Dajian Huineng

(Daikan Eno) 638-713  The Sixth Patriarch

Huineng is the eponymous sixth patriarch of The Platform Sutra (also known as The Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch).  In the sutra, Huineng is said to be illiterate and poor and is tasked by Hongren to work in the monastery kitchens.  Despite this, Hongren recognises his awakening and gives him the robe of dharma transmission, advising him to flee the monastery for fear of reprisals from other jealous monks. 

Scholars such as John McRae and Henrik Sørenson have shown this story to be almost certainly a work of fiction designed to establish the place of Huineng’s successors in the ancestry of Zen and historical sources suggest that he was a minor teacher compared to how he is presented in the sutra.

Four early Ch’an lineage documents list the Sixth Patriarch as Faru, Shenxiu or Xuanze.  It was only after The Platform Sutra that Huineng was established as holding that position.  Nonetheless, all five traditional schools of Chinese Zen trace their lineage through Huineng, and his story remains a cornerstone of Zen legend.  

Further Reading

Readings of the Platform Sutra – Morten Schlütter and Stephen Teiser
Seeing Through Zen – John McRae
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch – Philip Yampolsky (tr.)

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