Zukui Xuanfu: sermons and poetry

- through Francois Leclercq

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Focus on one of the rare female masters officially registered in the Linji lineage.

We do not know the place, the date of birth and that of death, as well as the family origins of this Buddhist woman. She is known only by her religious name of Zukui Xuanfu, as a disciple of master Jiqi Hongchu (1605-1672), himself a disciple of Hanyue Fazang, a very controversial Chan master and taking the opposite view of Miyun Yuanwu. She maintained a very close relationship with her master and visited him often, even once she became abbess. In her writings, she mentions their exchanges, in particular on two themes that he was particularly fond of: the “six types of realization” (liuzhong chengjiu) and the “eight accesses” (bamen). She also maintained an ongoing friendship with a fellow student, Baochi Xuanzong. Both became masters officially registered in the lineage of Linji (Rinzai).

A woman of character...

Zukui Xuanfu became abbess of several temples: the Temple of the Flower of Udambara, whose location is unknown, but which the historian Beata Grant places near Lake Dongting, in northeastern Hunan, and the Temple of Transparency wonderful, located in Xiuzhou near Jiaxing (Zhejiang). She led a very active life, giving many sermons at ordinations and instructing her followers. In her teaching, she relied heavily on the "public cases" of the old masters, whose works she knew perfectly, but she also invented them, often taking examples from everyday life. She appears as a woman of character, very independent, who testified to the rivalries between Chan factions of her time. She did not hesitate to criticize the ambition of the disciples of Miyun Yuanwu, obsessed with the idea of ​​forming a lineage and establishing their notoriety.

His writings revealed literary gifts, a great knowledge of Chan Buddhism and a deep inner experience.

Nevertheless, the contemplative life played an important role in his life; she liked to walk in the hills and among the beautiful landscapes which gave her the opportunity to versify and translate the various interior states she crossed, to question herself on the typical questions of Buddhism and Chan, such as the non - differentiation between oneself and the other, the non-duality man / woman, the recognition of the greatness and the independence of the true spirit, the understanding of the emptiness which makes that the spirit does not fix itself anywhere, as she expresses it in a poem titled Coming back from the hills, I laugh at myself "No path to the lonely summit of this magnificent peak / Those who reach it must have burnt their spirits to ashes / It's funny: the white clouds have no definite destination / They go this way and that , by the wind. »

… And poetry

This eminent nun of the Hanyue Fazang lineage distinguished herself by the quality of her writings, which revealed literary gifts, a great knowledge of Chan Buddhism and a deep inner experience. His disciples united his dialogues and his writings under the title ofAnnals of Zukui Xuanfu (of the Monastery) of the Flower of Udumbara collected at the Monastery of Wonderful Clarity (Transparency). A prolific author, she herself composed a collection entitled Udumbara Flower Monastery Chan Master's Cliff Flower Collection (Lingrui chanshi Yanhuaji), indicating in her preface the circumstances in which she began to write. One day, as she sat in meditation during a summer retreat, having little to do during those long days, she read a collection of expedients from the great masters of the past and re-read them until have completely internalized them. Then, suddenly, the inspiration came to her and she began to compose verses. A scholar became aware of them and wanted to publish them; she looked for a title and, remembering the words of the monk Xuedou (980-1052), who once said that the original source of all the Buddhas was like the rain that watered the flowers of the cliff, she chose to entitle her collection Cliff Flowers. With one of her closest classmates, Baochi Xuanzong, she also wrote the Collection of eulogies resonating harmoniously with the ancients (Songgu hexiang ji), praise being a typical literary genre of the masters Chan who wrote verses in response to an enigma or a “public case” (in Chinese gong'an, in Japanese kôan). We do not know the date of her death, which probably occurred in the last temple she had in charge, that of the Marvelous Transparency.

Text published in Mystical women. History and dictionary, under the direction of Audrey Fella (Robert Laffont, 2013)

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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