinzai Gigen).
School Ch'an
Born unknown
Died 866 CE
Senior posting
Title Ch'an Master
Religious career
Teacher Huangbo Xiyun

Linji Yixuan (simplified Chinese: 临济义玄; traditional Chinese: 臨濟義玄; pinyin: Línjì Yìxuán; Wade–Giles: Lin-chi I-hsüan; Japanese: 臨済義玄 Rinzai Gigen; died 866 CE) was the founder of the Linji school of Chán Buddhism during Tang Dynasty China.

Línjì yǔlù

See also: Linji school

Information on Linji is based on the Línjì yǔlù (臨濟語錄; Japanese: Rinzai-goroku), the Record of Linji. The standard form of these sayings was not completed until 250 years after Linji's death and likely reflect the teaching of Chán in the Linji school at the beginning of the Song Dynasty rather than those of Linji's in particular.[1]

This contains stories of his interactions with teachers, contemporaries, and students. The recorded lectures are a mixture of the conventional and the iconoclastic. Despite the iconoclasm, the Línjì yǔlù reflects a thorough knowledge of the sutras. Linji's teaching-style, as recorded in the Línjì yǔlù, was exemplary of the development Chán took in the Hongzhou school (洪州宗) of Mazu and his successors, such as Huangbo, Linji's master.


According to the Línjì yǔlù, Linji was born into a family named Xing (邢) in Caozhou (modern Heze in Shandong), which he left at a young age to study Buddhism in many places.

Also according to the Línjì yǔlù, Linji was trained by the Chan master Huángbò Xīyùn (黃蘗希運), but attained kensho while discussing Huángbò's teaching during a conversation with the reclusive monk Dàyú (大愚). Linji then returned to Huángbò to continue his training after awakening. In 851 CE, Linji moved to the Linji temple in Hebei, where he took his name, which also became the name for the lineage of his form of Chán Buddhism.

Linji's teaching style

A statue of Linji Yixuan under the southern gate of Zhengding Hebei, China
Main articles: Zen and Chinese Chán


Linji is reputed for being iconoclastic, leading students to awakening by hitting and shouting.[2]

Three Mysterious Gates

Chán faced the challenge of expressing its teachings of "suchness" without getting stuck into words or concepts. The alleged use of shouting and beating was instrumental in this non-conceptual expression - after the students were well-educated in the Buddhist tradition.[3]

Linji is described as using The Three Mysterious Gates to maintain the Chán emphasis on the nonconceptual nature of reality, while employing sutras and teachings to instruct his students:[3]

  1. The First Gate is the "mystery in the essence",[4] the use of Buddhist philosophy, such as Yogacara to explain the interpenetration of all phenomena.
  2. The Second Gate is the "mystery in the word",[4] using the Hua Tou[lower-alpha 1] for "the process of gradually disentangling the students from the conceptual workings of the mind".[4]
  3. The Third Gate is the "mystery in the mystery",[4] "involving completely nonconceptual expressions such as striking or shouting, which are intended to remove all of the defects implicit in conceptual understanding".[4]

The titular story of Volume 2 of Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima's manga comic Lone Wolf and Cub revolves around Linji's saying "if you meet a buddha, kill the buddha," in which the protagonist must overcome his self to assassinate a living buddha.

In the manga Gensōmaden Saiyūki by Kazuya Minekura, Genjō Sanzō purports to live by the concept of "無一物 (muichimotsu)," as taught by his teacher Sanzō Kōmyō, who is quoted as saying:

Japanese Romanized English
「無一物」 "Muichimotsu" "Have Nothing"
仏に逢えば仏を殺せ Butsu ni aeba butsu (w)o korose If you meet a buddha, kill him.
祖に逢えば祖を殺せ So ni aeba so (w)o korose If you meet your forefather, kill him.
何物にも捕われず Nanimono ni mo torawarezu Attached to nothing,
縛られず Shibararezu Bound [to nothing],
ただあるがままに己を生きる Tada aru ga mama ni onore (w)o ikiru Live your own life simply as it is.

Linji's lineage

28 / 1達磨 / Damo?達磨 / Đạtmaだるま / Daruma달마 / Dalma
29 / 2慧可 / Shenguang Huìke487–593Huệ KhảEka혜가 / Hyega
30 / 3僧璨 / Jianzhi Sengcan?–606Tăng XánSōsan승찬 / Seungchan
31 / 4道信 / Dongshan Daoxin580–651Đạo TínDōshin도신 / Doshim
32 / 5弘忍 / Huangmei Hongren601/2–674/5Hoằng NhẫnKōnin홍인 / Hongihn
33 / 6慧能 / Caoxi Huineng638–713Huệ NăngEnō혜능 / Hyeneung
34 / 7南嶽懷讓 / Nanyue Huairang677–744Nam Nhạc Hoài NhượngNangaku Ejō남악회양 / Namak Hweyang
35 / 8馬祖道一 / Mazu Daoyi[9]709–788Mã Tổ Đạo NhấtBaso Dōitsu 마조도일 / Majo Toil
36 / 9百丈懷海 / Baizhang Huaihai720?/749?–814Bách Trượng Hoài HảiHyakujō Ekai백장회해 / Paekchang Hwehae
37 / 10黃蘗希運 / Huangbo Xiyun?–850Hoàng Bá Hy VậnŌbaku Kiun황벽희운 / Hwangbyeok Heuiun
38 / 11臨濟義玄 / Linji Yixuan?–866/7Lâm Tế Nghĩa HuyềnRinzai Gigen임제의현 / Imje Euihyeon

See also


  1. Stuart Lachs: "The Chinese term Hua-t’ou can be translated as “critical phrase.” Literally it means the “head of speech” or the “point beyond which speech exhausts itself.” In Korean, hua-t’ou are known as hwadu and in Japanese as wato [...] A hua-t’ou is a short phrase (sometimes a part of a koan) that can be taken as a subject of meditation and introspection to focus the mind in a particular way, which is conducive to enlightenment.[web 1]


Written references

  1. Welter & Year unknown.
  2. McRae 1993.
  3. 1 2 Buswell 1993, p. 245-246.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Buswell 1993, p. 246.
  5. characters and Wade-Giles Romanization
  6. See Thiền Sư Trung Quốc for a list of Chinese Zen Masters in Vietnamese.
  7. Romaji
  8. Hangeul and South Korean Revised Romanization
  9. extensive article in Mazu Daoyi



  • Buswell, Robert E. (1991), The "Short-cut" Approach of K'an-hua Meditation: The Evolution of a Practical Subitism in Chinese Ch'an Buddhism. In: Peter N. Gregory (editor)(1991), Sudden and Gradual. Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • Keown, Damien. A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  • Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. "Lone Wolf and Cub 2: The Gateless Barrier". Dark Horse, 2000. ISBN 1-56971-503-3, ISBN 978-1-56971-503-1
  • Lowenstein, Tom. The Vision of the Buddha: Buddhism – The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment. ISBN 1-903296-91-9
  • McMahan, David L. (2008), The Making of Buddhist Modernism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-518327-6 
  • McRae, John (2003), Seeing Through Zen. Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism, The University Press Group Ltd, ISBN 978-0-520-23798-8 
  • Schloegl, Irmgard. The Zen Teaching of Rinzai. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Berkeley, 1976. ISBN 0-87773-087-3
  • Watson, Burton (1999), The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi: A Translation of the Lin-chi lu, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-11485-0 
  • Welter, Albert (n.d.), The Textual History of the Linji lu (Record of Linji): The Earliest Recorded Fragments 

Further reading

Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Huangbo Xiyun
Rinzai Zen patriarch Succeeded by
Xinghua Cunjiang
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